My Favourite Paintings In The Louvre

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The Louvre *

 

The Louvre museum in Paris has one of the most impressive collections of paintings by European Old Masters in the world. Perhaps the only museum to really rival it in this field is the Prado in Madrid (the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the National Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York are a few close contenders). But not only does it house an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures from that age, it also has a substantial collection of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Islamic and other World artefacts through the ages.

In this post I am listing my favourite paintings from the enormous collection of paintings on display by Old French, Italian, Flemish and Spanish Masters

 

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Nicolas Poussin (1594 – 1665) – Saint John Baptising The People (1634-5) 

Many art writers and historians argue that Poussin was the first great French painter who changed the face of art in France and blazed a trail for all French artists who came after him. The art scene in France during his time was very staid (yet in a state of transition finally moving away from the traditional apprenticeship methods of working) and for this reason he spent most of his life in Rome. The American author Micheal Kimmelman goes as far as saying that Poussin was, ”the springboard for the greatest French artists from David to Matisse”

 

 

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Claude Lorrain (1600 or 1604/5 – 1682) – Port With Capitol (1636)

Claude was another great French painter who like Poussin spent most of his life in Italy. He was also a prominent landscape painter. As can be seen in the port painting, the landscape was the dominant subject. At the time, making the landscape the dominant feature of a painting as opposed to actual figures/subjects was seen as groundbreaking. Claude’s paintings were an enourmous influence on the dramatic abstract-like landscape paintings of the revolutionary British painter J.M.W.Turner.

 

 

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Adolphe-Joseph Monticelli (1824 – 1886) – The Diner 

Monticelli was a very individual painter with his own unique style. What is even more amazing is how ahead of his time he was regarding his unusual style. Like the other great French painter, Eugene Delacroix (whose oil sketches Monticelli highly admired), he predated the Impressionists by many years.

 

 

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Herman Naiwincx (1623-1670) – Baptism Of The Ethiopian Eunuch 

 

 

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Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (1803-1860) –  A Begger Counting His Money (1833) 

 

 

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Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) – The Hay Trussers (1850-51)

Millet was a huge influence on Vincent Van Gogh and this painting, as well as being a landmark work of art, perfectly encapsulates what Van Gogh first set out to achieve when he established himself as an artist. Van Gogh had a strong desire to paint the rural folk and their way of life as can be seen in his early paintings such as The Potato Eaters and many of his early sketches.

 

 

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Jules Dupré (1811-1889) – Sunset After A Storm (1851)

 

 

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Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) – Pietà (1837)

This is a gem of a painting by the great French painter Eugene Delacroix. What is amazing about this painting is, stylistically, how loose and free it is and one could argue that it is a strong example of proto-Impressionism since it predates the movement by four decades (give or take a few years). Furthermore, Delacroix was an enormous influence on that generation of artists. In fact many argue that he planted the seed for the Impressionist movement.

 

 

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Jaques-Louis David (1748-1825) – Death Of Maret (1794)

This painting is of the murdered leader of the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Marat, and is one of the most iconic images of its time.

 

 

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Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) – Rinaldo In The Gardens Of Armida

 

 

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Cimabue (1240-1302) – The Madonna And Child In Majesty Surrounded By Angels

Cimabue was a revolutionary artist. Arguably the first of the major early Italian Renaissance artists and the first artist to break away from the traditional Italo-Byzantine style art of the time. The above painting is one of his series of famous Maestà paintings.

 

 

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Giotto di Bondone (1266/67 – 1337) – The Crucifixion

Giotto was a student of Cimabue and along with him a major artist of the early Italian Renaissance movement.

