Dreams and Reality (I)

I continue my education by exposing myself more to art and letting art expose itself more to me. This includes going nude (not me lah…the art).

The Birth of Venus by Alexandre Cabanel. This huge luscious painting was a great success in its day and Napoleon III purchased it. Sex always sells : )

Recently, I went to see the Musée d’Orsay collection at the National Museum of Singapore. I feel very privileged to see so many masterpieces in one place without having to buy a plane ticket to Paris.

This collection of 140 paintings spans 1848 to 1914 when France went through many upheavals including industrialisation, the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and the start of first world war. These influenced the artists of that period, who sought to express their worldview or escape from it through their art. This exhibition is thus aptly titled Dreams and Reality. The collection showcases a range of themes painted using both conventionally accepted as well as new and experimental styles.

Another nude piece before I show you what else I saw at the exhibition. Venus in Paphos by Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres. Painters who were classically trained by the Académie des Beaux-Arts tended to paint mythogical figures using conventionally accepted smooth brush strokes. This erotic piece was never finished but would have caused a scandal as the artist had "stolen" the head of a painting subject (daughter of a wealthy client that he painted - with clothes on of course) and placed it on this imaginary body and scene. You see, all those naughty photos on the internet stealing celebrity's head for strange naked bodies are not so original afterall.

After this I saw some darker scenes related to war.

The Siege of Paris (1870-1871) by Ernest Meissonier depicts the dark reality of the Franco- Prussian war and gruesome detail.

I like this wild-child-on-a-rampage theme and strange style very much. This startlingly vibrant piece (War of Cavalcade of Discord) was considered by some as very original in its time. However, it was also ridiculed by many others who felt the artist painted like a child. Maybe it was because Henri Rousseau was not classically trained (he was just an ex-soldier and toll collector) so he never enjoyed acceptance of snobs. He has never travelled out of France nor seen a jungle. But as you can see, he has vivid imagination. Base on the exotic plants he has seen in the botanical gardens in Paris and the animals he saw from books, he was able to create many interesting exotic paintings.

I add this piece (from Wikipedia, not available at the exhibition) to show you how amazing Rosseau's imagination was. He has said this of his experiences at the botanical gardens: "When I go into the glass houses and I see the strange plants of exotic lands, it seems to me that I enter into a dream."

And this one, one of the highlights at the exhibition.

The Card Players by Paul Cezanne. Of all the card players paintings of Cezanne's, this one is the most so iconic and was even made into a French stamp in 1961. I feel quite fortunate to see it, although I don't quite know why it is so special. Maybe I was not paying attention to the guide but it seems a little small and well...unimpressive. But I understand that its lack of drama is precisely what makes it so different from all the loud tavern paintings that were common then. This quiet piece is said to be very balance in an asymmetrical way. A picture of focussed concentration just like the card players on their hand.

The stamp. (Photo from Wikipedia)

(To be continued)

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