Today we began the last leg of our journey. Again we were traveling by train. We began by hurrying up so that we could wait. Sarah Jane our Monogram rep woke us up to get our luggage down early so it could be loaded onto the car for our drive to the train station. At the station we stood and waited with our luggage for the cart to take it to the train. Meanwhile an extraordinarily loud group of workers banged their tools against anything that would make a loud noise. As they did so, a cart came by with the word “STILL” emblazoned on it in hopeless irony. There was nothing still here except our thoughts that could not be heard. It all seemed pointless, unless the point was to annoy us and disturb us from our tranquil journey.
That was soon followed by something even more disturbing. As we went to line up for our train on the 2nd floor of train station the gate was closed. In fact, the entire floor was closed and we had to leave. We had not idea why or where we should go. Thankfully, Sarah Jane was still with us. Monogram believed in accompanying its babies right to the end and we were grateful for that. She led us to another place on the main floor. Sarah talked to an official who explained that there was a bomb scare and the entire 2nd floor had been evacuated. There was no one there other than the bomb squad. There had been a terrorist threat. Someone had left an unattended bag in the station. “It could be a bomb”, we were told.
The weird thing though was that we did not leave the train station. We were immediately underneath the 2nd floor. If there was a serious explosion would the building not collapse on us? I nervously looked at the entrance/exit to the station. There I noticed the Police Car I had not noticed before. How long would it take me to dash to the outside? How long would it take Chris? Neither of us were up for an impressive 100 yard dash. Adrenalin would like improve our chances but I doubted not enough to make a significant difference. Yet no one moved. We all stood there underneath the danger. Were we too stupid to be afraid of terrorists? This was Europe. There had been recent occasions where fear was justified. No one moved outside. None wanted to leave their place in line. We heard no announcements. Was this folly on steroids? All I know is we survived. After about an hour of standing there waiting for doom or progress, we were allowed to move on. The brave bomb squad had neutralized the threat. I hoped they were brave, and not as stupid as us.
Our trip to London on the train was interesting. To begin with I learned an important lesson in economics and politics. That is that things are better for the rich. This time we road 2nd class. This was not as comfortable as the 1st class trip from Amsterdam to Paris. It definitely pays to be 1st class. We did not know why we had been relegated to 2nd class. Were we again being punished as we had been last night? What bad things had we done?
As a result of our diminution we sat in a seat facing another couple our knees knocking against each other. Well, at least my knees knocked against the woman from Ohio facing me. I had no leg room at all. Chris was more fortunate. Sometimes it pays to be short. This was one of those times. The train ride was not entirely unpleasant. It was still much more luxurious than air travel. I tried my best not to grumble.
We crossed the English Channel as the English call it through the darkness of the Chunnel. That was interesting. When we hit English soil we saw the light. This was the land of civilization. So I thought. On this trip 2 books had guided me. One was Sir Kenneth Clark’s magisterial Civilisation. The other was Eric Hobsbawm’s magnificent The Age of Capital. These books had added immeasurably to my journey, as good books always do.
We arrived in London where once again a Monogram babysitter met us to lead us to a car that took us to our hotel the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel right beside that famous hotel. Although its location was its best feature, the hotel was extremely luxurious. How much did we pay for this? We did not know. After being second-class citizens it was nice to be elevated to 1st class. We can always dream can’t we? It was a very luxurious suite. This was no typically small European hotel room. It had a separate room with a couch and huge television set. The bedroom had a smaller set. All of the décor was modern extreme. Usually I don’t like that, but today I did. We felt like luxury to boost our flattened egos.
The lighting system was much too complicated for us to figure out how to use, so we largely acquiesced with what we got when we switched it on. We figured out how to do that only after a tedious trial and error process. There was a convenient chair with side table for reading that I appreciated. We lounged and relaxed for an hour or two before we did anything that might tax our brains or bodies.
Eventually we went out to eat. To do that, we walked cross the famous Westminster Bridge right across the street from our hotel. That bridge had very recently been the site of a terrorist attack exactly 5 months earlier on March 22, 2017. The attacker was a 22-year-old Briton Khalid Masood who moved down the pedestrians who were idly walking on the bridge injuring more than 50 people and killing 4 of those. After he left the car that had crashed into near by New Palace Yard where he fatally attacked an unarmed police officer and shot an armed police officer and died at the scene.
This was treated as a case of Islamic terrorism. Trump would be proud of this refusal to be what he considered politically correct. It seemed that Masood had sent a final text message that he was waging jihad in revenge for western actions in the Middle East. Some claimed he had been a member of ISIS, but the British police have found no link to any terrorist organization. It really appeared that he was a home-grown British terrorist. Every country now has these in this globalized world. Every country has too many of these. There were signs of anti-terrorism everywhere. The bridge now had massive iron and steel barriers to prevent any more automobile terrorism. More construction was on-going. We felt completely safe on the bridge. When we got off no so much.
The bridge was crawling with tourists. This would have been easy pickings for a terrorist. We were surprised “only” 50 had been injured. It was even more crowded than Paris.
We really did very little sight seeing today. Our made goal was dinner. Our Monogram guide, Augustine, had recommended a nearby restaurant that we enjoyed. She said it had been Churchill’s favorite restaurant. That was good enough for us, even though it looked modest. It was called the Red Lion. Later we learned many politicians frequently the place because it was very close to Parliament. Thankfully none were in attendance today. We had the place more or less to ourselves.
When we got back I got sick. I thought it was the result of a chocolate bar I had half-eaten. Chris refused to try an experiment to determine if that was the cause. She refused to eat what was left. So the mystery remains. I was hoping I would feel better before our lengthy flight home.
Charles Dickens described Paris and France about as well as anyone before or after him. As he said in his novel a Tale of 2 Cities:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of credulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
That really described the city and our time in it very well.
But today was radically different from yesterday. Chris decided, and I supported her entirely in this decision, that today she should stay behind and rest her ankles. They looked awful. We hoped she could recoup. This turned out to be a very good decision. It worked!
So I ventured out on my own with absolutely no knowledge of French. I considered this a bold move, but the choice was to stay back at the hotel, which I really did not want to do on our last day in Paris, or boldly go forth.
After breakfast I pulled out my maps of Paris and set out. I love Impressionism, but on maps not so much. In maps I prefer realism. Unfortunately, the Paris maps were created by Impressionists or perhaps, even worse, by abstract impressionists who see no need for art to even resemble reality, let alone represent it.
I know that Hop on/Hop Off buses are a bit expensive but they sure are convenient for someone like me who does not speak the local language and who has no real conception of how far apart places are and is not even sure what he wants to see. So finally I hopped on and started my adventure.
I saw a large part of Paris and had a wonderful time all on my own. My first stop was near the Hôtel des Invalides where I was approached by a family from Nazareth who needed help finding their way around Paris. This seemed ridiculous since I had already demonstrated a startling capacity to get my directions wrong in this fair city, but they seemed intent on asking my advice despite my warnings. Had I been better prepared I would have got them to sign a written release of liability. So this was how I led a family from Nazareth out of the wilderness. Can you imagine? Now you know why we are all bound for hell.
Today I got seriously distracted. What else is new? I got distracted, of course, by flowers. There were a series of gardens here one right after the other. It was too much for me to resist. The distraction was more unavoidable, because the skies were gray. Photos of things like the Eiffel Tower looked drab. Flowers in such light on the other hand shone. I took a number of photographs of flowers outside Petit Palais and in the Jardin des Tuileries
Some of the walkways are lined with lime and chestnut trees and I took some snap shots of those as well doing my best to create an Impressionistic image. Skies were grey, so they were perfect for flowers. When the world gives you lemons, make lemonade.
My mind was filled of course with thoughts of Impressionism. I was infused with Impressionism. How could that have been avoided after yesterday’s afternoon at the D’Orsay? So I kept thinking of how I could show the lovely flower gardens in an Impressionistic style. To do that, I thought I would create what photographers call the “Orton effect”. This style, just like Impressionism, is not for everyone. I love it, just like I love the Impressionist paintings. So I kept planning some of my images for applying this technique later. I include some of the photographs with this effect and some more naturalistic for those who might get sick seeing too many Ortons. The technique involved combining 2 copies of exactly the same image. One image is over-exposed so it looks very light. The other image is sometimes also over-exposed but just slightly. The second image is then blurred drastically. Then the two images are combined.
I find the resulting image sometimes is magical. Other times it just does not work. Some think the technique never works. Why would you ever deliberately blur it some ask? I would say, for the same reason Impressionists often did not want a sharp image. A Sketchy image to them sometimes seemed preferable. The image can be more “real” than a clear representation. This is sort of like that.
Eventually I got back on the bus until near Notre Dame. Of course, the grounds were awash with tourists, so I did not stay long. I wanted to take a little more time for photos. I ducked down low to have a hedge hide as many of them as possible.