 

 

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Lo Spagna (d. 1529) – St Jerome In The Desert (1531)

 

 

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Antonio Campi (1522-87) – The Mystery Of The Passion Of Christ

 

 

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Bartholomé Esteban Murillo (1617-82) – The Young Begger (1645-50)

This painting, for me, is striking for it’s gritty realism and social context. It was painted towards the end of Spain’s Siglo d’Oro (Golden Age) around the middle part of the 17th century when Spain had an enormous global empire. But what is clear is that, as evident by the acute poverty in the painting, it wasn’t a Golden Age for everyone. Much of Spain’s wealth accumulated from its former colonies was squandered on wars and in spite of its global clout at the time, the Spanish Crown filed for bankruptcy several times.

 

 

By Nicholas Peart

26th October 2016

(All rights reserved)

*image source: symmetrymagazine.org

The Famous Cafés Of Saint Germain

The cafés of Saint Germain in Paris have a long and interesting history. This area is the infamous Left Bank traditionally an area associated with prominent intellectuals and many famous writers and artists.

The café is an important feature of Parisian life and is the quintessential place to meet up with friends, talk business and watch the world go by or as the great French writer Emile Zola once said of the cafés’ clientele, ‘great silent crowds watching the street live’.

The cafés I am featuring in this post are famous for the many notable figures who once came through their doors. I am also featuring the first cafe in the world, Le Procope, which first opened it’s doors in 1686.

Nowadays these cafés are very much trading on their enviable and dazzling history and those exciting and golden days of Sartre, Voltaire or Hemingway in these digital post-internet times are dead as Dillinger. On top of that the prices will kill you if you are on a tight budget – the cafés here are a far cry from the hole in the wall dives of La Goutte d’Or. Still if you want to experience a vicarious slice of those culturally magical times, it is well worth the splurge. Yes it is touristy but for a reason. With just a small handful of cafés on and around one boulevard boasting so many famous names and bursting at the seams with cultural history it is not difficult to see why.

 

Cafe de Flore

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This café located on the corner of Boulevard Saint Germain and Rue Saint Benoit first opened in the 1880s during La Belle Époque.

The celebrated French poet Guillaume Appolinaire began to spend regular amounts of time here from 1913. It was Appolinaire who coined the term surrealism and with him he brought along other figures associated with the movement such as André Breton to the café.

Since then many of the cafe’s regular clientele included the famous writers and philosophers Georges Battaille, Robert Desnos, Leon Paul Fargue, Jean Paul Sartre, Boris Vian, Simone de Bouvoire and Raymond Queneau. Sartre virtually lived in the café. Pablo Picasso was also a regular.

 

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Two overpriced Expressos

When I was there donning my silly Ben Sherman Beatles shirt which would have made those earlier serious French philosophers and great thinkers sniff at me with contempt, I ordered a tiny expresso for €4.80 whilst my sister ordered a decaffeinated coffee for the same price. I shit you not these were two of the cheapest things on the prestigious menu bar perhaps a laughably small bottle of Evian water and a small cup of hot milk. On top of that the waiters can be a tad rude yet they can afford to be rude with an endless and non stop stream of chump tourists like myself coming here for the history.

 

 

Les Deux Magots

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Right opposite Cafe de Flore, Les Deux Magots was for many years (and perhaps is still today) it’s rival. Both cafés have for years been the two titans of the cafe scene on Saint Germain with equally illustrious and distinguished clientele.

Les Deux Magots was originally a novelty shop founded in 1812 at 23 Rue de Buck before moving to its current location on Boulevard St Germain in 1873. In 1885 the shop eventually became an alcohol serving café where around that time the legendary French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine as well as fellow Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé became regulars.

 

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Inside Les Deux Magots

This café subsequently became associated with many more distinguished names most notably the American writer Ernest Hemingway. Writers and artists such as André Gide, Fernand Léger, Louis Aragon, Elsa Triolet, Picasso and André Breton regularly frequented the café.

I was very impressed and dazzled by the interior of the café which as well as its elegant well preserved old school aesthetics, also had black and white portraits of many of its famous clientele. Like Café de Flore my sister and I sat at one of the outside tables and ordered two small expressos around the five euro mark each. Sitting at a table right next to ours were two lovely old ladies from Argentina with whom I began a conversation in my seldom excercised Spanish regaling them with tales of my time in Argentina and other parts of South America.

