Tuesday, 6 July 2010


4/07/10, Musee Jacquemart-Andre, Paris

A misleading title for a nonetheless satisfying exhibition of works by Spanish masters from a collection (Perez-Simon) in Mexico, never before exhibited in France, in a museum housed in one of Paris's most spectacular mansions.

The El Greco was a huge disappointment: a head and shoulders portrait of Christ, little bigger than a postage stamp. There was lots of Dali. Some Picasso. Some Joan Miro. Some (enormously kitsch) Murillos. Several powerful pictures of agonised saints by Jose de Ribera, full of chiaroscuro effects.

But the highlight for me was Joaquin Sorolla, the man who seems to have brought impressionism to Spain with his brightly-lit and brightly-coloured canvases and bold brushstrokes. The earliest Sorolla was painted in the 1870s, a terrace near Naples overlooking the sea reminiscent of a David Roberts watercolour in the handling of Mediterranean light filtered through the vine leaves on the pergola. There were oil sketches of naked boys in the sea and of a gnarled fisherman's face. A specatcular large picture of the fish being brought ashore and sorted in baskets on the beach. A great swirly image of cattle being driven into the surf. A nude woman emerging from bathing in the sea. A portrait of a fellow artist in severe black.

Searching for a Sorolla picture to illustrate this post I find lots, but few from the Perez-Simon collection (an indication perhaps of how unfamiliar many of the paintings in the collection must be compared to those in major galleries), and also a website that offers to sell you hand-painted copies of some of them (allow 14-21 days for delivery) which implies that I am not alone in my liking for them!

The museum itself started life as the home of a married couple, she (Nelie Jacquemart) an artist, he (Edouard Andre) filthy rich. There's a permanent collection of old masters, several rooms full of Italian Renaissance sculpture, woodcarving and the like (much of it built into the fabric), and a spectacular rococo staircase with a 15th century fresco by Tiepolo "rescued" from a Venetian villa and reassembled in Paris, though much of the colour has alas faded.

You enter via a grand gateway and tunnel from the Boulevard Hausmann and emerge into a large open space in which a double drive sweeps up from the tunnel (and a second tunnel at the far end of the property), curving back round and up to the front door, which thus faces away from the street; at the back of the house a there's a first-floor terrace above the street frontage. We arrived just as the Paris Harley-Davidson club was assembling for a (very noisy) meeting, grizzled men in leathers (and equally grizzled womenfolk) parking up four abreast along the boulevard before processing around the city. We saw them later jumping red lights and stopping the traffic near the Opera Garnier.

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