After I was done, I walked across the Petit Pont Notre Dame across the Seine to the Left Bank. I took some more photos of the famous cathedral from that angle. This was near where I found quite by accident the famous bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. James Joyce and his pals made this bookstore famous. Sylvia Beach originally owned it. During the 1920s, Beach’s shop was a gathering place for many then-aspiring writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Maddox Ford, and particularly James Joyce. Beach published Joyce’s controversial masterpiece Ulysses in 1922 when no one else dared touch it.
Beach moved the store from its original location to a large location at 12 rue de L’Odéon where it remained until 1941 when it was closed on account of the Nazi occupation. Some said it was closed because Beach refused to sell the last copy of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake to a German officer. During this period of time it was the center of Anglo-American literary culture. Joyce nicknamed the store “Stratford-on-Odéon.” Joyce actually used the store as an office for a while. Hemingway mentioned the various attendees of the store in his memoir A Moveable Feast. Patrons could borrow books if they could not afford to buy. She also carried controversial books such as D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover which was banned in both the US and UK.
Beach was welcoming to a vast array of writers and artists who had no other place to stay. It was an island of civilization, particularly for struggling writers and artists. The shop’s motto, “Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise,” is written above the entrance to the reading library. I think this is the civilization I have been seeking.
By the time I was finished there I thought it was time to go back to the hotel to see how Chris was doing. After some running around (literally) I managed to find the bus again and hopped on for the final leg of my solo city tour back to our hotel. Chris was feeling quite a bit better. The day off from touring and walking did her a world of good. The rash was considerably reduced.
Tonight we were going to celebrate our 46th wedding anniversary. We had made reservations back in Canada for a “romantic cruise” on the Seine River at night. We were very excited about that. It turned out to the be romantic cruise from hell.
We started off right. This time we did the sensible thing; we took a cab to the pier where the ship was docked. When we finally got on the ship for our “romantic” dinner we were sorely disappointed. In fact we concluded that we were being punished for bad behaviour though we had no idea what we had done. That is not uncommon for me.
To begin with, we got absolutely the worst seat in the restaurant. We were near the front of the ship but could not see anything of the city from there. We were near the middle of the ship so could not see out the sides either. The view of the city we had been promised was almost non-existent from where we sat. We did have a clear view of a toilet and the kitchen. The sound of the promised musicians was nearly drowned out by the sound of banging of pots and pans. We were clearly in steerage.
The meal was also a disappointment. We were served Rose wine instead of champagne. The appetizer was as tasty and nutritious as last week’s laundry. Most importantly the steaks were not hot. Had they been hot we believed the sauce Bordelaise would have been excellent, but really we were guessing. We sat right next to a young Asian woman and her mother who spent most of the time looking at their phones. We wished we would have their seats with the great views that they did not need. The service was attentive, but not for us in steerage. It was a disaster of a romantic cruise.
Through sheer force of will, we managed to enjoy the evening. The music was subdued but not bad. Strong drink helped ease the pain. The company was great! I dashed to the back of the boat frequently to get photos of the city and Eiffel Tower at night. The views from outside the restaurant were sensational. In fact, they were worth the trip. Most importantly, we still love each other.
Many of you looking at this immensely long diatribe may see this as convincing proof of my loss of mind. That might be true. But I would encourage those inclined to think this way to skip over this vastly overlong piece on the art of Impressionism. I was not intending to do this. Something made me do it.
When I looked at my photographs of various paintings at the Louvre and then at the Musée d’Orsay I had a vague recollection of reading about Impressionism years ago. I am talking about 30 years ago. I dusted off old art books from my bookshelf and got engrossed all over again. I read lengthy passages and tried to tie them to the paintings we had seen that day in Paris. I felt compelled to write these thoughts down based on that reading. I am no expert on art and do not claim to be. Yet for some reason these thoughts and vague recollections were floating around my brain and I had to try to organize them. This is the result. Like Dylan once said, its all just “worthless foam from the mouth.” Please do not feel compelled to read any of this unless you must.
So based on the better part of a day in 2 of the greatest art museums in the world and my re-reading of old texts on art, mixed up with some equally vague thoughts about philosophy as well to create a veritable strange brew, I set my thoughts down. For what very little they are no doubt worth.
Impressionism is often considered the starting point for modern art. This art movement began in France and many of its practitioners were French. It is a quintessential French art tradition. Though it certainly did not start out as traditional. Far from it in fact. It was reviled at first.
In Paris in the middle of the 19th century the École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) was considered the centre of the world. It was one of many influential arts schools in France. In those days there were many written and unwritten laws of French art and life. Compliance with those rules was an absolute necessity if an artist wanted to achieve “success.” Art was a career in France. In fact in France it was one of the most important careers. In France art was not as important as life, it was much more important than that.
In France in many ways the life of an artist was comparable to a military career. It was governed just as strictly by rules that had to be followed scrupulously in order to advance. In the end the rewards were impressive. Many artists eventually achieved wealth, status and social standing after following those rules diligently for a lifetime.
The Academy of Fine Arts (particularly the Institut de France) governed the arts like the dictator of a banana republic. It was pure enlightened despotism. From the Academy the leaders and teachers of art were chosen to lead the next generation of artists. The Academy also controlled the jury admissions and rewards for the biennial Salons. This gave them the power to exclude from the exhibitions any artist who did not respectfully comply with their requirements.
The Director of the Academy also participated in decision making for various museums in the selection of art for purchase or earlier for acquisitions by the Emperor. They also strongly influenced the awarding of commissions for the production of new art in various institutions, both governmental and private. As John Rewald explained, “In all these questions the Academy naturally favored its most docile pupils, who in turn were favored by that public which sees in medals and prizes the proof of an artist’s talent.” 
It is true that the school now located on the Left Bank across the Seine from the Louvre had an astonishing history of 350 years during which it trained some of the greatest artists in Europe. Its style was “classical.” That was a great style modeled on the classical antiquities from Greece and Rome and it helped to preserve those idealized forms and to pass that style on to future generations. It was a vital institution, but like so many vital institutions it became encrusted with routine, rules, and dogma. We know many institutions in which the same thing happened. As a result by the middle of the 19th century it had earned its revolution. And it got one. The revolution was delivered by the so-called impressionists.
The artistic style that guided the Academy at the time was that put forth by Jean-Jacque David, whose painting we had admired at length in the morning. David lived from 1748 to 1825. He was a painter of the Neoclassical style and was widely considered the preeminent painter of his time. His cerebral brand of history painting marked a change away from Rococo frivolity that many were starting to lose their taste for. A the time this was fresh change in art. It was revolutionary at the time. It was a return to the classics. This style was known for classical austerity and severity and heightened feeling that harmonized with the moral climate of the final years of the Ancient Regime that met its defeat in the French Revolution.
David actually later came to become a supporter of the revolution and was even appointed by Robespierre as a virtual artistic dictator under the French Republic. He was imprisoned by Robespierre and later changed his allegiance to Napoleon. David had a large number of pupils and became the artist with the strongest influence on the art of the 19th century. In particular he was the darling of the Salons of Paris.
David’s most famous student at the Academy was Jean Dominique Ingres. In 1855 Camille Pissaro from St. Thomas in the West Indies came to see the great Exposition Universelle in Paris. This was the first exhibition to include a large contingent of international art. This huge exhibition was the product of France wanting to show the world how great it was. Art was shown from 28 countries and someone said it was the greatest collection of paintings and sculpture ever gathered in one building at one time. France’s share of art was of course by far the largest.
Artists were chosen for that exhibition with more care than they normally were because so many international artists and critics and connoisseurs would see the collection. After all the French artists would have to compare favorably with artists from around the world. Delacroix for example, whose art we had also admired in the morning at the Louvre, had chosen for display some of his finest works.
Ingres had actually refused to send works for past 20 years because he felt he had been slighted. He was big enough that he could afford to do that. But for this magnificent exhibition he made an exception. It did not hurt that the government had promised him special honours.
Ingres had advised young painters to copy their models stupidly.  He said that an object well drawn is always well enough painted. Ingres always emphasized line over color. As a result many of his followers thought of paintings as “colored drawings.” Ingres and his group considered as ‘badly drawn’ landscapes of Corot or the composition of Delacroix because in these every object was not carefully delineated by a minute contour. To Ingres’ pupils correct drawing finally became an end in itself, and a ‘noble contour’ was a sufficient excuse for a lack of inspiration, dry execution, and dull colouring. In the absence of any personal link with the classical ideals admired by their master, they simply blended with the classical tradition with cheap genre style. It was this mixture of empty craftsmanship with anecdotal platitude, that, at the Salons caused the delight of the picture-reading public…Yet, as Delacroix put it, their works did not contain that “dash of truth, the truth which comes from the soul.” 
