Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Not quite bald yet

Having an hour or two to kill in storm-lashed Montpellier yesterday morning I went to the Musée Fabre, the very fine city art gallery. I've been several times before, but always in company or with limited time, both of which affect one's ability to wander at will. The woman on the ticket counter was one of those thankfully rare French people who, as soon as they hear the slightest trace of a foreign accent, speak very very slowly in a sort of moronic pidgin-French amplified by infantile gestures, talking to a colleague the while about something else. In these circumstances I'm reminded of the immortal poem
See the happy moron,
He doesn't give a damn.
I wish I was a moron...
My god! Perhaps I am?


Nicolaes van Verendael (1640-1691): Vase of flowers, 1674

Anyway I bought my ticket and went in. I spent a good hour hour going Dutch, absorbing all that the Musée Fabre could throw at me from their giant collection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish masters. From all the peasant scenes, portraits of plump burghers with crazily goffered ruffs, land- and seascapes, I chose a flower painting, itself a minor genre from the period, from the souvenir postcards in the gallery shop.

I expect you too can find an ant, a bee, a looper caterpillar, a Red Admiral, a snail attacking a peach, a fritillary, along with a fat watch and its key on a ribbon. I expect it needs winding up, because time seems to have stopped, if it allows a season in which brambles (bottom right) and tulips are prominent together. Tulips in Dutch paintings are always significant because they point to the wealth accruing from a busy and lucrative overseas trade which England was wrenching away from them even as this painting was drying on its easel. Tulip bulbs, originating in the Near East (the words 'tulip' and 'turban' are etymologically close) commanded high prices, especially flowers as striking as these. But however magnificent the flower, in time it withers and dies. I think the whole painting is an unwitting commentary on the decline of Dutch commercial primacy. I expect this is completely fanciful.

I moved on to a special exhibition the gallery was holding of the work of the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, a specialist in portraits. Among other people prominent in Paris in the 1770s and 80s (Benjamin Franklin, Christoph Willibald Gluck) he sculpted the philosopher Voltaire, who had recently been allowed back to France as an old man after years in exile in Switzerland. When he died in 1778, a month or two after Houdon had finished his portrait, he was greatly mourned in certain circles because of his outspoken criticism of pre-Revolution France. The demand for memorials grew, and Houdon found his order book filling with demands for Voltaires, even though his subject was cold in the grave. The need for speed of execution grew too, and we find Houdon moving from marble to the much speedier terra cotta and plaster.
Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828): Voltaire seated, c. 1780-90

This is one of the many posthumous portraits, a quarter-life-size portrait of Voltaire, and I do like the way Houdon has captured the wit, the fine intelligence, the humanity and dignity of this first-thing-in-the-morning old man in his dressing-gown, his few remaining wisps of hair held in a band (I wonder why?) and his attitude of quiet, smiling, even smug, satisfaction. But you never know with Voltaire, always a man to spring surprises. It's just possible that his attitude may be due to the effectiveness of his laxative.
Finally I couldn't resist this magnificent bat in (I think) sand-blasted bronze. The French for bat (that's to say flittermouse, pipistrelle, etc.) is chauve-souris, bald mouse. That's how I feel sometimes, too, especially when Sarah forgets to pretend not to notice it.


Germaine Richier (1902-1959): Bat, 1946

30 comments:

Dave said...

I don't suppsoe you find many bronzes of cricket bats in French museums.

Christopher said...

They may have hidden them, knowing the damage I've been known to do with them. Or was it you modelling for
http://www.languedocsun.com/languedoc_sun_pdf/Languedoc_Sun_N20_March-April_2009.pdf

on page 11?

Dave said...

He appears to be using a half-sized bat.

Would the Midi Cricket Club fancy a game against BMCC, do you think?

I, Like The View said...

your first image reminds me of the portrait of Madame Moitessier by Jacques-Auguste-Dominque Ingres

(-:

Richier's bat makes me think of Daedalus and Icarus

Vicus Scurra said...

No, I still don't get it. Alas, when talking to me of art, even talking very slowly does not cut it.

Christopher said...

Dave: BMCC v MCC? I think that's a must. Can you fit it in our busy schedule?

Jax: Could Mme Moitessier have been perched on by butterflies in her youth, do you think? Does this happen, has this happened to any Lydian Airs readers? Does this bring any kind of boon or benefit? Better than being eaten by snails, surely.

Vicus: I have to say I had you in mind when I chose the postcard of Voltaire. Not, of course, in any crude way of the possibility of it resembling your appearance, far from it; let others, lewd fellows of the baser sort, draw such parallels. But it seems to me that among the Lydian Airs regulars the philosophical mantle of Voltaire falls most comfortably on your shoulders.

Christopher said...

Jax: ...and of course there were no flies on Mme Moitessier.

(Sorry, Rog: I waited a full hour for you to chip in with this. Don't say you weren't given a chance.)

mig said...

The bat makes me think more of harpies than bats, though a friend's photo of bats in his attic doesn't really make me think of them either. Certainly nothing mousey about it!

Sarah said...

