The Paris Salon, 2014

This weekend, there are four art salons taking place in Paris, not to mention the wonderful Salon des Vins Independents (six euros buys you a glass and all the wine you can drink. I’m serious). Time to put on some comfortable shoes and join the art cognoscenti. Here is a chance to see what’s happening in contemporary art as well as view works on paper by Grand Masters. What a joy, since graphic works are very under-represented in museums in the mistaken view that works in oil and acrylic are more worthy. Also, in going to the art salon, we can  experience what was a mainstay of nineteenth century Parision life, and the central moment in the visual arts year of the period.


On Thursday, we went to the Place de la Bourse, for the Salon du Dessin, 2014. Housed in the former Paris Stock Exchange, a grand old building,  it features rows of booths rented by galleries from throughout Europe.


IMG_1212   IMG_1216



Get ready for beauty.

IMG_1231IMG_1232IMG_1221    I particularly enjoyed the mix of periods.




Today, while Alan went to spend the morning tasting and buying wines, I was off to the Paris Art Fair at the Grand Palais. This eye-popping venue is an exhibition hall built for the International Exposition of 1900. Designed to assert French grandeur and pre-eminence amongst nations, it is a vast space with a glass ceiling. Flooded with light, it is great for viewing art and anything else, I imagine. Here are some works that inspired me.

I always love dripping. IMG_1262

This work and the trio of works in the next image, by an artist named Monique Frydman, inspire me with their vivid colours. The artist has rubbed pigments directly onto the canvas using a medium  to make them sink in. Can’t wait to try this.



These sculptures are quite large, and appear to be made of metal, but on inspection they are paper!


IMG_1290IMG_1289 This artist rolls Japanese paper into flower-like shapes and arranges them in plexiglass boxes. I love this idea. but I don’t want you to think that I liked everything.

IMG_1255 I guess every Salon needs something outrageous. But, really.

IMG_1256There were quite a few pieces in this genre. Large photographs of staged scenes in Technicolour. Here, “Jesus” visits Greenwich Village. Okay.

But don’t think I can’t take anything experimental. Here, water drips from two intravenous bags that hang from the ceiling (not in the picture) into two Chinese porcelain bowls filled to brimming with black ink. The ink spills over and a stain spreads on paper. As it spreads, Chinese calligraphy is revealed.


IMG_1250I also enjoyed these guys that are made from fabric and mud and I don’t know what else. I’m going to try this, too.

Are you surprised that there was nothing of mine in this years’ salons?  Maybe next year.





The State of Art

01f51b3f3c23423507b0c249a8c700a2180bb3e13dWhen you’re in love, you want to tell the world.

When he said this, Carl Sagan was explaining why his life has been devoted to explaining the cosmos, but it also sums up why I am blogging. Being here in Paris is so stimulating I am  bursting: with ideas, with feelings (not to mention with cheese, but that’s another post). Part of this is the inexhaustible feast of visual arts that Paris offers. If you are an art lover in Canada,  there is simply not that much out there to see, although we faithfully support our museums, check out temporary exhibitions in Ottawa, and consider bussing to Toronto if something is worthwhile. But  while in Canada we will largely content ourselves with nature and go to New York for art.

If you have been to Paris, you have probably been to the larger museums: the Louvre, the Pompidou and the Orsay. Although not strictly a  Fine Art museum, The Musee de l’Armee at the Hotel des Invalides is also large. Most people who go there limit their visit to Napoleon’s tomb, which is a shame because it is the least interesting item on display. Housed in a Louis XIV era hospital of stunning architectural beauty (OK, the golden dome may be in bad taste, but I think Napoleon III was responsible for that), the museum has so much to offer it’s hard to know where to begin. The many galleries of armour, all nations, all eras, highly decorated, often beautiful, reveal the making of armour to be an art form. Housed in their glass cases,  these helmets, breast plates and swords appear as interesting sculptures. I was especially drawn to the suits of armour crafted for Louis XIII as a child.IMG_0565


In another area, the histories of World War I and II unfold, told through film and through  displays of objects as diverse and interesting as a Paris taxicab ( the battle of the Marne, in which cabs joined the last-minute efforts to get French soldiers to the front), the first tanks, a Nazi flag, a yellow star, and gallery after gallery of uniforms, some familiar, many quite exotic. Uniforms are the signature object of this museum and in the Napoleon galleries their fabrics, embroideries and insignias are quite gorgeous and memorable.



It’s all state-sponsored propaganda, of course. And in Paris the connections between art, architecture and particular regimes  are evident everywhere and need not be explained. Those in power -the Church, the Bourbons, the Napoleons – require artists and artisans to reflect and support their “glory”. In return the artists get to do art and live. Those in power pass away, the art lives on.