It is interesting that even Ingres “frankly admitted that the Salon stifles and corrupts the feeling for the great, the beautiful; artists are driven to exhibit there by the attractions of profit…Thus the Salon is literally no more than a picture shop, a bazaar in which the tremendous number of objects is overwhelming, and business rules instead of art.”  Of course this has always been the problem with art—its unholy union with business that all too often brings forth monsters from the deep. Monsters that many nonetheless clamour for, like braying donkeys of idiocy. Many others since then have laid similar charges. For example, Walter Januszcjak one of the first art critics I started to read when I first subscribed to the Guardian in 1982 said, “the art world has become an industry supplying spiritual knick-knacks to the rich.”
Pissaro who later became one of the leaders of the Impressionist movement, was a bit mystified by the exhibition. For one thing, he noticed that great variety of styles. He was also puzzled at how little space was given to some painters, in comparison to Delacroix and Ingres, even though he felt they were outstanding too. These included Corot, Daubigny, who were early Impressionist. Others were entirely excluded and Pissaro could not understand it. A number of canvases now considered masterpieces were rejected or refused.
The men and women who became the Impressionists were the rebels against the calcifying Academy and its Salons. Unlike Ingres, they refused to comply with the requirements of the Salons. They were accused of producing ugly art because it did not conform to the rules of the Salon. So they revelled in that. As one of the artists Denoyers proclaimed, “Let’s be a little ourselves, even though we might be ugly…Let’s not write, not paint anything except what is, or at least what we see, what we know, what we have lived. Don’t let us have any master nor pupils! A curious school it is, don’t you think, where there is neither master nor student, and whose only principles are independence, sincerity, individualism.”  The rebels were excluded from the Salons but not the cafés of Paris. Rewald described those boisterous cafés like this;
The noisy atmosphere of these cafés, where idols were created or demolished within a few minutes, where no title to glory was well enough earned to prevent insults, where logic was often replaced by vehemence and comprehension by enthusiasm—this atmosphere was in violent contrast to that of the official art circles. Here, were life and tremendous will to conquer, and even if many erred or exaggerated, there was in their fight against prejudice and tradition a positive element, the desire to prove the value of new beliefs through the quality of new works. Pissarro’s often proclaimed opinion that the Louvre ought to be burned may well of had its root in these discussions where the heritage of the past was considered harmful for those who wanted to build a world of their own. 
In 1863 the jury was even more extreme in its refusals owing to the intransigence of some of its members. Many artists were turned down, like Manet. Many of those artists complained to the Emperor. They took their art seriously in France at that time. Napoleon III declared that he would arrange for another exhibit for those who had been refused by the jury. All artists would be welcomed. All they had to do was apply. It was called the Salon des Refuses, the “most rejected of the rejected.” One artist proudly proclaimed that he had been refused on moral grounds.
Of course many members of the public thought these artists who had been refused were refused because their art was inferiors and they were only complainers. Many members of the public mocked the refused artists, as whining losers. Yet these young artists were not to be stopped. One of the critics noted that Manet demonstrated that he was very “sensitive to intense impressions.” Many members of the public though saw his art as vulgar. That was partly because of his revolutionary techniques.
It may be doubted whether Manet’s paintings would have provoked such criticism had it not been painted in broad contrasts and frank opposition, with a tendency to simplification. His “vulgarity”, in the eyes of the public, lay probably even more in in his execution than in his subject matter. It was his renunciation of the customary slick brushwork, his fashion of summarily indicating background details and of obtaining forms without the help of lines, by opposing colors or sketching his contours, if necessary with decisive brushstrokes in color (which helped to model volumes instead of limiting them), that were responsible for the almost universal disapproval he met. 
One of the critics called the Salondes Refuses “a war on beauty.”  Future Salons generated similar refusals, though not total rejections. Some of the artists were permitted a few exhibits only. Some of their colleagues reacted badly when someone like Manet exhibited one painting at the official exhibit in 1874.
The artists had little respect for the bourgeois audiences who they believed did not understand art even though they did not mock all the paintings.
Years later Zola was to describe in a novel the atmosphere of an exhibition resounding with the guffaws of curiosity-seekers: “These laughs were no longer smothered by their handkerchiefs of the ladies, and the men distended their bellies the better to give vent to them. It was the contagious mirth of a crowd which had come for entertainment, was becoming excited by degrees, exploded apropos of nothing, and was enlivened as much by beautiful things as by execrable ones… They nudged each other, the doubled up… every canvas had its appreciation, people called each over to point out a good one, witty remarks were constantly being passed from mouth to mouth… expressing the sum of asininity , of absurd commentary, of bad and stupid ridicule that an original work can evoke from bourgeois imbecility. 
In 1874 Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Pissarro and others launched an exhibit on their own. They were the young rebels of Paris. Like existentialism, they did not have a coherent program. They painted train stations, cafés, gardens, and surprisingly to me, places of industry. They did not ignore the modern world; they challenged it.
After that exhibit an influential Parisian art critic was highly critical of their work. He said it was often incomplete, and sketch-like. He ridiculed it calling their art “impressions.” So the term at first was an insult. Eventually the artists adopted the name, just as Hillary Clinton hater adopted the term “Adorable deplorables.” People who are insulted like to do nothing more than turn the tables on their tormentors.
Eventually people realized that it take great skill to render an image not as a sharp reproduction, but an “impression.” This was the beginning of the movement to sever the umbilical connection of art to representation. For the first time, artists realized that it was not necessary to present an accurate representation of the world. This was the precursor of modern art. They captured its imperfections. This is one of the things I like about the Impressionists. They embraced imperfections realizing that the ideal was not real.
Monet and Renoir, two of the leaders of the Impressionist movement did not deny that they painted in a rough manner. Both made extensive use of vivid brush strokes. They also used a technique with rapid strokes, dots and commas (strokes in the brief swirl of a comma) to capture glistening atmosphere. As Rewald said, “what officials would have considered “sketchiness”—the execution of an entire canvas without a single definite line, the use of the brushstroke as a graphic means, the manner of composing surfaces wholly through small particles of pigment in different shades—all this now because for Monet and Renoir not merely a practical method of realizing their intentions, it became a necessity if they were to retain the vibrations of light and water, the impression of action and life. Their technique was the logical result of their work out-of-doors and their efforts to see in subjects not the details they recognized bu8t the whole they perceived.” 
Stéphane Mallarmé who wrote a monthly article for the Art Monthly probably understood the originality of the Impressionists better than most. He wrote about the movement this way,
As no artist has on his palette a transparent and neutral color answering to open air, the desired effect can only be obtained by lightness or heaviness of touch, or by the regulation of tone. Now Monet and his school use simple color, fresh, or lightly laid on, and their results appear to have been attained at the first stroke, that the ever-present light blends with and vivifies all things. As to the details of the picture, nothing should be absolutely fixed in order that we may feel that the bright gleam which lights the picture, or the diaphanous shadow which veils it, are only seen in passing, and just when the spectator beholds the represented subject, which being composed of a harmony of reflected and ever-changing lights, cannot be supposed always to look the same but palpitates with movement and light, and life… That which I preserve through the power of Impressionism is not the material portion, which already exists, superior to any mere representation of itbut the delight of having recreated nature touch by touch. I leave the massive and tangible solidity to its fitter exponent, sculpture,. I content myself with reflecting on the clear and durable mirror of painting, that which perpetually lives yet dies every moment, which only exists by will of Idea, yet constitutes in my domain the only authentic and certain merit of nature—the Aspect. 
According to the perceptive art critic, Jules Antoine Castagnary, who spent a lot of time with the Impressionists and learned a lot from them,
The common concept which united them as a group and gives them a collective strength in the midst of our disaggregate epoch is the determination not to search for a smooth execution, but to be satisfied with a certain general aspect. Once the impression is captured, they declare their role terminated…If one wants to characterize them with a single word that explains their efforts, one would have to create the new term of Impressionists. They are impressionists in the sense that they render not a landscape but the sensation produced by a landscape. 
I really believe that this describes their technique as well as anything. It reminds me of those who reject perfection. They give up before perfection has been achieved. Perfection is not necessary. It may in fact be opposed to the goal of the artist.
As a result the artists came to accept the designation of “Impressionist” that started out as a term of ridicule. Of course, some of the artists denied that they were part of the group. Artists are an unruly lot. That’s one of the reasons they are so loveable. The name was interesting, as Rewald said,
The term “impressionism,” coined in derision, was soon to be accepted by the friends. In spite of Renoir’s aversion to anything that might give them the appearance of constituting a new ‘school’ of painting, in spite of Degas’ unwillingness to admit the designation with regard to himself, and in spite of Zola’s persistence in calling the painters ‘naturalists,’ the new word was there to stay. Charged with ridicule and vague as it was, ‘impressionism’ seemed as good a term as any other to underline the common element in their efforts. No one word could be expected to define with precision the tendencies of a group of men who place their own sensations above any artistic program. Yet whatever meaning the word might have had originally, its true sense was to be formulated not by critics but by the painters themselves. Thus it was that from among their midst—and doubtless with their consent—came the first definition of the term. It was one of Renoir’s friends who proposed it, writing a little later: ‘Treating a subject in terms of the tone and not of the subject itself, this is what distinguishes the impressionists from other painters.”
