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.

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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.

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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.

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The Spirit Lifts

01389325f4fc7c7cf8c876720f1994ba9388d3c829Since there was no Sunday sketch this week, in the spirit of penitence I offer you this Virgin Mary and a secret, a place that nobody goes to, so don’t tell. It is the most spiritual place in Paris and you would have to be a clod of earth not to feel your spirit soar as you step into its holy spaces.

It is the Chapel of St. Louis at the Hopital Salpetriere. Some of the most beautiful places in Paris are hospitals, built in the reign of Louis XIV. But many of the others, such as the Hotel des Invalides where Napoleon is buried,  are well-known. This isn’t. 0107431b3f394208170804bc54236044ce2a9d2c7e01c445651dcd7e392c6c6a21340f3f8ed54b37c66cThe simple facade reminds me of Santo Spirito in Florence. There are beautiful heather shrubberies on the grounds.

010343f85f78810f8723c7c045749a700c1bb4e037Through a  patinated door, you enter a space of shadow and light. Yours eyes adjust.

0118b2fccdd4200eea3927774843f68345e0a3ef220199a71e0876893da5bcd748e2abb470d4a06ccd15 The ceiling soars and high windows let in shafts of light. It is empty, undecorated. The main space is octagonal and eight smaller chapels spin off it. Here, the sick were separated from each other, the destitute from the insane, the sick from the “fallen” (women, that is).

01970b9337f00d1636140db5848ffbb925879b4aa5 No one is there. That tiny figure is me, and it gives you a feeling for the volumes.

011e403c44e509be40a3262df5fa78b26d081783ec012b54a8af72b06179640257cb68203d56609869ab Ste. Anne looks on while I make the sketch. The only sound is the cooing and whirring of pigeons who are left unchecked. It is not at all hard to imagine the generations of troubled people who came here to pray. And perhaps were comforted.

A Walk in the Park with Dinosaurs

01cfde5af29849811fc8380b8e937c3d222d29099eSunday the weather was incontournable (unbeatable).   The whole town was out for a stroll. What better spot for a walk than the Jardins des Plantes with its stately allees?

Warning: my friends in Montreal and the North-East, STOP READING NOW! What follows will be bad for your mental health. Scroll until you see bones.

01d63dd7da6ea20f8d9dadec10128a7c56cde5752101dff79901414627753921c559f5aef0f7a2d7b1370120882cc7e0f3610faff06475bf85abb55f750c7aYes, springtime in Paris with flowering almonds, hellebores and the color green everywhere.

010b5973cd9355b3bb202ba004661f870796d33a7101ff89840a377faa8e2df3994409a5adf28982fcd3As though it wasn’t beautiful enough outside we popped into the vast greenhouses to see the orchid show.

015953189819ffa491f45675f6924736460d506c3bI felt a mounting excitement as we turned into one of my favorite, top-secret, spots in Paris. An imposing 19th century building sits in the northeast corner of the Jardin. It is the Gallery of Evolution, a vast space filled with bones. Downstairs are plain old animals, upstairs extinct ones. The skeletons, in their hundreds, seem to march down the hall toward you. They are all sizes, including very large ones like whales and elephants, but small ones are also ranged around the room in oak cabinets. The whole space is entirely lit by daylight, giving a particular warmth to these old bones.

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I find it hard to express or explain why this space is so inspirational for me. It has to do with life, death, the connections between us all,  present and extinct. It relates to me and what I am doing here in Paris, visiting the past, with its old  dinosaurs of art and architecture that nonetheless continue to move us in the present. This space will come into my painting, I know.

01440167f2bc426e07d2e6976299c5783d99f66a59 I spent some minutes sketching .

0129c360e5d6195d6e23bde0c5ff759262358de870And taking photographs. This image is certainly coming into my work. Stay tuned.

A Disappointment

Today is the first day I have felt cold in Paris on this visit. We are having the warmest winter since 1900, and thankfully we have left behind the felicitously named polar vortex, nonetheless the sun went in, the humidity went up and the 8 degree temperature felt quite chilly in the wind. I needed something. Hmm… flowers. One of my best memories of Paris in 2009 is my weekly visit to a florist at the foot of the market street Mouffetard where you could get 5 bouquets for 10 Euros. Yep, I do not lie. A house really full of flowers all winter long. This is luxury.  Time to cross the Seine.

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Florists abound and I took pictures as I went to give you an idea of how many pretty flower shops line the way to the Quartier Latin.

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But alas, I found Mouffetard quite changed with many food stalls gone in favour of makeup shops and cheap boutiques. Ouch. One of the casualties of these developments was my little florist which had transformed into an empty cafe. Appropriately, it started to drizzle. Not every day can be triumphant, even in Paris. What to do? I set off for home, winding my way past the Curie Institut and other schools of the University of Paris, reminded of how much I like this part of town. Hunching against the wind I thought to stop into St. Etienne des Monts, my favorite church in Paris. Its soothing dim air and shafts of light were just the ticket. I lost myself in a sketch.

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Making art is one of the few times when we want to lose ourselves. We become part of something outside ourselves, something bigger. Inspired by what we have seen, we are not taking, acquiring, planning or fretting. It is a kind of giving back to beauty.

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Refreshed, I headed back home. Oh, and picked up a little something on the way.photo (13)