In the Conservatory with Madame Bartholomé

Albert Bartholomé, Dans la serre (1881), a portrait of his first wife Prospérie

Albert Bartholomé, Dans la serre (1881), a portrait of his first wife Prospérie. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, on loan to the Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity exhibit currently at the Art Institute of Chicago.

This painting, called Dans la Serre (In the Conservatory) is getting a lot of well-deserved attention in the Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity Exhibit currently on display at the Art Institute of Chicago (June-September 22, 2013).

In spite of the snippy things the New York Times had to say about it (“wide miss” and “cloying”), in my experience, this painting draws some of the biggest crowds at the exhibit, from Paris to Chicago. Behind it lies a tragic but fascinating story.

Albert Bartholomé (1848-1928) painted this portrait of his first wife Prospérie de Fleury (the daughter of the Marquis de Fleury) in 1881. She posed in a fashionable  dress in the conservatory of their home, which was located at 8 rue Bayard in Paris.

 

The dress of Prospérie Bartholomé, Musée d'Orsay

The dress of Prospérie Bartholomé, Musée d’Orsay.

 

 

 

The painting is large and captivating, but when exhibited right next to the very dress that Propérie (“Périe”) wore while she posed, it’s a show stopper. The detailing of the dress is as remarkable as its petite size. Seriously, I think I could have worn that dress in sixth grade.

 

 

 

The setting of Dans Le Serre reflects the couple’s wealth and standing. The garden in the background reminds me of the beautiful gardens of the Musée Nissim de Camondo near Parc Monceau in Paris, another home of great wealth and history (a home I like to call the “Downton Abbey of Paris.”)

Backyard gardens of the Musée Nissim de Camondo in Paris.

Backyard gardens of the Musée Nissim de Camondo in Paris.

The Bartholomé home wasn’t in the fashionable Parc Monceau neighborhood, but it was located on an equally beautiful block in the “Golden Triangle” of the 8th arrondissement between the Seine and the Place de François 1er. This is what their block looked like back then:

Place François 1er before 1909, source: wikipedia.

Place François 1er before 1909, source: wikipedia.

Fontaine de la Place François 1er, Paris. Source: wikipedia

Fontaine de la Place François 1er, Paris. Source: wikipedia

 

 

 

And here is the Place de François de 1er now, including the beautiful fountain you might recognize from the opening montage in Midnight in ParisThe Google Map Street View will give you a good glimpse of the structure that stands at 8 rue Bayard today.

 

 

 

 

 

According to the Musée d’Orsay, the Bartholomés enjoyed hosting salons for their artistic circle of friends (including Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt and Jacques-Emile Blanche) with free-ranging intellectual discussions about music, painting and books.

Two years after he painted Périe’s portrait in Dans le Serre, Bartholomé drew a pastel portrait showing her reading on the couch in front of a bookshelf. Clearly, their home was full of books. Périe is dressed in another fashionable dress, this one with black ruffles and resembling some of the other fashions in the Impressionism and Fashion exhibit, particularly Manet’s Parisienne. She seems to be wearing the same gold bracelet that she did in Dans le Serre.

Albert Bartholomé, The Artist’s Wife, Reading, pastel and charcoal (1883), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection.

Two years later, Albert and Périe became the subject of a joint portrait by Edgar Degas, a painting started in 1885 called The Conversation. Once again, Périe’s outfit (in which her bustle resembles the tail plume of a turkey) seems to be the focus of the composition.

Edgar Degas, The Conversation (1885-1895), Yale University Art Gallery, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon.

Edgar Degas, The Conversation (1885-1895), Yale University Art Gallery, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon. Image: Yale Art Gallery e-catalogue.

Unfortunately, Prospérie was in poor health and would die in 1887, just two years after they posed for the Degas painting. Bartholomé was so overwhelmed with grief that he preserved the dress that Périe wore in the Dans le Serre. I’m not sure how it became the property of the Charles and André Bailly Gallery in Paris, but it was subsequently gifted to the Musée d’Orsay in 1991.

