Speak, Orsay, what you know
8 November 2011 § Leave a comment
8 novembre 2011
My weekend in Paris proved rather educational, beginning with making the acquaintance of Mme Perrod, Katie’s host mother of seventy-seven years. Now I understand the common report of students living with host families that they feel more like boarders than part of the family. The French reception is not exactly rude, but there is a bit of distance, or perhaps a solid wall. (Of course, I have been but few places in France, but it stands fairly true for most of the French people whom I have met.) But what signifies the discovery of things if nothing else is made of them? So I reflected a bit and decided that when I have my own home/orphanage/bed and breakfast/hostel (someone please have pity on those students travelling around Europe without money), I will endeavour to make it a space of warmth and welcome and rest. This corresponds with the idea (I kind of adapted this from Milton) that the human malady is loneliness, the symptom of isolation from God and from others, and all of the desires of the human soul attempt to assuage the loneliness and fill the emptiness. And we are all rich secret gardens of infinite wonder, but we scarcely see each other’s souls, even after many years. For all of you, I hope misunderstanding and miscommunication do not often go so far as to constitute a Thomas Hardy-esque reality.
I had arrived in Paris on Thursday evening, and on Friday morning I made my way to the Musee d’Orsay while Katie had morning classes. I spent most of my time in “Beauty, Morals, and Voluptuousness in the England of Oscar Wilde”, a temporary exhibition about the Aesthetic movement (the Cult of Beauty, l’art pour l’art—art for art’s sake) during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. My favourite painting in the exhibit:
According to the Orsay, at no other period were artists and designers so knowledgeable about and influenced by the past. The addition of romantic and exotic qualities of Greek art to the eighteenth-century neo-classicism created a melange of classical subjects with a pure (for its own sake) love of beauty. The Elgin marbles were re-displayed at the British museum. (This makes me wonder if Keats was a bit ahead of his time—think of Ode on a Grecian Urn.) The leading artists in the 1870s—Whistler, Leighton, Watts, (Albert) Moore, and Burne-Jones—sought to pursue an ideal of beauty free of the restrictions of the ugly materialism of the age and the strictness of Victorian morality.
Oscar Wilde (and to some extent, Swinburne) ended up being the personification of the movement.
Some schmancy man (Sir Coutts Lindsay) started the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 to absorb the Royal Academy outcasts (and members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), becoming a home for the Aesthetic movement. During the first season, the silks on the walls were crimson, but during the second season, the artists convinced the directors to redecorate with a more artistic green silk. Hence Gilbert and Sullivan’s “greenery-yallery, Grosvenor Gallery” (from the musical Patience, a satire of Aestheticism).
More of my weekend in Paris soon, I hope!