 

 

Le Bonaparte

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This is another good cafe within spitting distance of both the Flore and Deax Magots. While this place may lack the prestige and even authenticity and aesthetics of the other two places this is still a solid choice which also boasts a history of artists, writers and poets through the ages. It is also quieter and slightly less overrun and hectic than the other two places and almost often there is delightful street music outside.

 

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Chocolat Chaud Maison at Le Bonarparte

We had a very good and delicious authentic chocolat chaud maison (hot chocolate) even if the price was a little steep at over 6 euros each (but then I already warned you all at the beginning of the post).

 

 

Le Procope

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Le Procope, further up Boulevard St Germain on Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie and close to Odeon metro station, has the unique distinction of being the oldest literary café in not just Paris but the world first established in 1686 by a Sicilian man from Palermo named Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli. Many distinguished figures become regulars here most notably the 18th century writers Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Le Procope was a hotbed for liberal ideas throughout the 18th century and the history of the Encyclopaedia is linked to this café. Prominent figures of the French Revolution towards the end of the 18th century met here such as Maximilien Robespierre, Georges Jacques Danton and Jean-Paul Marat. Around this time, Napoleon left his cocked hat at the bar as collateral.

 

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The opulant and elegant interior of Le Procope

Both of my sisters and I visited this prestigious café one late afternoon (Le Procope only operates as a café from 3pm – 6pm. Outside of these times it is a fancy restaurant). When I was not tendering to my expresso and biscotti, I was walking around the establishment spanning over three centuries and admiring and absorbing the history as well as the opulent and ornate decor full of old oil paintings and other artefacts including Napoleon’s hat.

I don’t think I would frequent these cafés regularly but for a one off taste of their awesome history it is absolutely worth it.

 

By Nicholas Peart

29th September 2016

(All rights reserved)

 

Photographs from La Goutte d’Or

La Goutte d’Or is a district in Paris and a raw and vibrant slice of this city. The vast majority of its population is made up of people from the former French colonies most notably North African countries such as Morocco and Algeria and West and Central African countries such as Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and the Congo.

This is a very interesting part of the city to explore, especially if you’ve already experienced many of Paris’s more obvious highlights such as the Eifel Tower, the Louvre, the Champs Élysées etc.

For bearings one could carve up the district as being the triangle with its points the metro stations Barbés Rochechouart, La Chapelle and Château Rouge.

The Rue Goutte d’Or has a couple of good and traditional North African restaurants to eat at. I particularly recommend an establishment called Agad’Or, which serves a substantial portion of Couscous Maison (daily homemade couscous with a soupy vegetable stew with chicken or meat and a medium baguette) for only six euros. Opposite Agad’Or there’s a cheap little boulangerie/patisserie where you can pick up a generous pan au raisin for only a euro. The Rue Goutte d’Or is in many ways the heart of the North African community. The first wave of North Africans arrived at the beginning of the 20th century and a more substantial wave of North African immigrants arrived here in the 1950s (during this time countries such as Morocco and Algeria were French colonies) mainly to work in the automobile industry.

Turning left up ascending Rue Polonceau, on your right there is a hole in the wall Congolese restaurant. I know almost next to nothing about the DRC or the traditional cuisine from that part of the world. Yet I was curious and intrigued. Maybe another time I’ll take a punt on it.

A little further up Rue Polonceau on your right is Rue St Luc which will take you towards the large church St Bernard de la Chapelle. On 23rd August 1996, the church hit international headlines when around 300 undocumented immigrants who had taken refuge at the church (including a few who went on hunger strikes) over a long period of time were expelled by force by the police.

On the corner of Rue St Luc and Rue Cavé, I stumble across a corner art gallery/work space which is currently showing a small but intresting exhibition on the history of public graffiti art in the streets of Paris beginning with the legendary early 1980s French graffiti artist Blek Le Rat who became an enormous influence on later more well known graffiti artists such as Banksy.

