Since June 2008 when she was in Paris, the Dresser has had the profound good fortune to see many exquisite collections of French and French-held art. Her stay in the City of Light included a full day at the Louvre and shorter visits to Musée de l'Orangerie des Tuileries, Musée d'Orsay, Musée Picasso, Musée Rodin, Musée du Luxembourg, and Centre Georges Pompidou.
ALONG THE CÔTE D'AZUR
Recently, the Dresser saw "Henri Matisse and Modern Art on the French Rivera" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The exhibition, curated by Michael Taylor and running through November 1, 2009, brings together the Museum's Matisse collection from his Nice period--said to be the largest group of his works from this period outside of France--and work from Matisse's contemporaries who were all attracted to the breath-taking coastline bounded by Marseilles across to Menton.
Raoul Dufy (French, 1877 - 1953), Window on the Promenade des Anglais, Nice, 1938. Oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 15 1/16 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Samuel S. White 3rd and Vera White Collection, 1967
Of the 40 paintings and sculptures drawn from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and two private collections, the Dresser was particularly impressed to see Matisse's brightly depicted odalisques in the company of works by familiar and not so known artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marie Laurencin, André Derain, William H. Johnson, Raoul Dufy, Pierre Bonnard, Max Weber, Alexander Archipenko, Chaim Soutine, and others.
FAUVISM, CUBISM, AND EXPRESSIONISM
Besides her usual interest in the artists that surrounded Gertrude Stein, the Dresser was particularly set up for the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Matisse and Modern Art on the French Riviera exhibition by seeing at the Luxembourg Museum a short-term exhibition of intensely colorful paintings revealing the underbelly of society by Fauvist Maurice de Vlaminck. Fauvism was a brief flash on the painterly landscape that evolved between 1900 to 1910 from Impressionism and Pointillism, particularly influenced by the work of Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, and Georges-Pierre Seurat. Besides the emphasis on extreme color, Fauvism was characteristically two dimensional, primitive, and often influenced by African sculpture and masks. The leaders of Fauvism were Henri Matisse and André Derain. From 1905 to 1907, there were three exhibitions of Fauvist works. Other Fauvist painters of note (Les Fauves--what the painters of Fauvism were called--means The Wild Beasts) included Maurice de Vlaminck, Raoul Dufy, Georges Rouault, and Georges Braque.
André Derain (French, 1880 - 1954), Portrait of Henri Matisse, c. 1905. Oil on canvas, 13 x 16 1/8 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art, A. E. Gallatin Collection, 1952
After Fauvism, came Cubism (formative years were 1907-1911) that evolved from the dimensional experimentation of Picasso and Bracque. One other artistic grouping of note around this period was Expressionism, which might be characterized by the artist's tendency to distort reality and result in a profound emotional reaction. Because the reach of Expressionism seems to have no clear boundaries in historical time (some scholars say El Greco and Edvard Munk are forerunners) and was not defined as a movement like Fauvism or Cubism, Expressionism is far harder to pin down in simple terms. The reason the Dresser brings up Fauvism, Cubism, and Expressionism is that all of three of these artistic categories arise in "Matisse and Modern Art on the French Rivera" exhibition.
While curator Michael Taylor threaded the exhibit based on geography, that is, the French Riviera, the juxtaposition of the individual works of art create a dialectic about artistic approaches and social issues that start perhaps with the decorative female figures by Matisse--the Moroccan-inspired odalisques--but evolve to Cubism (seen in this exhibition with works by Bracque, Weber, and Louis Marcoussis) and then move on to Expressionism (seen in the work of Chaim Soutine and William H. Johnson). As to social issues, what brought an end to the artistic life on the French Riviera was World War II. What's an interesting surprise is the discussion about anti-Semitism and Jewish persecution that crops up in the presentation of the portrait of Moise Kisling by Soutine. Another point of surprise was seeing Pierre Bonnard's "Homage to Maillol" which is a still life that includes Aristide Maillol's sculpture "Bather with Chignon" and on the gallery floor stands the actual Maillol sculpture.
FINDING UNEXPECTED JEWELS
The Dresser enjoyed seeing the work by Matisse, including the "Still Life (Histoire Juive)", but her two golden nuggets were "Leda and the Swan" by Marie Laurencin and "Cagnes-sur-Mer" by William H. Johnson. Although the Dresser (also known as the Steiny Road Poet) had included Marie Laurencin in her opera Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On, she had never focused on Laurencin's paintings until she saw five of them up close at the Orangerie in June where they hang together in their own little gallery. Laurencin, who was the girl friend of the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and one of Picasso's inner circle of friends, remains little known and to find her painting in Philadelphia of the lushily pink-lipped Leda in a transparent gown with a blue feather in hair petting a swan with both hands was a rare pleasure.
What was particularly interesting about the Johnson painting which expressed a swath of houses colored in muted greens, ocres, and a trace of blue nestled in an intensely verdant landscape was here was an American and for a long time a neglected African American painter, whose work she was unfamiliar with hanging out on the French Riviera with painters whose work she is always drawn to. Johnson was a student of Soutine and in this exhibition, Johnson and Soutine share a wall and although the details are different, one can see the influence of Soutine's undulating "Landscape, Chemin des Caucours, Cagnes-sur-Mer" on Johnson's painting.
Cecily Parks is a poet intensely involved in landscape. In her book Field Folly Snow, she offers "How to Read a Mackerel Sky," a poem that keenly fits with the artistic intensity of "Henri Matisse and Modern Art on the French Rivera."
Henri Matisse (French, 1869 - 1954), Interior at Nice (Room at the Beau Rivage), 1917-18. Oil on canvas, 29 x 23 3/4 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art, A. E. Gallatin Collection, 1952
HOW TO READ A MACKEREL SKY
Out of the clouds I make
the whirlpool of shipwreck. I make a stampede.
I make dry leaves spinning
away from piles, a house reduced to shingles,
on a linoleum floor. It's easy
to divine undoing--
flood all the unknowns with your fear, tailor
vapor to harbinger,
and lower the billowing sails of your
keeling soul. Loosed
from any charted course, forsake your grip
on the helm as the sky
becomes sea--silver-scaled with mackerel
teeming to every
horizon--and the shingled house around
your heart quakes for the want
of diagrams, equations, plans. That's when
to look for me, swimming
in leaves the size of fish, dismantling
the ocean and spilling
buttermilk across the sky. I'll be gowned
in linoleum, and you'll
hear hoofbeats, love approaching.
from Field Folly Snow
Copyright © 2008 Cecily Parks