As if the Bartholomé story wasn’t sad enough, Périe’s death caused Albert to give up painting altogether. On the advice of his friend Edgar Degas, he took up sculpting instead. Maybe the highly physical act of molding large-scale plaster and bronze was more cathartic than painting with a brush.

His first sculpture was for his wife’s tomb in front of a church in Bouillant, France, near Crépy en Valois. Not only did Bartholomé express his own raw grief, he also captured his young wife’s likeness. She has the same delicately pointed nose that she does in the painting Dans la Serre.

Bartholomé sculpure on his first wife's tomb in Bouillant, France.

Bartholomé’s sculpture for his first wife’s tomb in Bouillant, France. Image: Parismyope.blogspot.com.

From that point on, Bartholomé’s entire oeuvre consisted of grief sculptures. He is probably best known for his Monument aux Morts at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris (1888-1889), which is heart wrenchingly sad.

Albert Bartholomé, Monuement aux Mortsu cimetière du Père Lachaise (1889-1899). Image: parismyope.blogspot. com.

Albert Bartholomé, Monuement aux Morts du cimetière du Père Lachaise (1889-1899). Image: parismyope.blogspot. com.

Despite Bartholomé’s deep and long-lasting grief, he did manage to remarry in 1901. I wish I knew the whole story, but all I can find is that his second wife Florence Letessier (18xx-1959) had been a model before their marriage, so presumably that’s how they met. Bartholomé would have been in his 50s at the time of his second marriage but Florence was much younger.

Bartholomé sculpted Florence in 1909, but it doesn’t look as though her youth and serenity captured his imagination as much as the memory of his first wife. Florence’s face looks full and healthy but her expression and posture are utterly bland.

Albert Bartholomé, Bust, Madame de Bartholomé, Née Florence Letessier, Second Spouse of the Artist (1909). Image:http://www.culture.gouv.fr/public/mistral/joconde

Albert Bartholomé, Bust, Madame de Bartholomé, Née Florence Letessier, Second Spouse of the Artist (1909), Musée d’Orsay. Image: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/public/mistral/joconde

Sometime after their marriage, Bartholomé and Florence moved to 1 rue Raffet in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, where he would have a sculpting studio right next door to their home. The home and studio are still standing, as you can see from Google Maps Street View. Today, the studio at 1 bis rue Raffet rents out separately from the apartment building next door.

On a side note, Bartholomé’s art studio on rue Raffet became part of a huge art controversy in the 1950s. Apparently, Degas allowed his good friend Bartholomé to make plaster casts of some of his sculptures for Bartholomé’s private collection, including a plaster cast of Little Dancer, Age 14. Florence inherited the plaster casts in upon Albert’s death in 1928, but they didn’t go on the art market until she was placed in an asylum in the 1950’s, creating a big controversy.

In any event, you shouldn’t miss the chance to go see Bartholomé’s portrait of his wife Périe in Dans le Serre at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity Exhibit. Just look into Périe’s eyes, and you can almost imagine their sad story. It’s anything but a wide miss.

 

 

 

 

 

Rainy Days in Paris

Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877), Art Institute of Chicago, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection.

Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877), Art Institute of Chicago, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection. Currently part of the Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity Exhibit (2013).

Who doesn’t love this painting? I’ve admired it ever since I first started visiting the Art Institute of Chicago as a young girl. It’s so big that it welcomes you in – it feels like you’re right there on the sidewalk. Maybe you were walking in front of this couple and turned around for a brief look at the intersection behind you. Do your shoes still feel wet from the rain?

I admire Caillebotte for painting this street on a rainy day. It wouldn’t have been easy, dragging his paintbox and easel out of his studio and onto a wet street, if that’s indeed what he did. (Speaking of en plein air, I guess you would call that en pleuviex air?) We do know he drew a sketch of it first, from his Sketchbook, June 1883–September 1886, Art Institute of Chicago.