On Rue Cavé, there is a lovely lush garden representing an oasis of Eden like tranquility and blissfulness amongst the gritty streets. The street was named after François Cavé, who was a significant figure during France’s industrial development in the 19th century. What’s more, he provided bread to many of the residents of La Goutte d’Or.

If Rue Le Goutte d’Or is the heart of muslim North Africa, Rue Myrha is christian Sub Saharan Africa. Here I spot a small Senegalese hole in the wall eatery called Touba Resto which serves traditional Senegalese dishes daily such as maffe (a delicious peanut based stew), yassa and thieboudienne (the national dish of Senegal consisting of fish, rice and tomato sauce). At no46 Rue Myrha is a small ramshackle shop called Binta which sells herbs, barks and an array of intriguing traditional artisan products from Mali. It is packed to the gills with stuff and I can barely motion my way around especially with my cumbersome rucksack. There are many shops like this including quite a few informal fabric and clothes shops were one can see people sewing and making traditional garments. There is a also a world music shop called Pala Pala Music but unfortunately it was closed.

Walking onto the Rue des Poisonniers and the junction with Rue Dejean is the Marché Dejean with fruit and vegetable traders, fish mongers etc. It is a hive of activity. Around here I also see shops and people from other parts of the French speaking world such as Caribbean countries like Haiti and Guadalupe. This is the area around Chateau Rouge metro station. I find this part of Paris really alive and a great place to just watch life go by. I love the history and the infamous cafés of St Germain and the Left Bank (which I’ll be touching upon in another post) yet here is real life warts and all.

 

Text and images by Nicholas Peart

28th September 2016

(All rights reserved)

 

 

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On the Rue La Goutte d’Or

 

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The Moroccan restaurant Agad’Or

 

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Couscous Maison at La Goutte d’Or

 

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Another North African restaurant also located on Rue La Goutte d’Or

 

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Halal butchers on Rue La Goutte d’Or

 

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Hole in the wall Congolese restaurant on Rue Polonceau

 

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St Bernard de la Chapelle church which police stormed in August 1996 to forcibly remove many undocumented immigrants who for a long time had taken refuge at the church

 

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A beautiful garden oasis on the Rue Cavé.

 

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A Senegalese restaurant on Rue Myrha

 

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Pala Pala world music shop

 

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This shop sells traditional herbs, bark and crafts from Mali

 

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On Rue Dejean in Château Rouge

 

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Château Rouge

 

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Château Rouge

 

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Château Rouge

 

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Haitian shop in Château Rouge

 

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Senegalese and Togo restaurant

Four Great Places To Eat In Paris

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Image source: http://www.viator.com

 

Paris has a reputation for being quite a difficult city to find good value places to eat. Most restaurants are overpriced and combined with the colossal amount of people who visit the City of Love this means that it is not uncommon to experience lacklustre levels of service on top of the high prices. However with some research and a healthy sense of adventure gems can be unearthed. I have picked four eateries. Two budget eateries (under 10 euros per head), one mid range restaurant (10-20 euros per head) and one splurge (20-35 euros per head).

If you are really watching the centimes my advice to you would be to stick to baguette sandwiches for 3-4 euros from the ubiquitous boulangeries found all across the city. If you have kitchen facilities in your accommodation, the main supermarkets like Carrefour and Monoprix (or even better one of the big markets in the city) are good places to buy fruit, vegetables, cheeses, meats, wines etc

 
Maoz Vegetarian

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The rue Xavier Privas in the 5th Arrondissement close to the river Seine and Notre Dame cathedral is chock a block full of cheap eats whether you are looking for cheap kebabs or Moroccan staples like couscous and tagines and many mediocre tourist trap restaurants. But by far the best of the cheapies is the falafel eatery chain called Maoz Vegetarian. This budget eatery is probably the healthiest of the four places I am recommending (that’s if you just count the falafels and salads and not the chips and soft drinks). Five euros gets you a pitta with falafel balls and you can choose your salads from the small but excellent salad bar. You can add humus for a euro more. For €8.50 you can include a soft drink and fries. Personally I am happy with just the pitta, fallafal balls, humus and generous salad helping. For six euros this is a super deal.

