Monday, September 21, 2009

The Louvre

It's hard to know what to say about visiting the Louvre. It all seems so "already said." It's hard to even understand the concept of so much art in one place, so much cultural history, so many people wondering how to respond, absorb, and appreciate it.

It was a little wild going through with a class. We had headphones and Amy had a little microphone so we were getting a private lecture in English as we moved through. And we weren't there to see the Louvre, rather one very small piece of it. She started by showing us examples of French "Baroque," more or less seventeenth century, the time of Moliere, which broadly speaking morphed into Rococo, which is 18th century. Think Dangerous Liaisons.

Neoclassical was a counter-point to the over indulgent Rococo, a return to Classical ideals and approaches. Jacques-Louis David was a Neo-Classicist. I like a lot of his work, including these two.

We didn't get to Romanticism, today, which came back around, borrowing some of the Rococo excess but refocusing the subject to be, among other things, political. After the class was over, Amy actually walked me downstairs to the rooms filled with Romantic art and gave me about a half hour introduction. It was very good of her to do that. She's so ecstatic to be teaching Art History in Paris, I think she can hardly contain herself. I don't blame her, it's an amazing opportunity for her, and today I felt the benefit of her enthusiasm.

We were in one huge room filled with many paintings I'm already familiar with, including The Raft of the Medusa, which is huge, really huge. Sixteen feet high by twenty-three feet wide. It's quite overpowering, I felt dwarfed standing in front of it, almost as if I was seeing the actual event. (I wrote about this painting and posted an image yesterday.)

I think Delacroix must have been attempting the same sense of overwhelm in his Death of Sardannopolis, a painting I've tried to capture through Liszt's eyes in my novel. It too is huge: twelve feet tall, sixteen feet wide. I spent a lot of time looking at it and even tried to sketch it. Amy tells us sketching is a way to look more closely; I see what she means. It sits in my mind in a completely different way now. It's a difficult painting to see because so much is happening. The eye never comes to rest, or so it seems to me. It's based on a poem by Lord Byron, whom Delacroix greatly admired.  

Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People is much smaller, though not small by any means (8.5 feet by 10.5 feet). It felt like an old friend. I sat on the bench watching people photograph it, and felt like I was Delacroix's girl friend, or something, enjoying their admiration, having some secret relationship.

One painting by Delacroix that I hadn't seen before, that I ended up spending a lot of time with was of a tiger and her cub. I guess that's because I miss my cats, but the expression in the animal's face really drew me in. It seems so filled with dignity and intelligence. 

I think Delacroix is going to tell Liszt about his experience modeling for Géricault's Raft of the Medusa, in part, because you can see the influence of Géricault in many of Delacroix's works. Géricault was seven years older. I'd like the conversation to emerge over the horse in Death of Sardannopolis. I can see Delacroix talking about Géricault's study of a horse. (That's what this is.) I want him to show it to Liszt. I just have to see if I can get away with Delacroix having it in his possession. I don't know where it is or how it got there, that's what I need to find out. But, if not the painting, certainly an earlier sketch.

Every so often someone just comes along and tugs at me in an unexpected way. Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) has done just that. Not sure what I'm going to do about it, since he's dead when the book opens. He's buried in Pére Lachaise, so his ghost could play a role. Don't know yet. Maybe he belongs in book three which flashes back to Keats and that earlier time period.

There's one other picture I have to comment upon, and that's Francesca and Paolo by Ari Scheffer. I had not realized I would see it today. It is another of the paintings I have already tried to place in my novel. Tori sees it at a Scheffer salon when she's invited to plays piano. I spent a lot of time looking at this painting as well. I like the sensuality of it. They say that Scheffer is not a Romantic painter, that he's considered more of a Neo-Classicist because of the style in which he paints. His subject matter, though, seems to fall in line with the Romantics. He's a little like Louise Farrenc, I think, influenced by, but not fully embracing the "vogue" of the moment.

That today's art lesson. If my feet weren't killing me, it would be better. I was pretty miserable by the time I got home. First of all it's humid, but really, this walking everyday is nuts. I've walked a good couple of miles every single day since arriving. Good grief. Holy Cow. It is not in my character to walk so much. So, I'm having a good time, except for my feet. My feet are not having a good time. My feet wish they were home and my hip joints agree, more or less. Such is life—mine anyway.

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