Three days in Paris

Another blog in the series from our roving arts & culture reporter David Smith

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Day 1

Ten  years ago I was in Paris with Nick (MPA Creative Director) for the opening of the new Mac Val Gallery of contemporary French art in Vitry-sur-Seine.  Nick had been invited to make a presentation on the Panopticons project with a special focus on the Singing Ringing Tree.  I had volunteered to carry his bags.

With a couple of hours to spare, whilst Nick was honing his presentation, I visited the Picasso Museum in the Marais Quarter of Paris.  What a disappointment it was.  Many pieces were on loan, the museum was dull and the organisation of the collection left me uninspired.

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Last month I returned.  What a transformation.  Having been closed for a considerable time for refurbishment the Museum reopened 18 months ago with a new curator.  Picasso’s works are displayed in chronological order with sketches, paintings and sculptural works side by side.  It allows you to make a journey through the museum which follows Picasso’s creative process: carvings, engravings, sketches, photographs, ceramics, paintings and sculptures. The collection is huge; in fact, most of the works were given to France to settle his unpaid tax bills!

The Museum includes a roof top garden used to display some larger sculptures in a quiet, peaceful setting; perfect to sit, muse, rest your feet and take it all in…and I love this quotation from Picasso:

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Day 2 morning

A visit to the Opera Garnier began my second day.  From the outside the building is stunning.  If you have never been you will know it as the setting for the Phantom of the Opera.paris - 2

Much of the lighting depended on candlelight which, of course led to blackened walls and ceilings.  In the 1960’s when the time came to restore the ceiling of the auditorium above the great chandelier – and yes it did actually fall down on one occasion in 1896 and killed a member of the audience! – they couldn’t afford the cost of restoration.  A French artist who was working on set and costume design for opera offered his services for which, I believe he was never paid…his name, Marc Chagall.  The ceiling is magnificent:

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 Day 2 afternoon

Have you ever shopped in Leeds and visited those lovely Victorian glass covered arcades?

Well; from the Opèra Garnier, I was led around ‘Les Passages Couverts‘ – 19th. century, glass roofed shopping galleries. They provide hidden corners of superb architecture full of cafes, antiquarian bookshops, shops for stamps, coins and art – a fascinating experience.

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Day 3

My final day took me back in the direction of the airport to Auvers-sur-Oise , the village where Van Gogh spent his last 70 days before his premature death.  During this  period he painted 70 pieces yet during his whole short life he sold only one painting – to his brother!  He died as he lived, in poverty.  In the village you can follow a trail: ‘In the steps  of Van Gogh’ which take you from the café where he rented a room, through the village to the church and finally to his grave where he and his brother lie side by side beside a field of sunflowers.  It is a very moving story and a moving journey.

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