Drawing France

I am always happy to see other artists out there working. I often try to slip behind them and see what they’re up to. The “copyists” at the Louvre are joining a grand tradition, as  just about every French artist you can think of cut his teeth viewing, sketching and painting at the Louvre. The painters you see working at the Louvre today are members of an elite club. I asked at the Information Desk how to get permission to paint at the Louvre  and was handed a thick package detailing the policies, rules, and  regulations of copying. It also contained a number of forms to be completed by the applicant. The whole onerous process culminates in the necessity of getting a letter of introduction from your country’s ambassador if you are not a French national.

012351e3f60adfd51d9591e8497bb1d93c2d783e96   0125344be0d1f25386515fc5965a963da21862b009

They’re impressive, no?                      01144f0aafffa302d9f813fcb41d09a8df3ca87319

But artists willing to work on a smaller scale are also seen everywhere at the museum.

0185041d928dda6f06641e62e606fb4e0e82fdd9ddLook at how intense  this young artist is. He is working on  a Greek stone head of a horse.



Formal, or informal, young or old, together or alone, drawing what they are seeing gives them a focus that nothing else can.

01568d3c5d0e40f20a93a0559fefa9cd1feff4bb84   I fell in love with this little boy, a serious photographer documenting the extinct great Scottish moose.

Weird French Food IV


No, I didn’t. There are lengths to which I will not go, even to amuse you, dear reader, and eating this trio of lamb heads on offer at Marche d”Aligre is one of them. It was interesting to me that they stuffed the mouths with something – kind of like the apple in the roasted pig’s mouth but I can’t tell what and I hesitated to go in closer for a look. Obviously, I do not have what it takes to be an investigative reporter.

Instead, we opted for seafood. This week in the closet, uh I mean kitchen, I have a comely assistant.


This is my daughter Charlotte, here on Spring Break. (See my post “Mother and Child Reunion” to understand how really happy I am at this moment.) She is saying, “Mom, do we have to have to eat the eyeballs?”

These lovely big shrimp are called Gambas. There are even bigger ones but you know me, I’m cheap when it comes to marketing.  The great cuisines of the world are all ones in which necessity was the mother of flavour. Think: French boeuf bourguignon, pot-au-feu, confit de canard. It’s all farmhouse cooking, cheaper cuts and  methods for making them delicious. Same with Italian food, where all the recipes were developed by someone’s grandmother and are based on rice. pasta, abundant vegetables, and a very little  bit of meat, ground or pounded into submission. Chinese food, too, doesn’t begin with the idea, “What are the most expensive ingredients around? Let’s cook them.”  I say, “Let’s get creative and save money. Then, we’ll spend that money on wine!” I’m sure the lamb heads were cheap, but as I said, I do have limits.


Here are the Gambas in the skillet. I started by sauteeing leeks and mushrooms. I set them aside and sauteed the shrimp (rinsed and dried) separately. I use olive oil in the skillet. Once the shrimp were pink on both sides, I put the mushrooms and leeks back in. Then I added some white wine – a nice light Sancerre. Five minutes later, voila. I don’t peel the shrimp before bringing them to the table. Maybe I would if Queen Elizabeth were coming for dinner but she has not turned up as yet. Eating this kind of food is a dig-in-with-your-fingers sort of event. So we peel, we eat, we mop with bread and wash down with the Sancerre. And we do not eat the eyeballs.


Next on Weird Food, something I need to show you, for a giggle, but have held back because it’s not food and it’s more like weird advertizing. But what the heck. You know Orangina. It’s kinda weird – an orange flavoured fizzy drink. Better than Orange Crush, but the sort of thing you would only drink if desperately thirsty and trapped in an airport due to flight delay and the only other option is a  tepid, rusty water fountain. Anyway, they have it here, and the advertising campaign features sexy cartoon animals. You heard it. Cartoon  deer and giraffes that are shaped like pin-up girls and posing in a come-hither way.

IMG_0690  IMG_0689

I hope you can decipher these images, which were on a cafe window, hence the interesting but disruptive reflections. It’s at times like this that I feel I am in an utterly foreign society. Isn’t there something weird and vaguely disturbing about making cartoon animals that are provocative? And obviously Mr. Orangina (or MS.?) thinks that these images are totally appealing and will sell his product. These critters have been around for some time – at least for the five years that I have come to really know Paris -so they must be working.

Regulating Life in France

I think I’m on to something about the French when it comes to this whole notion of correctness and the rules.  Yesterday’s post was about the misunderstandings that arise from the way the French follow codes of behaviour understood by them, but not necessarily everyone else.