It is also noteworthy that the essence of the painting was no longer “the subject itself,” but rather its tone. That harkens out to a subsequent movement in art—abstraction that deep-sixed the very subject entirely concentrating entirely on tones. It would not take long and representation in art would be superseded. The Impressionists had liberated themselves from traditional principles of art and traditional subjects of art. The group was known for its “intense sensibilities,”  as Rewald called their skills. And they employed those sensibilities to lead to a revolution in art that was as extreme as any change in the history of art. As Rewald said, “And in doing so they had openly renounced even the recreating reality. Rejecting the objectivity of realism, they had selected one element from reality—light—to interpret all of nature.” 
So the Impressionists found a new subject their own impression of light. I believe that one of the paintings we saw today illustrated that as much as any. This was Claude Monet’s sensational painting of the English Parliament that he painted in 1904. It has just the most vague outline of Parliament but the glory of the painting is the light of the sunset (or sunrise) and its reflection in the Thames. I did not realize it but a couple of days later I photographed more or less the same image. But the wonder of the painting is the wonder of the light. There is only a hint of a subject beyond that. The light is all. And light, as the Gothic Architects realized, is divine.
Of course painting light is never easy. In England that genius John M. W. Turner had tried to that with astounding skill and bravery. Turner was a Romantic who followed the lead of the English romantic poets like Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, and Keats. These poets emotionalized nature. As Helen Gardner said, “These poets, interested in describing nature’s looks, and moods, read the natural landscape closely and sympathetically, until they came to see it almost as a projection of themselves; in a word, they subjectivized it.” 
This reminds me of what Northrop Frye said, “ the poet’s job (he could have said the artist’s job) is not to describe nature, but to show you a world completely absorbed and possessed by the human mind.”  In the same book, Frye said, “The poet too is an identifier, everything he sees in nature he identifies with human life.”  Literature, like all art, according to Frye is doing the work that mythology does—it gives the world a human face. “There’s a difference between the world you’re living in and the world you want to live in. The world you want to live in is a human world, not an objective one.”
So Turner expanded the role of light “greatly increasing the role of pure color…in his later paintings he increasingly reveals his awareness that color and light are so closely related as to be the same, and he brings his art to a point where it foreshadows Impressionism.” John Constable continued this trend in English art, but it took the Impressionist to bring it to a spectacular conclusion.
Rewald, an acknowledge expert on the art of the Impressionists has a lengthy explanation of the group. As he reported,
Their new approach to nature had prompted the painters gradually to establish a new palette and create a new technique appropriate to their endeavour to retain the fluid play of light. The careful observation of colored light appearing in a scene at a particular moment and led them to do away with the traditional dark shadows and to adopt light pigments. It also led them to ignore local colors, subordinating the abstract notion of local tones to the general atmospheric effect. By applying their paint in perceptible strokes, they had succeeded in in blurring the outlines of objects and merging them with the surroundings. This method had further permitted introducing one color easily into the area of another without degrading or losing it, and thus enriching the color effects. But, above all, the multitude of obvious touches and the contrasts among them had helped to express or suggest the activity, the scintillation of light, and to recreate it to a certain extent on canvas. Moreover, the technique of vivid strokes seemed best suited to their efforts to retain rapidly changing aspects. Since the hand is slower than the eye, which is quick to perceive instantaneous effects, a technique to permit the painters to work rapidly was essential if they were to keep pace with their perception. Alluding to these problems, Renoir used to say, “out-of-doors is always cheating.” Yet their cheating merely consisted in making a choice among the multitude aspects which nature offered., in order to translate the miracles of light into a language of pigment and two dimensions, and also to render the chose aspect with the color and the execution that came closest to their impression. 
I really believe this sums up Impressionism as well as can be done with the puny power of words.
Like the existentialists that followed them, in time and in spirit, the Impressionists tried to capture the moment—here and now. They tried to reveal a personal and subjective impression of the fleeting world of moments. As a result their brushwork was often rapid and visible. They saw the moment as more real than the duration. Here and now is all. As Baudelaire said, “Modernity is the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent, one half of art of which the other half is the eternal and the immutable…This transitory, fugitive element, the metamorphoses of which are so frequent, you have no right to despise or do without. By suppressing it you forcibly tumble into the emptiness of an abstract and undefinable beauty.” 
The French art critic Odilon Redon perceptively recognized this important aspect of the Impressionists. As he said of, Corot, “He is the painter of a moment, of an impression.” 
Impressionists often were inspired to paint by the sea, or ponds, or rivers. Antonin Proust said this about an important French painter, “Courbet once gave a superb reply when Daubigny complimented him on a study of the sea. ‘This is not a study of the sea,’ he said, it represents an hour.’ That is what people do not sufficiently understand, that one does not paint a landscape, a seascape, a figure—one paints an impression of an hour.”  That is what Impressionism is all about.
Existentialism the quintessential philosophy of the early twentieth century had the same focus. The here and now was its concern.
Degas understood this. He had been deeply affected by a long passage from a novel by the Goncourt brothers Manette Saloman in which one of the main characters give a long soliloquy in which he expressed the credo of the authors of the book,
All ages carry within themselves a Beauty of some kind or other, more or less close to the earth, capable of being grasped and exploited—It is a question of excavation—It is possible that the Beauty of today may be covered, buried, concentrated—to find it there is perhaps need of analysis, a magnifying glass near-sighted vision, new psychological processes.—The question of what is modern is considered exhausted, because there was this caricature of truth in our time, something to stun the bourgeoisie: realism!—because one gentleman created a religion out of the stupidly ugly, or the vulgar ill assembled and without selection, of the modern—but common without character, without expression, lacking what is beauty and the life of the ugly in nature and in art: style! The feeling the intuition for the contemporary, for the scene that rubs modern shoulders for you, for the present in which you sense the trembling of your emotions and something of yourself—everything is there for the artist. The nineteenth century not produce a painter!—but that is inconceivable—A century that has endured so much, the great century of scientific restlessness and anxiety for the truth—There must be found a line that would precisely render life, embrace from close at hand the individual , the particular, a living, human inward line in which there would be something of a modelling by Houdon, a preliminary pastel sketch by La Tour, a stroke by Gavarni—A drawing truer than all drawing—a drawing—more human. 
The Impressionists loved the atmospheric conditions that they found about them outdoors. As a result their images are often very light—the very color of light. The framing is often off centre. Photographers later used the same technique. They call it ‘the rule of thirds.’ They don’t like things in dead centre as to them the image feels dead that way. Photographers learned this from Impressionists whether they realize it or not.
For the first few years the Impressionists were very poor. The critics largely rejected their work, as did people. At first. In time the critics and public both came to appreciate them. In fact, eventually their art sold for millions. In my opinion that is as absurd as paying them nothing.
The Impressionists also had important insights for what I have called the philosophy of affinity. This is the philosophy of Indigenous peoples of North America in particular. It is a philosophy towards which I am very sympathetic. It holds that all life on earth is connected. We are a part of the world. We are embedded in it. We are not separate from it.
The European version of this philosophy was enunciated (sort of) by Martin Heidegger who used the interesting concept of everything that exists is being-in-the-world to use an apt phrase from Martin Heidegger.
It is also interesting to me at least, that this philosophy is implicit in the views of Northrop Frye.
Rewald talked about water in the art of the Impressionists. This is what Rewald said on that subject,
The subject of water played an important role in the development of the style of Monet and his friends. In 1868 Monet painted a picture of a woman seated on a riverbank in which the reflections on the water became one of the main features. Just as snow scenes had permitted the artists to investigate the problem of shadows, the rendering of water offered an excellent opportunity to observe reverberations and reflections. Thus they could further develop their knowledge of the fact that so-called local color was actually a pure convention and that every object presents to the eye a scheme of colors derived from its proper hue, from its surroundings, and from atmospheric conditions. Moreover, the study of water gave pretext for the representation of formless masses livened only by the richness of nuances, of surfaces, whose texture invited vivid brushstrokes. 
Monet had discovered that these so-called local colors varied according to their surroundings and this was a decisive step in art and not only that was “a decisive step toward the full understanding of nature.”  That means, I believe, a full understanding that everything is connected. As John Muir said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, one finds it attached to everything.” This is an understanding derived from art. Not just philosophy.
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 19
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 20
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 20
 quoted by John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 20
 quoted by John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 28
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 29-30
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 86
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 326
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 328
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 230
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 372
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 330
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 338
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 338
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 338
 Helen Gardner, Art Through the Ages, (1975) p. 684
 Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination, (1963) p. 11
 Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination, (1963) p. 31
 Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination, (1963) p. 4
 Helen Gardner, Art Through the Ages, (1975) p. 684
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 338
 quoted in John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 128,
 quoted in John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 188
 quoted in John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 224
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 174
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 228
 John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, (1973) p. 116
This was at the largest and probably most spectacular museum in the world—the Musée du Louvre. It contains 35,000 works of art—many of them priceless. It is an immense treasure.
