Intriguing at a distance, with its bellying glass roofs. Disappointing close to, when all you can see is the spiritual exhaustion of the stone skin. And then well worth going inside, even if it means braving the Salon, which is the French equivalent of the R.A. exhibition. The main roof, crossshaped, is exhausted too, a big span of steel and glass and nothing more. But the metal details in the staircases and galleries are enchanting. The flavour is Art Nouveau, the style giving an extra spring and suppleness which has persisted in French engineering ever since, and it reaches a climax in the grand staircase at the end of the western arm, where the supports break out in a froth of metalwork.
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Paris Day Tours: Musee d’Art Moderne
If you have been to the Jeu de Paume, ending with Cezanne, Seurat, and Toulouse-Lautrec, you may wonder what on earth is left. The answer is contained here, and it is surprisingly rich, and not only in the heavyweights like Matisse and Leger or the arch-jokers like Picasso. The humanity that flooded through the French nineteenth century was continued in the twentieth with a much bigger range of expression. Vuillard, Vlaminck, de la Fresnaye, Dufy playing the flute and Rouault at the organ are all in their different ways engaged with life and their general vision happily meets the private worlds of Vivin and – only two paintings, but glorious – of Seraphine. But the end of the story is sad, or at least unresolved, with most of the great protagonists dead, the new boys performing clever tricks, and only Soulages, under-represented, able to bridge the gap. Sculpture, in the basement, has an easier job: it began with a dead tradition and has struggled to a live one. Zadkine, head and shoulders above the rest, a real artist like Mozart even when he isn’t saying anything, leads to Germaine Richier and Cesar. So perhaps the golden thread will continue. It had better, for this impressive concern with people and their actions is, precisely, Paris itself. The Tuileries Gardens could have been a spooky wood; Seraphine’s trees made of eyes could have been no more than madness on canvas. Both have instead a true order that is beyond rationality. (Avenue du President Wilson, east of the Palais de Chaillot.)
Palais de Chaillot: Musee des Monuments Français
A special puzzle for the visitor; sculpture from Moissac to Rude in a set of impeccable plaster copies. And just as Versailles ends up by making a colossal joke out of formality, so this piling-on of masterpiece-in-replica produces finally a compulsive feeling of let-me-out-from-this-charade. It must be very useful for students, it is certainly an experience and it can be of some genuine help in allowing you to see details (e.g. of the tombs at Saint-Denis) which are impossible to linger over on the spot without special authorization. But the humourless layout goes a long way towards destroying the basic suspension of the outside world which is at the heart of all museum-visiting: a contract which is easier to impair than to repair.
Paris Guided Tours Rue Berton, Passy
Si curieuse, says Michelin, and it certainly is. It runs along the slope, halfway up from the river to the main boulevard of this pleasant, well-heeled and unremarkable western suburb of Paris. It has slipped through the urban mesh, and keeps a fierce private character – small houses, high walls, and a narrow, cobbled surface. It is only a few yards long, but the illusion of a secretive provincial town is complete – a tantalizing reminder of how all kinds of different characters could be preserved intact in the middle of a big city.
This is the designer of the Metro entrances in top gear, hell-bent for a curly Nirvana. All the details writhe, ironwork sprouts out of the facade, the entrance hall has walls like melted chewing-gum. It ought to be seen; but it is really no more than a clever firework, the kind of thing that got Art Nouveau a bad name. The genius of a man like Mackintosh is completely absent. Similar goings-on, later and quieter, at nos. 17-21.]
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