Art Bites Paris

The Oath of the Horatii
Jacques-Louis David, 1784, Louvre Museum

Let’s face it — most visitors go to the Louvre Museum to see the Mona Lisa (or, more specifically, to take distant blurry photos of this overrated painting). Most of them also leave the museum without seeing many important works of art, amongst them The Oath of the Horatii. This is one of the greatest works of Neoclassicism, a movement based on the aesthetic values of old Greece and Rome for which symmetry and detail were paramount. In this huge painting, David depicts a 7th century BC story with only nine characters: the three overly-patriotic Horatii (on the left) lift their swords and swear to their father (in the middle) victory or death, leaving their mother, wives, and kids (on the right) in sorrow, perhaps for the last time. The tension is eased by the geometry, and the intricacy is simply breathtaking — one could spend hours merely contemplating the details on the leg of the first Horatius.

Luncheon on the Grass
Édouard Manet, 1863, Musée d’Orsay

Parisian salons in the 19th century had the crème de la crème of French society and no shortage of scandals — especially in the Salon des Refusés, to which the worst works were banished. Luncheon on the Grass was rejected by the biggest Parisian salon, but even in the Salon des Refusés, it had a lot of detractors who insisted that it be taken down. Perhaps it was the first time they’d seen a naked woman in a painting? Well, obviously not, but always before it had been an idealized, unreachable goddess. Their impression from this painting was that that naked woman was nothing more than a prostitute, and that was outrageous — at least, to show. The alleged infamy of the piece didn’t stop it (or maybe helped it, actually) from becoming one of the most iconic paintings in the history of art, and one of the most imitated. There is, for example, a 1964 version of Luncheon on the Grass (with the same name) in the Centre Pompidou, by the French pop artist Alain Jacquet.

A Box at the Theatre des Italiens
Eva Gonzalès, 1874, Musée d’Orsay

Even if she never exhibited any of her works with the Parisian impressionists, Gonzalès’ style led her to be considered part of this movement — after all, even her teacher, Manet, was excluded from these exhibitions. Very few women are acknowledged as part of the history of art, but there were some bright lights amongst the impressionists — most notably three, Eva Gonzalès, Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, and many of their works are in the Musée d’Orsay. They normally depicted women in a domestic atmosphere (many times with children), since that was, after all, their main role in society. Gonzalès learned from Chaplin and Manet, but she soon developed a very personal style, creating intense portraits full of emotion. In A Box at the Theatre des Italiens Gonzalès chose a public atmosphere but made it very intimate, due to the black background and the amazing detail in the clothing and accessories of the two people depicted. These two characters — in reality, her husband and her sister — seem to have a distant relationship and to be very close at the same time, and the woman’s expression is especially interesting due to its ambiguity. Unfortunately, the artist died after giving birth to her child when she was only 34, and her husband actually ended up marrying the sister pictured in the painting!

A Box at the Italian Theatre, 1874 - Eva Gonzales

Dada Head
Sophie Taeuber-Arp, 1920, Centre Georges Pompidou

Even in the frantically hyper-modern 20th century, only a few women were allowed into elite artistic circles. Painter-dancer-weaver-designer-photographer-etc. Sophie Taeuber-Arp was one of the lucky ones and was accepted in the male-dominated Dadaist world. One of her most famous works is her series of heads, some of which can be seen in the Centre Georges Pompidou. The Swiss artist considered these colorful wooden heads on pedestals to be parodic portraits and functional hat-stands. Apart from mentioning Dada in some of them — as all dadaists tended to — she simplified the main concept by creating abstract geometric interpretations of reality, avoiding any physical or real resemblance. Some of them also resemble African masks, an influence on many artists of the day, starting with Picasso.