The Louvre was built by King Philippe-August as a fortress in 1190, but Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor made it his home from 1364 to 1380. In the 16th century Frances I replaced it with a Renaissance-style palace and started the royal art collection with 12 paintings. All of them were from Italy. In those days Italy, not France, was the centre of the art world.
In 1793 the revolutionaries opened up the collection for the masses. When Napoleon took over, soon after that, he converted the palace into a museum. For the people of course. Napoleon knew how to suck up.
We had a short but marvellous tour of the Louvre. This was our hour or two of art—great art. What a pity that we did not have more time. That is one of the problems with tours. They decide what you will see and for how long.
We were accompanied by the guide from our city tour, who turned out to be very good. We enjoyed her commentary a lot. I took some photographs of the art not to get a good replica, just to remind me what I had seen. I include them for what they are worth. Not much.
We started with Egyptian and then moved quickly to Greek art. After that we saw Renaissance art and the art of pre-Impressionists.
It was wonderful to see the amazing development from the solidity and stiffness of the Egyptian art to the Greeks sculptures that seemed to come to life. We stopped to admire the transformation of the ideal into flesh and blood beauty.
We next looked at Greek and Roman art. In describing the truly awesome Venus de Milo (Aphrodite Melos) created in about 150-100 B.C. Helen Gardner put it this way, “Here…the ideal is taken out of the hypersensible world of reasoned proportions and made in to an apparition of living flesh… The feeling as stone has quite surrendered to the ambition of making stone looking as thought it were the soft warm substance of the human body.”  Unfortunately we don’t know the name of the great artist who created this masterpiece.
We also saw The Winged Victory of Samothrace. This wonderful statue consists of a statue of a winged female figure—thought to be the goddess Victory on top of a base in the shape of the prow of a ship. The base in turn stands on a low pedestal. The garment flows with grace and seems to almost fly over the skin as light as a butterfly. The sculpture was created about 220-185 B.C. It is a masterpiece of Hellenistic sculpture.
From the Greek section we went to the Renaissance Art. Unfortunately I have forgotten the title and the artist. What I did remember was the principle. At first in early Renaissance art the portraits showed the models all with the same face. And they were all perfect. No blemishes were shown. They thought that was how it was supposed to be. Eventually artists started to show differences. They showed people with imperfections. That really ushered in the art of humanism. For humans are nothing if not imperfect. Perspective also became important in Renaissance art. Eventully9 they created marvels of perspective. That was something the Greeks and Romans failed to achieve.
One of the masters of Renaissance art was of course, Leonardo Da Vinci. Between 1495 and 1527 the center of the art world moved from Firenze (Florence) to Roma (Rome). That was accomplished by a series of powerful and ambitious Popes Alexander Vi (Borgia), Julius II (della Rovere), Leo X (Medici) and Clement VII (Medici) who together established Rome as the power of Europe. And with that great power came great art. They often go together like love and marriage. Rome became not only the religious capital of Europe, but the artistic capital as well.
Naturally the Popes lived in magnificent splendour. They lived like secular princes in other words. Yet they embellished the city with great art and great opportunities for artists. It was the golden age of the Renaissance, or the High Renaissance as it is sometimes called. This was the age of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian. While these artists had learned from the masters of the Middle and early Renaissance they were creative geniuses, who did not shy from breaking away. They were outstanding rebels.
Yet there was also a spiritual element to the High Renaissance. As Gardner said, “The High Renaissance not only produced a cluster of extraordinary geniuses, but found in divine inspiration the rationale for the exaltation of the artists-genius.” 
Leonardo was a rebel—like so many artists before and after him. He was gay, left-handed, handsome, and athletic. He was one of the greatest artists in history.
Walter Isaacson, who wrote a recent biography of Da Vinci, called Leonardo “the most curious person in history.”  As Helen Gardner said, he was, “A man who is the epitome of the ‘universal man.’ Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) has become a kind of wonder of the modern world, standing at the beginning of a new epoch like a prophet and a sage, mapping the routes that art and science would take.”  He documented the human heart, created a portable bridge, an adding machine, solar power, and a double hulled vessel, worked on a flying machine and studied human anatomy. Some have credited him with inventing the parachute, the helicopter and the tank. Besides inventions and art he was interested in mathematics, sculpture, architecture, astronomy, biology, science, music, engineering, history and cartography. Clearly he had enough interests for a legion of people.
Yet only about 15 of his paintings survive but with that small number he has achieved more influence on future art than perhaps any artists other than his contemporary Michelangelo. As Isaacson said, “He died a poor man but left us a world of lessons.”
He was a genius of both science and art. No one achieved such lofty status in both disciplines. It was astoundingly implausible. He used his science to improve his art and his improve his science.
Specifically, he used his knowledge of the science of light to understand how he could use that knowledge to reveal not just the physical condition in which the subject is found, but “the lights and darks of human psychology as well.”  Anthony Blunt, described the same process this way, “A good painter has two chief objects to paint—man and the intention of his soul. The former is easy, the latter hard, for it must be expressed by gestures and the movements of the limbs… A painting will only be wonderful for the beholder by making that which is not so appear raised and detached from the wall.” 
Painters have to contend with the uncomfortable fact that “Light simultaneously veils and reveals the forms of things, immersing them in a layer of atmosphere between them and our eyes. The ambiguity of light and shade—familiar in the optical uncertainties of dusk—is in the service of the psychological ambiguity of perception.” 
The Renaissance is famous for introducing into painting the concept of perspective. In the Renaissance everything was perspective and no one mastered it more profoundly than Leonardo Da Vinci. This is clear from his world famous Last Supper (which is not shown in the Louvre but in Milan). Perspective however is more than the famous converging lines, but includes subtle use of light and shadow.
Instead we got to see the Mona Lisa. As Gardner said, “If Leonardo’s Last Supper is the most famous of religious pictures, the Mona Lisa is probably the world’s most famous portrait.”  Some art critics have focused on her mysterious smile or what Nat King Cole called “her mystic smile” in his well-known song. Gardner pays more attention to the play of light and shadow in the painting. She says it shows his scientific knowledge. He added to Masaccio’s concept of chiaroscuro—the subtle play of light and dark and how they can obscure each other and illuminate each other at the same. The painting is the product of their effect on each other. The penetrate each other. And that creates the miracle of great art. Leonardo was a master of this concept.
Like the Impressionists that came 4 centuries later, Leonardo was enthralled by ambiguity and uncertainty. He was repelled by certainty. That was why he avoided harsh lines in his art, preferring soft gradations of color and even form.
We also saw a painting from another great Renaissance artist that Chris and I got to appreciate from our 3 weeks in Florence. This was Tiziano Vecellio or Titian as we call him in English. Gardner says of him that “He is among the very greatest painters of the Western world, a supreme colorist and, in a broad sense, the father of the modern mode of painting.” He is particularly credited with adopted canvas and its rough-textured surface as a replacement for wood as the typical medium for paintings.
According to Marilyn Stokstad contemporaries said that Titian “could make an excellent figure appear in four brushstrokes.”  She also called hi “a true magician of portraiture.”  He was most famous for his colours and his paintings of nudes like the Venus that we saw in Florence at the Uffizi Gallery. Stokstad characterized his art this way, “No photograph can convey the vibrancy of Titian’s paint surfaces, which he built in layers of individual brushstrokes in pure colors, chiefly red, white, yellow, and black… His technique was admirably suited to the creation of female nudes, whose flesh seems to glow with an incandescent light.
One of the first works of art we stopped to appreciate, was one by Eugéne Delacroix—one of the supreme artists of France. He was nothing if not extreme. He did not believe in moderation. Instead he delivered the patron on a “a whirlwind journey through the deepest troughs of suffering, fear, despair and to the highest peaks of intense rapture and energy.” 
Delacroix, who lived from 1798 to 1863, once wrote, in his dairy “I dislike reasonable painting.” That is why many of his paintings depict extreme scenes of suffering, fear, and despair, while others are filled with a sense of boundless rapture and energy or even tranquility. Reminds me of modern action films with their over-the-top oeuvre.
His art draws on themes from mythology, literature, the mysterious East, and contemporary history, all treated with the same emotional intensity. He was always an extremist.
Delacroix was not a man of the Enlightenment. He was one of the original romantics. To the romantic the “real” is wild nature. It must be untamed. This is how he described the romantic zeal, “It is evident that nature cares very little whether man has a mind or not. The real man is the savage; he is in accord with nature as she is. As soon as man sharpens his intelligence, increases his ideas, and the way of expressing them, and acquires need, nature runs counter to him in everything.” 
The romantics were constantly in search of the sublime and the terrible, awe and wonder. They did not seek divine proportions, order, and tranquility as the Classicists did. Delacroix said specifically that he sought “delights in the terrible.”
This art form thought that art should try to stir things up. They wanted art that would electrify. His art was designed to appeal to the populous. Sort of like Donald Trump.