 
Agad’Or

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Another budget choice. You have more chance of bumping into a back from the dead Jim Morrison here than another tourist here. This is far from haute cuisine. But if you want an authentic ethnic establishment serving cheap hearty portions of food full of locals with roots from the Maghreb then this Moroccan place located in La Goutte d’Or district in the 18th Arrondissement can’t be beat.

The Couscous Maison is what it’s all about here. You receive a mountain of couscous in a bowl served with a stew of chickpeas and vegetables. In another bowl you either get a chicken or meat stew. I went for the chicken. It also comes with a small baguette for breaking and dumping into the food. And it’s all yours for only six euros.

 

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Couscous Maison at Agad’Or

 

It is no-frills food but it is good and filling especially if you are hungry. What’s more the experience and ambiance of the place could easily mislead one to believe they are in a typical Moroccan diner in the ville nouvelle de Tanger.

 
Bouillon Chartier

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This places serves run of the mill traditional French food and perhaps I am making a big mistake including this but a pilgrimage here is a prerequisite for anyone who wants to experience a taste of the old Paris. This restaurant has been in existence for over 100 years and the architecture and interior decor remains unchanged. Some of the waiters have a reputation for being brusque but instead of being annoyed by this I say bring it on!! This is all part and parcel of the experience of dining here. There is no shortage of tourists that come to dine here at this legendary establishment so the waiters can afford to be jaded and downright indifferent. There is one burly old timer waiter here who looks like he’s been working here all his life. What’s more he has a face straight out of a Van Gogh or Manet painting. This restaurant is 1901 Montmartre Paris mixed with Faulty Towers. A rare thing in these aggressively globalised times. I love it!!

 

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Inside Buillon Chartier

 

Now for the food. For my starter I had six Escargots (snails) lathed in massive amounts of garlic and butter.

 

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Six Escargots 

 

There were standard snails and I suppose I only picked them to say that I had tried French snails. They were good but certainly not Michelin Star quality.

For my main course I ordered the infamous French dish Steak Tartare or raw meat. I thought this was going to be rank but it was surprisingly quite tasty (yet I will definitely not be having this regularly for lunch or dinner). The side of frites and Dijon mustard were a good accompaniment.

 

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Steak Tartare

 

When the waiter came to calculate our bill he sketched it all down on the paper table cover. The experience of eating at Chartier will always trump the quality of the food, but it is definitely worth it.

 
A La Biche Au Bois

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If there is one place which I would consider worthy of that elusive splurge, this restaurant close to Gare de Lyon would be it. I went here one Saturday evening for dinner with my two sisters and a friend. We all went for the fixed dinner menu priced at €32.80 a head. This includes a starter, a main, a selection of different cheeses from the legendary cheese board (a work of art in itself) and a desert.

For my starter I went for the Terrine de Canard (two fat slabs of homemade duck pâté). It was just how pâté should taste and be made.

 

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Terrine de Canard 

 

However more impressive was my main course of Coq au Vin which came served in a heavy old school saucepan with a side of mashed potato in a gold coloured scallop shaped dish. The Coq au Vin was rich and delicious and I could barely make my way through all of it.

 

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Coq Au Vin

 

By the time the waiter came with the enormous cheeseboard I was almost game over but I persisted. I went for a wedge of Roquefort, a lump of peppered goats cheese and a slice of tangy Comté cheese. The strength of the Roquefort alone could have shut down my heart but it was a veritable delight as were the other two cheeses.

 

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Fromage!

 

Finally for dessert I was going to go for the Creme Brûlée but instead I went for another French dessert called Ile Flottante which literally translates as ‘Floating Island’. It is like a sweet foam square shaped cloud floating on a sugary egg yolk lake. It was a refreshing and pleasurable end to a hearty marathon of authentic and traditional French food.