I'm loving the Bat. Clearly Richier was influenced by her friend Alberto Giacometti. I'm intrigued what the original maquette was made from...? it looks too lacey to have been clay...what do you think?....sorry off on a one. Looks a bit like some of my rabbit skeleton sculptures...better obviously!

mig said...

The bat makes me think more of harpies than bats though this photo of bats in a friend's attic doesn't make me think of them much either.
Certainly nothing mousey about either the bats or the sculpture. And surely not about you Christopher!

ziGGi said...

that Richier, did he do Robin as well?



*philistine runs away*

Christopher said...

Mig: No indeed. But for the capellarily challenged the comfort is that few bats would ever become entangled in it.

Sah: I don't know what kind of maquette. Any ideas? What would you use? One of the main galleries in the Musée Fabre is named after Richier - she studied and died in Montpellier.

If you got your blog going again we could see some of your rabbit skeletons, couldn't we?

Zigs: I think it's time for your strengthening medicine.

ziGGi said...

actually I quite like malt extract, especially in Maltesers, although they're a poor second to CF&N.

It's all got a tad high-brow round here again, personally I was more at home in the compost.

Christopher said...

I thought you were into fruit flies and older men, Zigs. Must be going bats...

Sarah said...

I think maybe she used wire and fabric...difficult to tell from the photo. Though whatever, it must have been incredibly difficult to make the plaster mould without breaking off all those little holes...respect!

Have been thinking about blogging again, especially as I have sold a few paintings recently and actualy have something to talk about.....with pics!! Hmmm

Sarah said...

Maybe not......(see Dave's Blog post on heroes!)

Christopher said...

Oh! I really wish you would, Sah, then we could see what sort of work you do (and it could provide a bit of a commercial showcase, who knows?) and might confirm suspicions that it's very original and very good indeed. Besides, without the benefit of Facebook (and I won't be lured - I'm sorry) the visual impression you create is of a lady of leisure sitting up in a hammock under a deep pink duvet beside a rustic chair and there must be more to you than that?

Sarah said...

There is nothing more to me....believe me!

Christopher said...

Well, I don't - but maybe there's more to the rustic chair?

Sarah said...

Blimey....it's a pergola..y...sort of a thang. The kids call it my Tuareg....not that it looks like a Saharan nomad....but it does look like something he might sit in...raised platform...persian (old) rugs, mountains of cushions, floaty muslin curtains, a low table from which one might eat tagine or suck on the hubbly bubbly.....that kind of thing. There I sit and ponder, meditate or read. Or now I'm trying to learn Arabic I might sit there with the ipod plugged in. It's my haven as mostly the kids are too lazy to come and look for me when they want something...they stand at the back door shouting...MUM, MUM...and if I don't answer they don't come out...result!

But in this generally rubbish climate I only get all the stuff out for about 2 weks in late June. Think I need to move to the south of France for it to really work.
Does that answer your question? !

Christopher said...

رائعة. شكرت أنت [فري موش].

Sarah said...

So far I can only ask the doctor if she would like tomatoes with her omlette and did i didn't know her brother was going to egypt tomorrow...I can't read it yet.. LOL

Christopher said...

Well, that should ease your passage through most situations, shouldn't it?

If you put what I 'wrote' through an internet translator you'll find it was suffocatingly banal.

Sarah said...

Shukran

ziGGi said...

I saw Voltaire's doppelgänger at the gym this morning and the hair band was to stop the sweat dripping into his eyes. Thought you'd like to know this.

I thought it looked rather dashing and was tempted to to sport such a thing myself, but I have yet to get to that happy state where I need it - also when one's bent double intent on their toes, sweat should there be any, drips onto the mat.

I have a hammock though so I believe from the above repartee that I am partially trendy, I can also say a number of very useless phrases in Turkish which is similar to arabic.

Christopher said...

Voltaire's doppelgänger? Straight up, was he a bent double? Candidely, now?

Thank you for telling me this, Zigs. I like to think of you lying in your hammock uttering useless Turkish phrases. This must be particularly trendy in Wiltshire.

ziGGi said...

I tend to leave the uttering of useless Turkish phrases to when I'm actually in Turkey or at least The TRNC where coincidently I do have another hammock!

Luckily I'm not allowed to fly there until August but Himself is going next week to try and obtain an electricity meter- it's a very long story!

Z said...

I've come too late to this conversation to join in. So I'll just say that I like bats and baldness.

Cynthia said...

I think the Richier bat looks like some of my attempts at making fricos. I haven't seen any bald mice, but I have seen naked mole-rats (http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Publications/ZooGoer/2002/3/nakedmolerats.cfm) at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, years ago. Bats are more attractive.

Christopher said...

Zigs: Couldn't the H. get a meter at B&Q or Homebase or whatever you have in Stonehenge?

Snowy: So do I. Perforce.

Cynthia: Hi! Good to see you! Happy New Year! Fricos must be something like oreillettes? But I do agree about the relative attractiveness of bats.

While you're there (just talk among yourselves while I have a quick word with Cynthia) could you please update me with your e-mail address? I keep getting bouncebacks. Now back to the UK election results.