The work of art we saw was one of his greatest namely Death of Sardanapalus that he painted in 1826. It shows grand opera on a colossal scale. The painting is 9’7’’ wide and 6’ 4 1/2’’ high. Delacroix showed the last hours of the king in a tempestuous and crowded setting. Since his armies were defeated he had his most precious possession destroyed. These included his concubines, his slaves, horses, and treasures. If he could not have them, no one could have them. With impressing gloom he watched them die. Who would not be depressed with such a sight? According to Gardner, “the king presides like a genius of evil over the panorama of destruction, most conspicuous of which are the tortured and dying bodies of his Rubenesque women, the one in the front dispatched by a slave almost ecstatically murderous. This carnival of suffering and death is glorified by superb drawing and color, the most daringly difficult and torturous poses, and the richest intensities of hues and contrasts of light and dark. The king is he center of the calamity; the quiet eye of a hurricane of form and color. It testifies to Delacroix’s art that his center of meaning, away form the central action, entirely controls it.”
Another work of art by Delacroix that we enjoyed a lot was his Liberty Leading the People, which he painted in 1830, long after the revolution and long after he was aware that liberty had died in the Revolution. The painting is, according to Gardner, “an allegory of revolution itself. Liberty, a partly nude, majestic woman, whose beautiful features wear an expression of noble dignity, waves the people forward to the barricades. The familiar revolutionary apparatus of Paris streets. She carries the banner of the republic, the tricolor, and a musket with bayonet and wear the cap of Liberty. The path of her advance is over the dead and dying of both parties.” Revolution climbing over the dead bodies. Is this not exactly how revolutions work?
You can barely see the towers of Notre-Dame rising through the smoke. Those same towers we saw a couple of hours ago. This painting does really show the temperament of revolution all right.
Delacroix started the abandonment of the ideal that preceded impressionism. This became important in the afternoon when we visited the Impressionist. Delacroix like the Impressionists that followed him was not afraid to show imperfection. Both wanted to abandon perfection for the real. And the real, is the product of the mind.
Nearby in the museum we also gazed at a painting by Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) called Raft of Medusa. According to Gardner this paining was influenced by Michelangelo and Rubens.  This painting had a very modern theme for it showed the French ship Medusa laden heavy with Algerian immigrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. The actual incident like many we have heard about in Europe in the last few years was a tragedy of mismanagement or exploitation and abuse. It caused a scandal in its day. Much more so than many such disasters trigger these days. These days such misery is old hat. It raises not a stir. It only raises cries for bigger and stronger walls. Gardner described the painting this way, “The figures are piled upon one another in every attitude of suffering a despair, and death recalling the foreground figures in Gros’s Pest House. Powerful light and dark contrasts suits the violence of the twisting and writhing bodies. Though Baroque devices are everywhere present, Géricault’s use of shock tactics that stun the viewer’s sensibilities amounts to something new, a new tone of intention that distinguish the second and “high” phase of Romanticism.  Apparently Géricault studied actual bodies from the scene to “get the facts” right. He did not want to present any fake news.
 Helen Gardner, Art Through the Ages, (1975) p.176
 Helen Gardner, Art Through the Ages, (1975) p. 476
Today was an amazing day—a day of art. First Chris decided to soldier on even though her ankles and shins were starting to look like shining veins. We decided that today we would not be stupid. We already did that. No reason to repeat. We had signed up for a city tour of Paris. Such tours are usually whirlwind and unsatisfactory, but they are one way to see a lot of a city in one day when time was limited. A much better way to see a city was the way Chris and I did Florence in 2004. We spent 3 glorious weeks in Florence and never for one minute got tired of it. We did Florence well. Today, we did not do Paris so well, but it was still wonderful.
More than any other city in the world, Paris is the city of art. Parisians carry art in their blood. Parisians are not just passionate about art—Parisians are fused with art. To Parisians art is not just religion—it is much more important than that. Art is life.
In Paris they take to heart the admonition of Karl Kraus “in the presence of art reality is only an optical illusion.” Art is reality; the rest a pale pretence. I think the people of France would endorse fully what Nietzsche said, “we have art so we won’t perish of the truth.” We need art just like we need air, food or water.
Today we got to see art in Paris as we visited 2 of the greatest galleries of art in the world. Art makes the spiritual accessible, even for those who don’t believe in the spiritual in the ordinary sense of the word at least. Picasso knew this. He said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” This is why we need art. Parisians understand this better than citizens from any other city. Today we experienced that.
At breakfast I remarked that we had not yet encountered one snobby French person. How could that be? Were there no self-respecting Frenchmen left? To our surprise we did not meet one in our 3 days in Paris.
Our tour of Paris included the typical city tour by coach. Our first stop was at the Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel). When it was first built in 1889 Parisians did not like it. In fact many hated it. Many of them thought it did not fit into the City of Light. In fact to this day some call it the Awful Tower
It was the tallest building in the world after it was built until the Chrysler Building was built in 1930. Even though the building looks delicate—like lacework—it is built of solid iron and steel. It weighs 10,100 metric tonnes. The design is so solid that it never sways more than 9 cm. (3.5 in.) in strong winds. It is held together by a complex system of iron girders held together by 2.5 million rivets.
Near by we also saw and photographed the Tour St. Jacques. This is late Gothic tower that was built in 1523. The tower is all that is left of the old church of St. Jacques that at one time was the largest medieval church in Paris.
After that we drove through the Latin Quarter. I was thrilled to see Café de Flore. This was one of the famous cafés enjoyed by the existentialists that I got to love during my undergraduate years studying philosophy. These cafés were the places where existentialism was born and then vigorously debated by the philosophers as if philosophy was vitally important as I thought it was.
Café de Flore was a hang-out for artists and intellectuals including the brilliant Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. I would have loved to sit and watch them and listen to them argue about existentialism. Sartre’s partner Simone de Beauvoir often came with Sartre and it was in this café that they “more or less set-up house.”
We also drove by Café Magots that rivaled Café Flore in fame. Artists and philosopher who drank and dined here included Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, and Andre Bréton. Picasso met his muse, Dora Maar here.
We saw the Palais de Justice. This is an enormous building that now house the French law courts. The judiciary in France dates back to Roman times. That is why so much French law is still based on Roman law. The current building though was a royal palace until the 14th century when Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, moved the court to Marais. During the French Revolution thousands were condemned to be executed from the Premier Chambre Civile, reputed to be the bedroom of Louis IX.
After that we saw the glorious Notre-Dame Cathedral. Some have called this building “the heart of the country.” In many ways that is exactly what it is both geographically and spiritually. The foundation stone was laid on the site of an ancient Celtic altar by Pope Alexander III in 1163. An army of craftsmen toiled on the building for 170 years.
The church is considered one of the masterpieces of Gothic art. It was almost destroyed in the French Revolution but was restored from 1841 to 1864 under the guidance of the architect Viollet-le-Duc. He added the awesome spire that is 96 m. (315 ft.) high.
Gothic churches above all represent the interplay of height and light in glorious display. It is incredible to look at the 3 great rose windows on the west, east, and south facades.
Only the north window still has the 14th century windows with their stained glass. “Hymns to the Divine Light” as Kenneth Clark called them. I might have thought they were even more splendid than the stained glass in Strasbourg Cathedral, but it seemed pedestrian to compare them.
Many famous visitors have seen Notre Dame. Joan of Arc was perhaps the first really famous person to see it. She saw it during her lifetime, but more importantly, perhaps, she saw it after her death, because a posthumous trial was held for her 24 years after she had been burned at the stake for apostasy. At the later trial her conviction was overturned, but of course, it was too late to do her any good. Napoleon was crowned Emperor here, effectively ending the French Revolution.
We walked through this cathedral as church was in service. This felt disrespectful, but our guide reminded us that the church needed our fees to keep its maintenance schedules. I captured a large number of images of the stained glass, particularly the rose windows. I love stained glass.
We drove by the site of the publishing of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, that features cartoons, jokes, polemics and satire. It is deeply irreverent and non-conformist. In other words, it is my kind of magazine. It often attacks the church and the far right and has not shied away from attacking Islam. That is what got the magazine into trouble as it became the subject of terrorist attacks in 2011 and 2015. Both were presumed to be in response to a number of controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that it published. In the second of the attacks 12 people were killed including the publisher.
The people of Paris have rallied around the magazine ever since the attacks, as the French are vigorously defensive of their freedoms that have been hard won. They don’t want to give up these freedoms to any religion. Not even Islam, the most militant of the current religions.
I love the French for their defence of freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Vivre la France, libre. They refuse to buckle under to terrorism. Parisians celebrate dissent. They refuse to give up any of their freedoms. Unlike Americans, who talk about freedom but are quick to give it up in favor of security, the French realize that freedom is part of their essence. If they give up freedom they give up everything. To me that is the spirit of France—the spirit of the Revolution.
