The Second years take on Paris

The second years along with lecturers Dr Fran Berry, Dr Jamie Edwards and PhD Student Sara Tarter recently visited Paris as part of our Art History in the Field Module. It was a fun-filled week of galleries, architectural walks and cultural explorations – from the ancient treasures of the Louvre to the iconic contemporary art of the Pompidou. Each of us eventually settled on one piece of artwork which we investigated in detail, including the context surrounding the work and why it was significant to view it in its Parisian situ.

Group photo outside the Louvre!

Second Years Amber Thomson and Jennifer Wilbur tell us a bit about their favourite moments from the trip.

Amber Thomson: During the trip to Paris the most inspirational part for me was the Alexander Calder exhibition at the Musée Picasso. Calder (1898), an American, is best known for his ‘kinetic sculptures’. Having only ever seen one Calder mobile before the trip (due to most being owned by American galleries), being able to see a wide selection of them in one location was very impressive. Most interesting was the three Calder mobiles that had been hung above the main staircase leading from the entrance of the gallery to the first floor. The reason this was of particular interest was the way the neo-classical architectural design of the staircase created a completely new way of viewing the kinetic sculptures that are powered by air currents.

Being able to walk up the stairs gazing up at the mobiles turning slowly against the backdrop beautiful ancient Greek-inspired sculptural designs of the staircase was truly stunning. Since the installation required the viewer to gaze upwards, it also evoked Calder’s astrological inspiration for his abstract mobiles, which he had hit upon during a visit to a planetarium during one of his many trips to Paris during the 1920s and 1930s. This history between Calder and Paris made the exhibition in the capital particularly relevant. Overall, I thought the Alexander Calder exhibition was an incredible installation and a unique experience – and the gallery’s permanent collection, housed in a beautiful space within a restored 15th century building, was much more varied than I expected. For these reasons, visiting the Musée Picasso was my favourite part of the Paris trip. The Calder-Picasso exhibition is on until 29 August 2019 – if you are in Paris don’t miss out!

Jennifer Wilbur: The Musée national Gustave Moreau is an art museum in Paris dedicated to the French symbolist painter, Gustave Moreau (1826  1898). The museum is based in his own house, established after Moreau decided to transform the top two floors into a studio and museum of his work in 1895. The museum has an incredible display of his works. His apartments are also open, giving an insight into the home life of the bourgeois in Paris at the turn of the century. Moreau was a highly influential artist in his lifetime, a major pioneer of the symbolist movement who taught at the École des Beaux-Arts, teaching major painters such as Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954) and Georges Rouault (1871 – 1958).

Inside the Musée national Gustave Moreau

A group of us went to the museum on our final morning in Paris. It was very different to a lot of the other museums which we visited. It is much more personal and homely, due to it being based in the artist’s own home. The main gallery spaces are featured on the top two floors and are overflowing with Moreau’s paintings. The paintings are stacked around the walls from floor to ceiling, showcasing as much of his work as possible in the small museum.

Close up of Gustave Moreau’s ‘Les Chimères’

The work of Moreau is stunning and highly intricate, often containing fine detail which is not noticeable from a distance, and this amazed many of us who visited. Moreau is not necessarily widely known today, and his work is not often studied, perhaps due to the nature of his practice. The way Moreau constructs his paintings is, first, by drawing a basic outline of the composition. He then paints a layer of colour in broad shapes around the drawings, which can only be seen when close to the paintings. These are not detailed, rather are just broad abstract planes of paint which he then goes over in pen and ink, creating intricate drawings over the paint layer. No reproduction of these works truly showcases all the fine detail, which has to be viewed in person to be appreciated.

Close up of Gustave Moreau’s ‘Les Licornes’

The Musée national Gustave Moreau is an incredible display of the iconic symbolist painter’s work; it is a lovely and intimate gallery space which allows visitors to be truly immersed in Moreau’s work within the context of the artist’s own home. His art is remarkable, highly stylised and unique – and viewing it in person allows it to be truly appreciated and understood. Visiting the Musée national Gustave Moreau is a definite must for art lovers in Paris.

This trip was a great experience. We saw such variety in art and culture and had a fab time with everyone on the course. It was a blast!

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