Water Lilies: The Clouds
Claude Monet, 1920-1926, Orangerie Museum

In the last 31 years of his life, French artist Claude Monet painted around 250 versions of the water lilies of his garden in Giverny, in the north of France. Nowadays many are scattered across the the important museums of the world, but one of the most impressive ones is the one in the Orangerie Museum, with dimensions of 2 x 12.75 meters. The immense size is not the only factor that makes one feel inside the work, as the amazing technique irresistibly attracts the viewer to its beauty. Monet’s Impression, Sunrise was the painting for which Impressionism was sarcastically named. This movement was mainly based on capturing light and studying how as light changes, vision (and thus the artwork) changes correspondingly. He also painted 30 different versions of the Rouen cathedral between 1892 and 1894, some of which can also be enjoyed in Paris, at the Musée d’Orsay.

Water Lilies, The Clouds, 1903 - Claude Monet

Ingres’s Violin
Man Ray, 1924, Centre Georges Pompidou

One of the main practices in the explosion of artistic creativity in the first half of the 20th century was appropriation, which essentially means transforming an artistic reference piece into a new work of art. Emmanuel Radnitzky, better known as Man Ray, did this — many times — including in this 1984 work where he modified one of the most famous representations of an Odalisque (the original work, by Ingres, is currently housed in the Louvre).

In a punny reference to the French idiom “le violon d’Ingres,” meaning a hobby, the American Man Ray painted the characteristic f-holes of violins on the French artist’s photograph of a practically naked woman (his lover, Kiki), her whole back exposed. Then he photographed the slightly altered photograph and, voilà, his glorious new interpretation was complete.

The modernist American artist spent most of his career in the artistic circles in Paris where he experimented alongside Dadaists and Surrealists and created his famous Rayographs, photographic images made without a camera.

Plaque décorée d’une Infante (Les Ménines)
Pablo Picasso, 1957, Picasso Museum

“Good artists copy, great artists steal,” Picasso said. He was obviously a genius, so he stole a lot — as well as creating, of course. In the museum dedicated to his work in Paris (a city where he spent many years of his life), one can admire a lot of his works, both original and stolen. Picasso is known worldwide for his great contribution to the development of modern art, especially cubism, and applying his characteristic style — solidity, flatness and different perspectives — to reimagine old works of art. In this case, Picasso made a series of 58 paintings of the famous Las Meninas, by his compatriot Diego Velázquez, whom Picasso admired deeply This entire series is in Barcelona, but he also painted some of the characters independently on different materials, like ceramic here, some of which can be found in Paris. And though he termed it stealing, these versions of Las Meninas have strong character and a whole new perspective, breaking all rules of representation.

Portrait relief de Martial Raysse
Yves Klein, 1962, Musée d’art moderne

Yves Klein was linked to movements like Pop Art and Neo-Dadaism, which was actually a reaction to the introversion of Abstract Expressionism. He quickly became one of the most influential artists in the 20th century — not only influencing art but fashion! In 1960, he created and patented a color named IKB (International Klein Blue) and used it in a lot of his artworks, such as in his bronze and gold paper Portrait relief de Martial Raysse, where he recreates a classic sculpture giving it a powerful new meaning using only IKB. The color has become very common nowadays. In the late 1950’s, he also did a remarkable performance called Zone de Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle, which consisted of exchanging “zones of immaterial pictorial sensibility,” certified with a cheque, for gold that he immediately threw into the Seine. So Dada!

The inhabitants of the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan in 1939
Christian Boltanski, 1998, Jewish Museum

The half-Christian half-Jewish artist Christian Boltanski was born in 1944 in Paris, and he met many Holocaust survivors growing up, so the terrible European genocide — alongside memory and human nature — is the leitmotiv of his work. In The inhabitants of the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan in 1939, he created an installation in the former hotel, then Jewish residential building, then Jewish Museum in the Marais, the Parisian Jewish, and now gay, quarter. His work doesn’t directly confront the unfathomable killing, but instead suggests and personalizes it. It consists of small signs, each containing a person’s name, job, and origin. Sometimes there’s also a date of death, but when there’s none, this may mean the person either escaped or disappeared — it is certain that a total of thirteen inhabitants were arrested and killed. This installation has been part of the museum since its opening in 1998, and the signs are made using ink on paper, so deterioration forces them to be replaced regularly, creating a beautiful and intense metaphor — after all, memory works that way, with the past needing to be constantly relived in order to never repeat it again.

