A few weeks ago, I took my wife and daughters to Paris on a research trip. I don’t get the chance very often to visit museums and galleries, and it seemed a great way to soak up some cultural inspiration while enjoying time with the family.
We explored the city of Paris by bicycle, taking in the sights and sounds in the Spring sunshine, starting in the Marais, with its winding cobbled streets lined with old town houses, cafes and galleries. The street art was colourful and vibrant and the girls were amused to spot the ceramic tile mosaics of urban artist ‘Invader’. We went past the apartment block at 17 Rue Beautreillis, where Jim Morrison died, although judging by the notice we saw pinned there, there is still some controversy over this!
We crossed over the Pont de l’Archevêché (now stripped of the ‘love locks’ left by tourists, the authorities mindful of the extra tonnage of metal being added to the historic bridges which span the River Seine) to the Notre-Dame de Paris, dramatically impressive with its Gothic Revival architecture, stained glass windows and flying buttresses. Victor Hugos’ novel of the same name (known to us in English as ‘The Hunchback of Notre-Dame’) prompted its extensive restoration in the 1840s, after the cathedral sustained damage during the French Revolution. It was overseen by the architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc. Among the controversial restorations and improvements was the rebuilding of a taller and fancier spire, around which are arranged copper statues of the twelve apostles. Amusingly, Viollet-le-Duc imposed his own likeness onto the statue of St Thomas, the patron saint of architects.
Of course, no tour of Paris is complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. I was struck by the remarkable engineering of the structure itself, the intricate shapes of its detailed iron tracery. The cityscapes were jaw-dropping and I took lots of pictures with my newish Panasonic Lumix TZ100. We could clearly see the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elyssée, Les Jardin des Tuileries and the Palais du Louvre where we had been earlier.
At the Musée du Louvre we took in the glass pyramids outside, designed by the Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, and the wealth of statuary that adorns the courtyard and the building itself. Inside, we were almost overwhelmed with the creativity on display. The place was stuffed with art and artefacts. I was fascinated by terracotta cylinders and clay tablets from the ancient Near East, etched with cuneiform script; beautiful Greek gold jewellery decorated with bulls heads and the little carved stone fat ladies from Persia. There was so much to see.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace literally took my breath away. The marble sculpture of the Greek Goddess Nike stands over 8 feet tall and despite her head and arms being lost to time, she still packs the most extraordinary visual punch. The skill of the sculptor is awe-inspiring. The drapery of her costume with its sensual folds, her thrusting breasts and strong thighs, are rendered with both passion and sensitivity. Created to celebrate a naval sea battle in around 288 BC, the sculpture manages to convey a sense of movement and stillness simultaneously – she is defiantly standing proud against the elements , her wings torn back, storm ripping past her.
Another work that moved me was Paul Delaroche’s La Jeune Martyre. The oil painting was finished in 1855 a year before his death and is typical of the Romantic style of the period. It depicts a young dead Christian woman, hands bound, floating down the River Tiber. There are some similarities with Millais’ Ophelia with which it is inevitably often compared. Ophelia has partly inspired an idea I am developing.
The Musée Rodin was another eye-opener. I found it amazing to see displays of his original moulds and of course to view his most famous sculptures in person. Rodin’s modelling skills are even more extraordinary up close – his rendering of flesh, of a hand, a foot, of anatomical detail. His sensual nudes really spoke to me and I found The Awakening or Le Réveil particularly beautiful – the nymph Echo kneeling on a rock, stretching languorously, her hands behind her head. I was also struck by Rodin’s Monument to Claude Lorrain, the clever placement of the figure, turning mid-step to see the sun rising.
In my next post, I’ll tell you more about our trip to Paris, including a visit to the incredible Musée d’Orsay.