We drove along the most famous street in Paris, if not the world, the Champ-Elysées and the quarter that lies around radiating wealth, power, and privilege. This is home for the President of France, embassies, and haute couture fashion houses. There were 5-star hotels and restaurants none of which we could afford. Peasants know their places. Some of us at least.
At the end of this magnificent street we saw the fantastic Arc de Triomphe. To me the triumph is hollow but to the French it still signifies glory. It marks Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. Work was started on this magnificent monument to military glory in 1806 before the sheen of victory had not worn thin, but it was only completed in 1836 as a result of his all too swift fall from power and grace. His victory lasted about as long as most military victories. Not long in other words. The only good thing about it—perhaps there is one—is that it is a magnificent structure in the middle of the Champs-Elysées. It made for some good photos. I guess that was one more good thing. It certainly did not reflect glory or triumph.
Our next stop was our longest one of the day. This was at the largest and probably most spectacular museum in the world—the Musée du Louvre. It contains 35,000 works of art—many of them priceless. It is an immense treasure.
The Louvre was built by King Philippe-August as a fortress in 1190, but Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor made it his home from 1364 to 1380. In the 16th century Frances I replaced it with a Renaissance-style palace and started the royal art collection with 12 paintings. All of them were from Italy. In those days Italy, not France, was the centre of the art world.
In 1793 the revolutionaries opened up the collection for the masses. When Napoleon took over, soon after that, he converted the palace into a museum. For the people of course. Napoleon knew how to suck up.
We had a short but marvellous tour of the Louvre. This was our hour or two of art—great art. What a pity that we did not have more time. That is one of the problems with tours. They decide what you will see and for how long. We were accompanied by the guide from our city tour, who turned out to be very good. We enjoyed her commentary a lot.
I have written in much greater detail (no doubt too much detail) on the art of the Louvre and have placed it in the blog under Fat Opinions/Art/A Morning at the Louvre.
We started with Egyptian and then moved quickly to Greek art. It was wonderful to see the amazing development from the solidity and stiffness of the Egyptian art to the Greeks sculptures that seemed to come to life. We stopped to admire the transformation of the ideal into flesh and blood beauty well illustrated by the truly awesome Venus de Milo (Aphrodite Melos) created in about 150-100 B.C. We also saw The Winged Victory of Samothrace. This wonderful statue consists of a statue of a winged female figure—thought to be the goddess Victory on top of a base in the shape of the prow of a ship.
From the Greek section we went to the Renaissance Art. At first in early Renaissance art the portraits showed the models all with the same face. And they were all perfect. No blemishes were shown. They thought that was how it was supposed to be. Eventually artists started to show differences. They showed people with imperfections. That was a huge development in art. That really ushered in the art of humanism. For humans are nothing if not imperfect. Perspective also became important in Renaissance art. Eventully9 they created marvels of perspective. That was something the Greeks and Romans failed to achieve.
One of the masters of Renaissance art was of course, Leonardo Da Vinci. Leonardo was a rebel—like so many artists before and after him. He was gay, left-handed, handsome, and athletic. He was one of the greatest artists in history. He has been called “the most curious person in history.”
He was a genius of both science and art. No one achieved such lofty status in both disciplines. It was astoundingly implausible. He used his knowledge of science to improve his art and his art to improve his science. Instead we got to see the Mona Lisa. Some art critics have focused on her mysterious smile or what Nat King Cole called “her mystic smile” in his well-known song.
We also saw a painting from another great Renaissance artist that Chris and I got to appreciate from our 3 weeks in Florence. This was Tiziano Vecellio or Titian as we call him in English. Gardner says of him that “He is among the very greatest painters of the Western world, a supreme colorist and, in a broad sense, the father of the modern mode of painting.”
One of the first works of art we stopped to appreciate was one by Eugéne Delacroix—one of the supreme artists of France. Delacroix, who lived from 1798 to 1863, once wrote, in his dairy “I dislike reasonable painting.” The work of art we saw was one of his greatest namely Death of Sardanapalus that he painted in 1826. Another work of art by Delacroix that we enjoyed a lot was his Liberty Leading the People, which he painted in 1830, long after the revolution and long after he was aware that liberty had died in the Revolution. The painting is “an allegory of revolution itself”. Liberty, a partly nude, majestic woman, whose beautiful features wear an expression of noble dignity, waves the people forward to the barricades. The familiar revolutionary apparatus of Paris streets. She carries the banner of the republic, the tricolor, and a musket with bayonet and wear the cap of Liberty. The path of her advance is over the dead and dying of both parties. Revolution climbing over the dead bodies. Is this not exactly how revolutions work?
Nearby in the museum we also gazed at a painting by Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) called Raft of Medusa. This painting had a very modern theme for it showed the French ship Medusa laden heavy with Algerian immigrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. The actual incident like many we have heard about in Europe in the last few years was a tragedy of mismanagement or exploitation and abuse. It caused a scandal in its day. Much more so than many such disasters trigger these days. These days such misery is old hat. It raises not a stir. It only raises cries for bigger and stronger walls. We spent a lot of time admiring a masterpiece Jacques-Louis DavidThe Coronation of Napoleon in Notre Dame.
After our tour of the Louvre, we walked through a small part of wonderful garden that I explored more fully the next day– Jardin du Carrousel. After that we wanted was lunch. And we wanted it in a French sidewalk café. Of course we did. We sat outside watching the world pass us by as we dined on a tuna sandwich and a lovely Sauvignon Blanc and a French bier that I did not like. It turned out to be a blueberry beer. In my opinion blueberry in beer is equivalent to a dollop of human excrement on a hardwood floor. Unfortunately I forgot the name of the café. It was across the river from the Louvre beside the Seine and near to the Musée d’Orsay. So we enjoyed our meal while we engaged in people gazing. At one time thousands of roller-bladers came by accompanied by raucous music. It was all gentle and fun loving. I love Paris.
I was actually surprised by how much I loved Paris. The people were kind. That was a big shock. I expected rude. They were never rude. They were considerate and reasonable. They loved fun, food, wine, and art. And on top of that they loved freedom. They refused to be crushed by the truck terrorists of the world. Life went on, as it should. Yes, I love Paris.
I was so in love with Paris that I walked into the Women’s Washroom. I am sure glad I was not in the southern U.S. I might have been shot on the spot by a terrified woman packing heat to protect her from perverts. I did not notice I was in the wrong facility until I left and noticed a line up of curious women who wondered what I was doing there. I didn’t tell them.
As we were dining I noticed we were right beside Restaurant Voltaire. Had I known I would have tried to eat there. Actually, later I did try but it was closed. Voltaire was shut down. That was a crime.
After a very leisurely lunch (the best kind), we strolled to the nearby Musée d’Orsay one of the finest art museums in the world. A friend of ours suggested it was even better than the Louvre. I am not sure that was true, but it was wonderful. Though it has art from other schools, the Musée d’Orsay contains probably the finest collection of Impressionist art in the world. It was stunning to walk through its Impressionist collection. This took a couple of hours. It has other galleries but we figured we had time only for one. That was pity. Just like it was a pity that we did not have a month to see all the galleries at the Louvre. You never have time to do it all. So we chose the Impressionist Gallery. That was a wonderful choice. Once again by the time we were done we were very tired.
Again to spare those not interested I have written in greater detail about the Impressionist art elsewhere in the blog under Fat Opinions/Art/Impressionism. All I will say is that the art was outstanding. I love impressionism, in part because it abandons the hopeless search for perfect representation of reality, thus making an important step towards truly modern art.
So concluded one of our best art experiences ever. It was a day filled to the brim with art sprinkled with a little religion, flowers, and philosophy. The only days that were comparable was some of the days we had in Florence when we spent 3 weeks exploring that art-soaked city. This felt like that. I loved it, but we paid a big price.
When we got back to our hotel we realized we had been very stupid. We had overdone walking and standing. When Chris looked at her ankles they were burgundy red. Or perhaps Bordeaux red. This was not a good thing. Was that worth seeing some of the finest art in the world? Maybe. Maybe not.
We sat around our room relaxing a bit and trying to regenerate. As we did so we listened to CNN and learned that the truck terrorist of Barcelona was believed to have entered France. This was getting too close for comfort, but it was also far enough for us to ignore. Life goes on. Particularly when your life is infused by art, as ours now was. Tolstoy was absolutely right, “a work of art should make people love life more.” It did that.
I urged Chris that we should stay home, but she had none of this. She is a real trooper. We walked to the Brittany region determined to find a restaurant with the food of Brittany. Her father was born there and she wanted at least to dine at one of its restaurants, even though we were some distance away from Bretagne. So we walked slowly—very slowly. This time we extensive instructions from the concierge to the right district and a new map. This map was also less than perfect. It gave an impression of the route. I guess that was fair in the circumstances. I love impressionism for art; for maps not so much.