The Thinker
Auguste Rodin, 1903, Rodin Museum

The Thinker — originally named The Poet — is one of the most famous and most influential statues of all time. Even though it may seem like the figure is anonymous and independent, it was originally imagined as something much more specific. It all started in 1880, when Rodin planned to do a sculpture of The Gates of Hell, inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy — a task which would end up taking him 37 years to complete. In the gate — which the first version in plaster is in the Musée d’Orsay — one of the 180 figures is The Thinker, placed on top of the door panels, and there are several interpretations of who it is: Dante looking at the Inferno, Rodin himself contemplating his own work or even Adam, shocked at the consequences of his sin. Anyway, Rodin decided to sculpt a larger independent version of The Thinker in 1888, ultimately completing a total of 28 versions, in which a naked muscular man sitting on a rock in a twisted, unbalanced position is, of course, thinking deeply with his whole body, now to be found all over the world, literally (the Cleveland version even suffered a terrorist attack in 1970). Nowadays, it is often used as a representation of the discipline of philosophy.

Information about museums in Madrid

Louvre Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €15, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if residents in the EEA) – free
Opening hours: Daily 9 am – 6 pm, Wednesday and Friday 9 am – 9:45 pm, closed on Tuesday
Address: Musée du Louvre, 75058 Paris – France
Getting there:
Metro: 1 (Palais-Royal/musée du Louvre)
Bus: 21, 24, 27, 39, 48, 68, 69, 72, 81, 95
Batobus: Louvre stop, quai François Mitterrand

Musée d’Orsay Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €12, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if residents in the EEA) – free
Opening hours: Daily 9:30 am – 6 pm, Thursdays 9:30 am – 9:45 pm, closed on Mondays
Address: 62 rue de Lille, 75343 Paris – France
Getting there:
Metro: 12 (Solférino)
Train: C (Musée d’Orsay)
Bus: 24, 63, 68, 69, 73, 83, 84, 94

Centre Georges Pompidou Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €14, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if residents in the EEA) – free
Opening hours: Daily 11 am – 9 pm
Address: Place Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris – France
Getting there:
Métro: 1 (Hôtel de Ville, Châtelet), 4 (Châtelet), 7 (Châtelet), 11 (Rambuteau, Hôtel de Ville or Châtelet), 14 (Châtelet)
Train: A, B, D (Châtelet Les Halles)
Bus: 29, 38, 47, 75

Orangerie Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €9, Visitors aged 18 and under (26 and under if residents in the EEA) – free, free the first Sunday of each month
Opening hours: Daily 9 am – 6 pm, closed on Tuesdays
Address: Jardin des Tuileries Place de la Concorde, 75001 Paris – France
Getting there:
Metro: 1, 2, 8 (Concorde)

Picasso Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €12.50, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if residents in the EEA) – free
Opening hours: Daily 11:30 am – 6 pm, Weekends 9:30 am – 6 pm, closed on Mondays
Address: 5 rue de Thorigny, 75003 Paris – France
Getting there:
Metro: 1 (Saint-Paul), 8 (Saint-Sébastien-Froissart or Chemin Vert)
Bus: 20, 29, 65, 75, 69, 96
Batobus: Louvre stop, quai François Mitterrand

Musée d’art moderne Tickets and Hours

Admission: Free for the permanent collection
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10 am – 6 pm, Thursdays 10 am – 10 pm.
Address: 11, avenue du Président Wilson 75116 Paris – France
Getting there:
Metro: 9 (Alma-Marceau or Iéna)
Train: C (Pont de l’Alma)
Bus: 32, 42, 72, 80, 82, 92

Jewish Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €10, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if residents in the EEA) – free
Opening hours: Daily 11 am – 6 pm, Wednesday 11 am – 9 pm, Sunday 10 am – 7 pm, closed on Saturdays
Address: 71 Rue du Temple, 75003 Paris – France
Getting there:
Metro: 1 (Hôtel de Ville), 11 (Rambuteau, Hôtel de Ville)
Train: A, B, D (Châtelet Les Halles)
Bus: 29, 38, 47, 75

