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Paris Part II: The Stein Collection, Munch (and the Screaming Norm) and the unyielding stench of Camembert

My feet still cry out in protest at the mere recollection of how much we were on our feet yesterday. But what a cultural extravaganza our eyes were able to feast upon as we went from one blockbuster exhibition to another.

First stop was the Grand Palais, at which we arrived slightly giddy having indulged in a mid morning mulled wine from the festive christmas market along the Champs Élysées. The Grand Palais is always the host of superb temporary exhibitions, having held Courbet, Renoir and Monet spectaculars in the last few years. This year’s offering is Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso…The Stein Family’s Adventure in Art which explores the stalwart patronage of the well known Stein family of superstar early 20th century artists at the shaky commencement of their careers, and exhibits the vast collection of important works which they amassed as a result (see my gallery below for a preview of some of the works in the exhibition).

The exhibition was split roughly into three sections, each following the acquisitions of the three respective Stein siblings, Leo, Michael (and his wife Sarah) and Gertrude. Michael and Sarah’s almost exclusive obsession with Matisse makes for a very comprehensive show of the latter’s earlier work, when, as undisputed head of the Fauvists, his paintings command attention with their multiple bright colours and coarse brush work. Leo Stein, the more conservative collector, whose at first collected with sister Gertrude, took more to Picasso, but stopped collecting his work shortly after the blue period, finding Picasso’s progression into cubism all too much. It was Gertrude Stein who took the collection further, resolutely supporting Picasso at every twist and turn of his experimental career before his prices spiralled beyond her reach. Then her patronage embraced the likes of Juan Gris and Picaba, right up to artists working in abstract which she began to collect before her death in the 40s. Ever the pioneer, Gertrude’s collection is substantial and multifaceted and makes for a fascinating overview of the post-impressionist period when art was changing rapidly. However my favourite section was Leo Stein’s Picassos from the blue period (see the gallery below). The melancholy figures and muted colours on these canvases are loaded with a depth of emotion and sophistication of draftsmanship which is lacking in the more superficial and, dare I say it, commercial compositions in his later work. Although of Picasso’s adventures into cubism, there are some superb examples, particularly in the preparations he makes for Les Damoiselles d’Avignon. Also worth seeing are the works of Juan Gris who, taking the torch from Picasso, explores the cubism genre in his brilliantly composed geometric fragmentation of everyday life.

After the Grand Palais, we headed to the very different (architecturally) but no less splendid Centre Pompidou, where asides from the strong permanent collection (which is a fully comprehensive tour de force of 20th century art picking up where the Musee d’Orsay leaves off), there was an Edvard Munch exhibition on show. I’ve seen a retrospective of his work previously in London and all I can remember is the lack of The Scream and little else. I was consequently pleasantly surprised by a Parisian show which, while still lacking the preeminent Scream, made for a fascinating, albeit slightly eery exploration of Munch’s very troubled mind. Thus, the paintings on show illustrated murders, injuries, fights, striking workers and other existential crises. He showed an almost maniacal obsessiveness in repeating the same work over and over again, and his paintings pay homage to a man who was obviously lonely, introspective and tormented. However, for all this, some works were luminescent, glowing, magical, especially his snowy Scandinavian landscapes lit by strange multicoloured skies.

So no Scream, but much to Scream about on the Paris art scene at the moment… In the meantime my search for macaroons has yielded no fruit, but my insistence on purchasing french products to take home has yielded an unwanted additional extra…. An innocuous little boxed Camembert purchased (at a vast price… I believe we may have been royally ripped off under the disguise of Christmas spirit) from the Élysées Christmas Market has dogged us with an infernal stench ever since we walked away from the stall. We tried putting it in the little hotel room mini bar, wrapped it in a hundred plastic bags, and still the smell lingers like…well like a bad smell! We’ve now taken to tying it to the roof outside our window, hoping not to find a nest of newly moved in rats in the morning. Here’s hoping!

The Screaming Norm (after Munch) (2011, pen on paper) © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2005-2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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