Medication for jetlag

In France there are rules, regulations and standards galore. This sounds oppressive, and maybe it is. But it may also be what makes the culture so great. Let’s take our daily bread as a humble example. The downstairs baker, like the local cheese vendor, has been recognized as “Meilleur Ouvrier en France”. He makes a damned fine baguette in his boulangerie-artisanal, a type of operation that is completely controlled in terms of its recipes, ingredients, and products. This government regulation is fairly recent – a decade or so old – and came about when the classic approaches were giving way to frozen breads, concocted off-site. Rather than see their treasured baguette globalized and out-sourced, the authorities stepped in and a great  tradition continues.

Paris, this most beautiful of cities is nothing if not standardized. We all know the look.

014034ff506cdedbce056b265a23b1801dbf8e70a40113970bc6c6ad12c7036f89aaff6e85065f0258c401ac34f7e082086dd09763e01b6a7238bb2ead8df8_00001 Here are some examples of what I see from my desk –  the beige-coloured stones, the wrought iron work, rows of French windows –  the vocabulary of Paris buildings for hundreds of years. It’s all standardized, down to the colour of your front door. I recognize the Paris I am living in when I look at 19th century paintings of the city. Pissaro, Winter Morning, 1897caillebotte-paris-rainy Caillebotte, Rainy Day, 1877.

All we need do is change the clothes and switch out the coaches for cars and these paintings would be accurate depictions of Paris streets in 2014.

It is not a coincidence that nothing in central Paris has changed and that nothing is ugly. Nothing is permitted to be ugly. Even the gas pumps are banished underground, because a filling station is just too ugly a thing for citizens to look at. Even the glass of wine I am sipping is the result of a vintner following the rules of the appellation to the letter. The French are very, very good at creating beauty, creating deliciousness, and then they insist upon it. They believe there is a correct way to do things and once they arrive at that correct way, that is it.

I could go on. In French high school, my daughter was taught the one permissable way to take notes: subject title written in blue ink, underlined twice in red ink, subtitle, underlined once in red, notes follow,dictated by teacher. In the arts, the Salon system had the creation and marketing of fine art locked up tight in a control that began with the artist’s enrollment in the Institut de Beaux Arts, a rigid and formulaic program in which the artist copied works endlessly before being allowed any self-expression at all. He (women were not accepted) must then compete for prizes, and win them, if he were to have a great future. The painter David despaired of winning the Prix de Rome and wanted to kill himself after his third failed attempt (he won on the fourth). Then, throughout his career,  the artist must submit his works to a jury for selection in the great art show, the Paris Salon. There were no independent art dealers until the very end of the century, and tellingly, that started first in London

It all seems so exhausting, doesn’t it? Not to mention repressive. Is France a sort of OCD nation, obsessively and compulsively creating and enforcing elaborate, and neurotic,  rules? Yes (see evidence above), and also No,  because France is also very good at Revolution and when they shrug off their bonds and go crazy in the name of liberty they do it with a vengeance. Consider these Heads of Kings, ripped off the facade of Notre Dame because rioting citizens could no longer bear the thought of authority.

01ba1ff4ed2dbf8036e416a2d9e60f16ed400b718f01d7ef710a5872bb850c390653f703f47846148d98 Musee de Cluny, Paris.

I’m glad that the French have rules that are creating such a great quality of life for me and my husband in our Paris home. But in a way, I feel bad for the French, having to be under such pressure all the time. Do you know what I mean?




“But are the French… Nice?”

I’ve been giving this question, asked by the bank teller back in Montreal, a lot of thought.  It has long puzzled me that people everywhere find the French, especially the Parisians, rude. Sure, I had experienced hauteur on the part of waiters, but saw it only as that, a kind of game you play in which you have only to be more haut  than them and you win. Apart from waiters, I have experienced much kindness and decency here: the hotel clerk who ran after me with a complementary umbrella because it might rain, the flea market vendor who gave my daughter a vintage handbag  she liked very  much because there was wear on the inside, the food vendors yesterday who gave us avocados for free because they couldn’t guarantee their freshness. That’s nice, no argument.


(Umbrella image thanks to

But here’s my point – it’s also correct. And the French would almost always rather be correct than nice. We Canadians are the opposite. And what I find truly interesting is that this difference -the source of so much misunderstanding – also resembles the two classic positions in moral philosophy. As a former ethics teacher, I see  Canadian “niceness” as honouring an Aristotelian, ethics of care, value system in which your motivations and intentions, the spirit in which you do things is all-important.You tried your best, you were nice; if things weren’t perfect it’s OK because you are working on improving.  The French are more in a  Kantian vein, they want to determine the rules of correctness and carry them out scrupulously. The French waiter has a job to do, he knows the rules and he will obey them. For the French, this is what makes him a good waiter, not his attitude toward you, the customer.  The rules include acting with appropriate respect, and  not with inappropriate friendliness. Your job is to obey the rules of customer behaviour, which include respecting the waiter, the norms of French dining, ordering your meal with care and enjoying it when it is well-prepared and served. When both parties follow these rules, the mini-society within the restaurant gets along swimmingly.