Rodin Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €10, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if residents in the EEA) – free
Opening hours: Daily 10 am – 5:45 pm, Wednesday 10 am – 8:45 pm, closed on Mondays
Address: 77 rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France
Getting there:
Metro: 13 (Varenne, Invalides), 8 (Invalides)
Train: C (Invalides)
Bus: 69, 82, 87, 92

[Article originally written by Patricia Martín Rivas for travel company Wimdu.
The images in this article are from Wikimedia Commons and copyright-free.]

Art Bites Madrid

The Hermitage of the Vera Cruz de Maderuelo
unknown artist, 12th century, Prado Museum

This is definitely the best place to start your visit to the Prado Museum, to directly immerse yourself in the history of artistic representation. This wall belonged to a small hermitage in Segovia, a city 100 miles from Madrid. Its fresco paintings were transferred to canvas in 1947 and brought to the Prado Museum, where they were displayed in faithful imitation of the original layout, so visitors can walk amidst it. Of course, the theme depicted is unoriginal for its time — after all, we’re talking about the 12th century here. However, its religious scenes — the creation of Adam, the original sin, Mary Magdalene, etc.— are very interesting when viewed through the lens of perspective. Its fairly crude perspective provides a starting reference for the progressive refinement of perspective by painters in the subsequent centuries, and it should be kept in mind as you progress through the rest of the gorgeous works in this museum.

Table of the Seven Deadly Sins
Hieronymus Bosch, 1505-1510, Prado Museum

One of the artistic jewels of Madrid — and the world — is The Garden of Earthly Delights, a magnificent and still-mysterious work by Dutchman Hieronymus Bosch. However, in the very same room where his famous triptych lies, there are several more of his works that are worth focusing on. One of them is the Table of the Seven Deadly Sins, dominated by Jesus Christ, in a central circle, warning of his constant vigilance. Around him, there are several scenes of sin: lust, gluttony, sloth, etc., are everywhere, and they reflect eternal punishment. Of course, this punishment takes place in hell, and for those who can’t take a hint, there’s also an image of hell on the table, with all those sinful souls receiving their just deserts — everlasting torment. The table is both a marvelous artwork and a creepy piece of furniture — who could really enjoy brunch with so much guilt?

Las Meninas
Diego Velázquez, 1655 – 1660, Prado Museum

If there is any must-see when visiting Madrid’s museums, this is definitely it. Diego Velázquez had a good job and universal recognition as an artist, since he worked as the royal family’s official painter. Despite the heavy responsibilities and strict constraints of such a position, his creativity flourished. Las Meninas is a good example of this — instead of merely painting a typical family portrait, Velazquez added touches of the bizarre. The painter himself appears on the left of the work, in the midst of painting Princess Margarita (in the middle), interrupted by the arrival of the king and queen (in the mirror), while one of the several servants or ‘meninas’ uses that precious moment to offer a drink to the princess, no doubt thirsty after posing for such a long time. First, the quotidian is key here, since the people depicted are taking a break and thus relaxed, with unusual stances. Second, Velázquez was very bold, painting himself alongside the king and queen — as much as he could, since he’s technically alongside the reflection of the monarchs. Lastly, the characters are looking at us — in the conceit of the painting, at the king and queen — seeming to break the fourth wall. This is one of the most oft-studied works in the history of art, still mysterious, and definitely one of those masterpieces that should be seen at least once in a lifetime.

Miguel Cabrera, 1775-1800, Museum of the Americas

In addition to all the other Spanish atrocities during the colonization of the Americas, they established a system based on the so-called castas, which codified ethnic inequality — of course, white people were at the top of this racist hierarchy. This system was thoroughly represented in art, even leading to the creation of a new genre called pintura de castas. The Mexican Miguel Cabrera was one of the main artists to depict this system, and the Museum of the Americas houses many of his paintings. This racial classification is thus much in evidence, and it is certainly very interesting to view because it shows clearly how race is an arbitrary concept to impose social superiority. The system shown in the paintings is often ridiculous to the point of laughter, with racial categories bearing names like “wolf,” “floating in mid-air,” and “throwback.”