We only had to walk about 10 minutes (walking very slowly) so it was not onerous. At least we walk this far. On one street there were 4 restaurants all from Brittany. The concierge had said they are all good and we could pick anyone of the 4. This was the Brittany district. We wanted a Crêperie. I later realized I had no idea what a Crêperie was. I have had crepes before. They are like thin pancakes with delicious sweet sauces. They can be that, but they can be much more.
The restaurant we chose was called Crêperie Quimper which is a place in Brittany near to where Chris’ father was born. And they flew the flag of Brittany. That was good enough for us. We were extremely pleased with our selection.
First of all, we were able to dine on the sidewalk. Even though it was a little bit cool it was very comfortable. And of course it was interesting. This is one of the benefits of dining on a sidewalk. You get to see people and in very few places are people more interesting than Paris. The place was bustling with activity, but the activity was quiet. People respected tranquility. This was a civilized nation. I have found civilization and it is here.
We really enjoyed our waitress. She was young and rebellious. I would call her a saucy wench without any suggestions about her character—chaste or otherwise. She had good suggestions about what we should eat. Again like all Parisians we met on this trip she was kind and respectful. No hint of surliness.
I ordered a Loquirie crepe. Sort of like Labroquerie in French lace. This crepe contained beef, cheddar cheese and a fine sauce. No sweet stuff at all. In addition, on the strong recommendation of our waitress I had a local cider from Brittany. It was called Cidre Kerisac. She served in a pitcher. That is my way to drink cider. The food and drink were both terrific. The best part of the meal was however the dessert. A crepe with salted caramel ice cream and Chantilly. It was divine. I mean that literally. This dessert was so good it should be eaten only once a lifetime. Sadly, in my case that might actually be true. Life is hard. I also had a long coffee, though for my North American tastes it was not long enough.
We had a wonderful time. For me this was my highlight of Paris. A quiet evening on a quiet street with good company, fine food, and drink. Life was very good. It was as good as it gets. This was indeed civilization, or at least an important part of it.
Sitting in the sidewalk gave me time for quiet and sad reflection. I wondered if this would be our last trip. Chris’s health is making it difficult for her. Mine is not getting any better. I hope it is not our last trip, but I have to face the possibility. We have had a great run. No one needs to feel sorry for us (except me). We have had great travels for nearly 50 years. Our first trip was 1975. That was a road trip to St. Catharines Ontario. That was where my parents took us a number of times so without much thought it seemed natural. We travelled every year thereafter, often many times per year. Our life of travel has been great. We have been extremely lucky. Lets hope our luck continues.
There were still a few friends on the ship and we said a sad good-bye to them. Some had shipped out at barbaric hours, but not us. Some were spending more time in Amsterdam. That would have been nice, but we were going to Paris. That was not shabby either. We enjoyed our last breakfast on board and saw the staff getting ready for the new passengers that would embark later today. Can you imagine, I felt a pang of jealousy that they were getting on and we had to get off? I suppose that means we enjoyed it.
We had to put out our luggage in front of our stateroom by 7:15. At 7:30 we were picked up by bus. This was the shortest bus ride we ever made. The bus took us to the train station. We could have walked there in about 3 minutes. Chris and I were the only passengers on the bus together with the driver and our guide. The guide had to make sure we did not get lost even though we could see the train station from the dock. We did however appreciate the guide who carefully explained to us how we would get on and off the train.
It seems crazy, but after being pampered for 8 days we felt a little uneasy to be leaving all our friends and going off on our own. The guide made that all easy and slick. It was a tranquil traveling experience and as we learned in Hong Kong Airport a few years ago, a tranquil traveling experience is always the best kind. So we left the comfort of the group and struck out on our own.
I know Chris would have liked to straight home because of her health. She was tired and ready to return to our own home. Her physical problems were a bit challenging. But she was a trooper.
It was a great pleasure to ride the Thalys bullet train to Paris (by way of Brussels). The train was very fast. It probably took us less time to get to Paris than it would have by plane. Our security check-in was much shorter and we carried our own luggage on to the train. The train also arrived in the centre of the city. Most importantly however was the tranquility on the train. This was truly a tranquil travelling experience unlike anything one obtains from Hong Kong Airport.
Train is really the civilized way to travel. None of the cramped in seats of planes. You can stretch and sit in comfort. Every seat on the train is like a first class seat on a plane. There is almost no turbulence and no scary thoughts of crashing into the sea. Yet we traveled at high speeds. It just did not feel so high.
Later I realized (on our trip to London) that travelling first class as we did to Paris makes all the difference. Economy class as we did to London is not quite as idyllic. I do not know how much extra first class cost. It was included in our extension. I was not sure why we did not get from Paris to London.
We did notice 3 well-armed police walking through the train. We don’t see arms on an aircraft. That slightly marred the peaceful feeling. But they were smiling. Obviously this was just a walk. Perhaps they were just showing the flag. Perhaps they were going to the bar car.
In about 3 &1/2 hours we arrived in Paris. Neither Chris nor I had ever been to France. We wanted to at least see it briefly. We were here for just 3 days and hoped to make the most of our short stay. As it turned out, for health reasons we did not really accomplish that, but we did see a lot. Whatever we saw was better, much better, than nothing.
A guide from Monogram the tour company hired for us by Avalon, met us right as we got off the train and out of the security zone. She was holding a Monogram/Avalon sign. We instantly felt comfortable. We were in Paris with someone who would help us.
The local guide’s name was Pauline. All she did, it turned out, was walk us to a car right outside the train station. Imagine that another guide for a 3- minute walk. This time we had to walk. I had to visit the toilet and of course, had to pay for the privilege. This is fairly common in Europe but I was told is becoming obsolete as more public washrooms are being provided. Paying for a toilet is hardly civilized. Is Paris civilized? My very first impression was not a good one. After that they were all good.
Pauline introduced us to the driver who drove us to our hotel in Montparnasse in the famous area of Paris called the Left Bank (La Rive Gauche). The Left Bank is the area of France famous for artists, writers and philosophers including some of my favourites. At one time or another the following lived in the Left Bank: Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone Beauvoir, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Baldwin, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Arthur Rimbaud, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Edith Wharton, and many others. In other words some consider it the world’s artistic and intellectual centre. In a sense it was the heart of civilization.
The area is also well known for its cafés. Existentialism was created in those cafés. After settling in to our hotel, we chose a café for lunch that was very near to our hotel. The day was a bit cool and cloudy so we decided to eat inside, even though we would have much preferred to sit outside in the French style. Next time, we thought. Only one thing disappointed us—that was that the waitress was NOT surly. This was hard to believe. Could we really be in France? It did not seem possible after all we had heard about Parisians. Where were the self-respecting French with their famous reputation for surliness? If the truth were known, we never met one surly staff person in our 3 days in Paris. We declared the French reputation fraudulent.
After lunch we went on the craziest walk of all time. The first problem was a lousy map. It was very unclear and did not have all the street names. Then in some cases (not make that many cases) it was extremely difficult (impossible?) to find street names on the street. The streets were also not aligned on a grid, but went in very which direction. Then there was the major problem—us and our lack of brainpower. First of all, we had a very poor conception of where our hotel was located on the map. So we could not really figure out where we were starting from. That makes it difficult to walk in a city you have never been in before. In other words, we were stupid—very stupid—for not taking a cab. This was particularly true because of the fact that Chris still had hip and knee problems. All of this was a template for disaster and that is exactly what happened. The walk was a disaster.
That is not entirely true. It was very interesting walking through Montparnasse region. Added to that we had a few fine views of the Eiffel Tower. We took a number of photographs of it of course. No one can resist that.
Thankfully we did see Hôtel des Invalides or St-Louis des Invalides with its most impressive golden dome. This imposing Hôtel was constructed in the late 17th century for Louis XIV’s invalid soldiers.
We were looking for the Musée Rodin. Our driver had recommended this as did Sarah-Jane. Unfortunately by the time we reached this museum after our epic walk, was closed. We were either too late or it was closed that day. In any event the goal was not achieved and we were dead tired. Dead stupid and dead tired. We had not been very ambitious on our first day in Paris but we did not even achieve our modest goal of seeing the Musée Rodin.
After that we were much too tired to do a lot of walking so we hailed a cab. We took a cab to Tour du Montparnasse near to our hotel. We had been told this was the best for the best views of the city. We were also told that we could sit in the bar and get the view for no more than the cost of a glass of wine. We were fully prepared to pay that price, but sadly, there was no room in the inn. We could have taken a tour but that would have taken more time and cost a lot of money. In other words we were too tired and too cheap to sign up for the tour. So we returned to our to our hotel.
When we got to our hotel we realized that all this walking had been disastrous for Chris. Her rash returned and her knee was wobbly. Chris did not want to go anywhere after that. We had badly overdone it. So we went to the C-store near by and picked up supplies. So our first night in Paris was spent sitting in our hotel nibbling on snacks, eating potato chips and diet coke. What a great Parisian meal.
Thus concluded our worst sight-seeing day ever. And we had absolutely no one to blame other than ourselves. Life is hard when you are stupid. We proved it again.