More people than ever have been getting a good look at this painting because it’s been a part of the Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity Exhibit. After starting out last fall at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, it traveled to New York and is finally back in Chicago.

I just saw it again myself. It reminded me of my first trip to Paris, when I would look at every diagonal street corner and think of this painting. There are countless intersections like this in Paris, and so many rainy days. But there is only one Paris Street; Rainy Day. When I lived in Paris, I finally had time to track down the right place.

This iconic scene is located at the intersection of rue de Moscou and rue de St. Petersburg in the 8th arrondissement behind Gare St. Lazare, between Place de Clichy and Place de L’Europe. An easy walk from several Métro lines. I created a Google Map so you can check it out for yourself. Click on the street view and you’ll have the perfect view.

The scene of Caillebotte's Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877)

The scene of Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877). Funny that I should have captured this photo on a sunny day. It’s just not the same. (Not to mention the motorcycles and the lack of cobblestones!)

Rainy days in Paris can be beautiful. Or at least that’s what Parisians keep telling themselves so they don’t go bat-shit crazy during those long weeks of gloomy gray skies.

That’s what I told myself anyway. Check out these photos of mine and tell me you don’t agree. There’s just something about rainy days in Paris. . . .

A Paris puddle on Avenue Kléber in the 16th

A Paris puddle on Avenue Kléber in the 16th

A Paris puddle on Avenue Kléber in the 16th

A Paris puddle on avenue Matignon in the 8th

Rainy day, rue Cambon. Students on a cigarrette break from the Ecole Ritz Escoffier, across the street from Chanel Paris.

Rainy day, rue Cambon. Students on a cigarrette break from the Ecole Ritz Escoffier, across the street from Chanel Paris.

Paris street near Place de Vendome

Paris street near Place de Vendome

By now, Parisians are starting to wonder why I keep taking photos of the sidewalk.

At the corner of avenue Montaigne and avenue Gabriel in the 8th

Monet’s Window in Rouen

Many of us have seen the series of Monet’s paintings of the Rouen Cathedral at the Musée d’Orsay and have marveled at the difference in the light in each painting. We probably know the story: Monet kept up to 14 different canvases going at a time, and switched from one painting to another as the daylight shifted on the cathedral. It’s almost magical to see the differences.

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Here’s a great Smarthistory video created by two art historians, Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, in which they discuss Monet’s Rouen Cathedral Series. It’s worth a quick five minutes of your time if you’re a fan of Impressionism.

What a thrill it is to be able to travel to Rouen (just an hour’s drive from Paris, past Giverny  on the way to the Normandy shore) and stand in the very place where Monet stood when he created those paintings. He painted some of them en plein air from the Cour d’Albone in front of the cathedral,  but the rest from the second floor of the building across the street, 25 Place de la Cathédrale. Back in Monet’s day it was the Finance Bureau, but today this is the home of the Rouen Seine Valley Tourist Office.

It would be from this makeshift atelier that Monet would create 28 different paintings of the western view of the cathedral between 1892 and 1893.  All of these paintings were supposedly created in two different painting sessions, which might sound suspicious, unless you’ve actually been to Rouen and see for yourself how quickly the weather changes. You can have sun, clouds and rain all within an hour. Monet might have been forced to switch canvases, not because he wanted to, but because he had to. The light would have been changing so quickly, he wouldn’t get much painting done unless he had multiple canvases.

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The Rouen Seine Valley Tourist Office across from the Rouen Cathedral. Although the sun is shining, notice the wet pavement. Sudden shifts in weather conditions are common, just as they were back in Monet’s day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And if it’s not enough just to stand in Monet’s footsteps, you can also sign up for an art workshop where you get to paint Monet’s cathedral for yourself. I didn’t find out about this until after I’d left Rouen, but I’m dying to try it the next time I go. Check it out here. The workshop includes a tour of the Rouen Musée des Beaux Arts and a Monet-inspired dinner.