The Drowning Dog
Francisco Goya, 1820 – 1823, Prado Museum

This magnificent work is part of the fourteen Black Paintings which Goya produced during the final years of his life. Practically deaf and holed up in his house in Madrid, he painted a series of works on the very walls of his house. These were later transferred to canvas by a banker who, not finding any buyers, donated them to the Prado Museum. These paintings depicted powerful and horrible human feelings, like anguish, fear, and despair, a far cry from his previous trite neoclassicism, leading him through a carnival of horrors and, at the same time, amazing, groundbreaking creativity. The Drowning Dog is not only strikingly beautiful, but it is probably the most interesting work in the series from a historical perspective — painted in the early 1820s with such lack of perspective and detail, it’s a harbinger of styles which wouldn’t arrive for nearly another century, like impressionism and abstraction. The poor dog is trapped in the sand, trying to escape that terrible fate of drowning. Other gorgeous Black Paintings, like Fight with Cudgels, are in the same room in the museum.

Mata Mua (In Olden Times)
Paul Gauguin, 1892, Thyssen Museum

Paul Gauguin had several exhibitions when he was alive, but his work found its true audience after his death — in fact, in 2015, one of his works was bought for $300 million, becoming the most expensive painting ever sold. Both this painting and Mata Mua are part of his body of work from when he lived in Tahiti, his most characteristic works. Gauguin went to Tahiti to flee modern civilization, but he didn’t find the primitive society he had dreamed of, since French Polynesia had more colonial influence than he had expected. Still, the artist fell In love with the island and created works that mix reality and fantasy, western and eastern concepts, modernity and primitivity, creating an extremely interesting document of life in Tahiti. He also gave Tahitian names to his paintings — though sometimes not 100% correct, admittedly. In Mata Mua, Gauguin depicts an impossible yet captivating and dreamily colorful landscape, with idyllic scenes of women playing music and dancing around an idol, idealizing the noble savage in the untouched paradise of “olden times.”

Photo Report of the Evolution of “Guernica”
Dora Maar, 1937, Reina Sofía Museum

Like many other photographers at that time, Dora Maar’s work was less valued than that of painters, since this new form of expression was considered a lower form of art. However, this French painter, sculptor, and photographer is nowadays considered one of the most outstanding artists in the 20th century. Among many other things, she photographed the development of one of the most popular modern works in Madrid, Picasso’s Guernica, a masterpiece depicting the horror of war. It’s really interesting to turn around when seeing that painting, since Maar’s photographic documentation of the work, which she did between May 11th and June 4th, 1937, is truly impressive. Given the lack of light in the studio and the immensity of Guernica, she had to retouch every photo to make it perfect, and due to this, nowadays we can see all the changes, modifications, additions, and elimination the Spanish painter made. More of Maar’s works can be seen in the Reina Sofía Museum, great photographs with very high contrast of quotidian street scenes.

Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening
Salvador Dalí, 1944, Thyssen Museum

When eccentrical Salvador Dalí met Gala for the first time, his world collapsed, and the focus of his paintings turned almost exclusively to her. She soon divorced her first husband and married Dalí, becoming his muse for life. Of all the paintings starring the eternal Russian muse, this is probably the most interesting, because of the mixed feelings it inspires (and definitely the one with the most charming title). One feels a certain peace at first glance, due to the colors and the balance of the work. However, upon closer look, the calm shatters — the violence disturbing Gala’s serene and deep dream is simply breathtaking, with the cold-looking stone over which she’s lying naked, a shotgun touching her skin, and two tigers striving to reach her while one of them is eaten by a fish. An elephant with impossible legs and a bee flying around a pomegranate make the scene even more disturbing. Is she dreaming about those strange things, or they are happening around her? That’s open to interpretation — this is surrealism in its pure state!