It’s usually the case that when the French get annoyed, and act with rudeness, it’s because you are not understanding the rules, what is called for on your part. For example, people will be ticked off if you don’t greet them. The rule, when you want to speak to someone, is to first greet them and this goes for bus drivers, sales associates, or people on the street you wish to ask for directions. Greet them, “Bonjour Madame/Monsieur.” You can even go on  to ask if you can ask a question. This level of deference always wins points. The last time I did this, the metro guard I wanted to get directions from  escorted me all the way to the correct platform. Now THAT was nice.

Art is Everywhere



On my way to the Louvre yesterday, I saw this stunning work of modern abstract art. It reminds me of something second generation  abstract expressionist. Like Pierre Soulages. Big and gestural. My incompetent cropping probably gave it away, long ago.

016050d1491ce47316edeffc6f704eba9f906ec81e Yes, they’re changing the advertizing at our metro stop. I still think it’s fabulous. The more I look at it, the more I like it. The limited colour palette, The strong black forms that radiate out from the centre. The green slashes that create a strong diagonal from the bottom left. The five bright yellow ovals of metro seating also contribute to  the effect of the whole. Did the workman – who I saw on my way into the station, rolling up his torn paper and stuffing it into a garbage bag – did he see what he had done? Does he know how visually pleasing it is? Does it matter if it has no meaning to him, as long as it does to me, or someone?

I continued on my journey, and on the way out of the Metro, saw this pleasing thing. Much like a Jean Cocteau.

013082c71c4745b2b6b3042a1bd6b4d0aaba55d1ad An arabesque of lines on the wall. A kiss. Sweet! What is that written there – grogue? Drogue?

I wanted to visit the European Painting wing in the Richelieu Pavillion. You go straight up two long banks of elevators and you enter galleries where there is much inspiration but moins de monde, particularly once you get to the paintings of Netherlands/Holland. Here are some things I particularly liked:01472e9f906c0206b01ed03cb4da9f00cf65858c5d I’m just discovering this French painter from the Baroque period. I particularly liked a roomful of works by him,  Simon Vouet, who was painting in Paris in the first half of the 17th century. His clear, bright colours and particularly his use of gold and pink stood out. Here’s a closeup of that gold foulard.

01646df6b4c654037b79584f9ba5f9de62166e59b6 Beautiful. This is the sort of work that

those clustered around the Mona Lisa miss out on. Vouet’s Saint Guillaume of Aquitaine is very compelling and very much deserves the attention lavished on works that  folks have been told they should appreciate.

019a806eb2d44df53fca2804a71949edc4e0562377 Anthonis Mor van Dashort. Who has  heard of him? And yet, here is the work of  a master. It is entitled Portriat of a Widow of Forty Years and a Child. Here is a close up:01d7ce6ac9812b13ee33ddfd999fc28617814e6914 She is a widow. No longer beautiful, she has the tired look of middle age.  There is a thin shell of reserve that covers her grief like a carapace. She encounters our gaze without wishing to know us. Her gently resting hand tells us that her daughter is her one joy.

016c77da6d4826d4a8bc510bbd0f6e1697f431accb So deftly rendered, the daughter resembles the mother, except that she has the freshness of childhood. Everything about her is touching: her ear , the fold of her eye, the little details of her cap and collar. It is so beautiful that the artist has given the rosiness of her cheek to the lower portion of her face, at mouth level, as we sometimes see on childish faces, particularly in Winter.

This next work is really killer. We should go out and shout from the rooftops about this work, it is so masterly.            01db141bef3f77c55f0bb4f0db1a84117a4d59fd65

Dwarf of Cardinal Gravel Holding a Large Dog by Antonis Mor Van Dashort, 1575.

He’s a dwarf, one who, like many others at this time, has been picked up to add fun and interest to a court, in this case that of a French Cardinal. The subject seems to say, “Hey, here are a couple of the cardinal’s pets. Check it out: the dog’s as big as the man! lol.” But look more closely at the man.

01c4aca675cd651b83125c8c20310e2eabde968631 What dignity he has. He meets our gaze with a direct seriousness that insists on his humanity, that shows his resentment, that dares us to laugh. And we do not want to.

And the dog. This may be the most beautiful dog in Western art.016bf7ee3851880ed79cd50b68203f1f80254c16a1

The old master painters can create a hyper-real effect that is not dead-looking like the super-real portraits of today. Is it because they weren’t painting from photographs?

Let’s resolve to look with fresh eyes (finding art that is unintentional, like the ripped subway poster, for example). Let’s discover those forgotten masterworks, not letting received wisdom or convention be our guide in what we should consider best in art. Do you know of any forgotten masterworks out there? Share!

After my morning in the galleries, I went outside to picnic in the Tuilleries. There I saw a Jackson Pollock.