 

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Ile Flottante

 

I’ve got very little patience for stylish, jazzed up food and especially nouvelle cuisine which makes me mad. I just want hearty portions of delicious and authentic food from any part of the world that I visit. In the case of French Cuisine, A La Biche Au Bois does a sterling job.

 
By Nicholas Peart

25th September 2016

(All rights reserved)

Mona Lisa Madness At The Louvre

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Mona Lisa frenzy at the Louvre museum, Paris

 

I don’t think I’ve seen anything else quite like this in any other art museum I’ve been to around the world. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci is arguably the most iconic work of art in the world and the most well known. Perhaps the only other work by an old master with an iconic status almost equal to (but not quite of the same magnitude of) the Mona Lisa is The Girl With The Pearl Earing by the Dutch painter Johanes Vermeer.

It is actually quite rare that a random member of the general public knows the title of a work of art by a famous artist. Everyone has heard of Picasso but how many can name the title of one of his many works? The same for Andy Warhol, the same for Jackson Pollock, Damien Hirst etc.

I am quite fascinated by the monumental popularity of the Mona Lisa. The stampede to even just catch a glimpse of this painting is akin to trying to catch a glimpse of a famous rockstar doing a signing at some small record store. As much as I wanted to get up close to see the Mona Lisa, I eventually gave up. Instead I channelled my energies into immersing myself into the nearby epic painting entitled The Cornation Of The Virgin by the Italian master Tintoretto.

But why is the Mona Lisa the most iconic painting in the world? Firstly its provonence. Since it was completed in 1519, it has been in the hands of French kings and emperors before finally settling in the Louvre. The genesis though of its current global popularity can be traced back to an 1867 essay on Leonardo by the English essayist and art critic Walter Pater where he dissected and wrote very passionately and poetically about the Mona Lisa (or La Gionconda as it was known back then). Pater’s essay is not only one of the most famous essays on any single piece of art, at the time it was seen as quite groundbreaking especially since art criticism was a fairly new concept back then. Since then the painting has been caught in the crossfire of a series of high profile events. In 1911 it was stolen from the Louvre. Picasso and his friend the French poet Guillaume Appolinaire (who once demanded that the Louvre be ‘burnt down’) were seen as two potential suspects. Eventually the thief was revealed to be a Louvre employee at the time, Vincenzo Peruggia. In 1956, part of the painting was destroyed when someone hurled acid at it. Then it was vandalised again in 1974 when a woman sprayed red paint on it. The painting is now kept behind bullet proof glass as can be seen in the photo above this post.

The painting has also been appropriated by other artists. Most famously by the father of conceptual art, Marcel Duchamp, who added a mustache to the painting in his 1919 piece ‘L.H.O.O.Q’. Later famous artists like Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol have also appropriated the painting in their work.

The truth is that the Mona Lisa has the greatest legacy out of any other single work of art ever created hence the unprecedented fascination in it. This painting would go for a whopping sum of money if it were ever released on the open market at auction in either Sotherby’s or Christies. The record paid so far for a single work of art to date is $300 million in September 2015 for the painting ‘Interchange’ by the abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning. I predict that if the Mona Lisa were ever auctioned (perish the thought) it would breach the billion dollar mark. It is that important and as a financial ‘security’ or ‘instrument’; tremendously desirable.

As for me, I like Da Vinci’s work but I’ve always been more interested in his mind, his ideas and ways of working than the actual finished pieces of art. His sensitivity to nature and the world as well his acute understanding of the anatomy of the human body have always impressed me.

His thinking was incredibly ahead of his time. His dreaming and vision had no boundaries. I love his sketches. Some of his skeches contain many of his inventions – one looking like a modern day helicopter. Incredible to think that these were concocted over half a millennium ago.

 

by Nicholas Peart

22nd September 2016

(All rights reserved)