Know Your Servant #1
Martha Rosler, 1976, Reina Sofía Museum

The work of American conceptual artist Martha Rosler focuses on social and political themes. Through different forms of expression, such as video, photo and performance, she criticizes aspects of life, often quotidian, usually from a feminist perspective. In the series Know your Servant #1, Rosler combines text and photography — something that has grown increasingly common since the beginning of the 20th century, and ever present in conceptual art — to sarcastically discuss American waitresses and the physical and behavioral requirements they must follow to be perfect menials. She uses an old drawing of a perfectly beautiful waitress to present the instructions, like “stocking free of wrinkles,” “make up simple” and “nails manicured.” There are more documents with rules and instructions, in a serious, believable tone, and pictures of waitresses (and of a male client staring at one of them), creating a profound, pointed criticism.

Marina Abramovic and Ulay, 1978, Reina Sofía Museum

Serbian Marina Abramovic is the most important performance artist of all time. In the late ’70s and the ’80s, she had a turbulent relationship with German artist Ulay, and they did many performative works together before breaking up in a very poetic way — they walked from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, met in the middle and said goodbye. While together, they recorded and photographed themselves in very extreme situations, both physically and emotionally. The performance video of AAA-AAA starts with Abramovic explaining the action: “We are facing each other both producing continuous vocal sound, we slowly build up the tension, our faces coming closer together until we are screaming into each other’s open mouths.” That’s exactly what they do, in a 9-minute-long sequence where tension is slowly built up until it reaches a level that is truly hard to watch, because of the powerful feelings that are aroused — feelings that bring us closer to the purity of life and art.

Information about museums in Madrid

Prado Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €16, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if students) – free. Free every day from 6 pm to 8 pm and Sundays and holidays from 5 pm to 7 pm
Opening hours: Daily 10 am – 8 pm, Sundays and holidays 5 pm – 7 pm
Address: Paseo del Prado, s/n 28014 Madrid – Spain
Getting there:
Metro: 1 (Atocha), 2 (Banco de España)
Train: all lines (Atocha)
Bus: 9, 10, 14, 19, 27, 34, 37 and 45

Museum of the Americas Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €3, Visitors aged 18 and under and students – free. Free on Sunday
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 9.30 am – 3 pm, Thursday 9.30 am – 7 pm, Saturday and holiday 10 am – 3 pm. Closed on Monday
Address: Av. de los Reyes Católicos, 6 28040 Madrid – Spain
Getting there:
Metro: 3 (Moncloa), 6 (Moncloa), 7 (Islas Filipinas)
Bus: 1, 2, 16, 44, 46, 61, 82, 113, 132 and 133

Thyssen Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €12, Visitors aged 12 and under – free. Free every Monday from 12 pm to 4 pm
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10 am – 7 pm, Mondays 12 pm – 4 pm
Address: Paseo del Prado, 8 28014 Madrid – Spain
Getting there:
Metro: 2 (Banco de España)
Train: all lines (Atocha), C-1, C-2, C-7, C-8 and C-10 (Recoletos)
Bus: 1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 14, 15, 20, 27, 34, 37, 41, 51, 52, 53, 74, 146 and 150

Reina Sofía Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €8, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if students) – free. Free every day from 7 pm to 9 pm and Sundays and holidays from 1.30 pm to 7 pm
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10 am – 9 pm, Sunday 10 am – 7 pm (no all collections on view). Closed on Tuesday
Address: Calle de Santa Isabel, 52 28012 Madrid – Spain
Getting there:
Metro: 1 (Atocha), 3 (Lavapiés)
Train: all lines (Atocha)
Bus: 6, 10, 14, 19, 26, 27, 32, 34, 36, 37, 41, 45, 59, 85, 86, 102, 119, C1, C2 and E1

[Article originally written by Patricia Martín Rivas for travel company Wimdu.
The images in this article are from Wikimedia Commons and copyright-free.]