If you’re not able to swing a trip to Rouen, you can always catch two of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral paintings in the United States at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., one at the J. Paul Getty Museum in LA. If you want to take your hand at creating your own little Rouen Cathedral masterpiece, you can download this stencil from NPR’s website.

If you really want to feel like Monet, download 14 copies and have a go at each one a little differently. Cheers!

The Road to Burgundy by Ray Walker

road to burgundy

I just spent the weekend in Burgundy. Well actually, I was on my front porch in Chicago reading The Road to Burgundy by Ray Walker, and it felt like I was there all over again.

This book is Ray’s personal story based on his crazy dream to leave California and go make wine in Burgundy. Ray wasn’t even much of a wine expert – he’d only been tasting wine for a couple of years before he quit his day job – but there was just something about the purity and the story of the wines from Burgundy that seized his imagination and wouldn’t let go.

When I started the book I had serious doubts. Ray seemed a little delusional. I felt sorry for his long-suffering wife Christine. Who goes and makes wine in Burgundy (arguably the epicenter of winemaking in the entire world) without any experience, any clout, or any French language skills?

Well, Ray did. And it makes a great story, whether you know a lot about French wine or not. It takes you to the small villages of the Cote d’Or in Burgundy, and into the hearts and minds of the locals, who couldn’t resist helping Ray achieve his remarkable dream. (Well, there were a few notable exceptions, including a nasty Frenchman named Xavier and the typically frustrating French bureaucracy, but every story needs a villain or two).

This book will make you reexamine what you thought was possible with nothing but a dream and a whole lot of determination. It’s a great lesson for those of us who over-analyze, finding more reasons to keep it safe than to take a leap of faith. Ray’s whole story is summed up by the saying “Leap and the Net Will Appear.”

It’s downright inspiring.

At the very least, this book will make you want to call Air France to book a trip to Burgundy. In the meantime, you’ll have to satisfy yourself with a trip your favorite local wine shop and some photos from my Burgundy wine tour in 2012.

Before you settle down with The Road to Burgundy, stop by your local wine shop for a bottle of a nice Pinot Noir from Burgundy. This one's from Gevrey- Chambertin, not far from the vineyards where Walker's grapes grow.

Before you settle down with The Road to Burgundy, stop by your local wine shop for a bottle of a nice Pinot Noir from Burgundy. This one’s a 2009 from Gevrey-Chambertin, not far from the vineyards where Ray Walker grows his grapes. (Yum.)

As I was reading Ray’s book, I just had to pull out my photos and travel notes from my own trip to Burgundy in September, 2012, which to my great fortune just happened to coincide with harvest season.

I booked a wine tour with Tracy Thurling of Burgundy by Request, who did a great job of customizing our tour to the wines and vineyards we were interested in seeing. My husband loves Chardonnay while I’m more of a fan of Pinot Noir. After spending a day sightseeing and wine tasting in Beune, we were ready to see where the wine was actually made.

We started the morning with the whites in the south (Puligny-Montrachet) and then worked our way north to the reds of the Cote de Nuits (Moret-Saint-Denis) and eventually back to our hotel in Dijon. It was a lot to accomplish (a/k/a drink) in one day. Ideally, I would recommend you schedule one full day for the reds and another full day for the whites, leaving yourself time for a nice little nap before dinner. Because, after all, wine tours are really just legitimized day drinking with a designated driver.

The best part about Burgundy is getting out into the villages and vineyards, where the locals are as homespun and friendly as they appear in Ray’s book. Even on harvest day, we were welcomed into the fields to take photos and ask questions. It’s so different than the big corporate feel you get in Napa Valley in California.

A map of Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits from Dijon to the north and St. Aubin to the south.

A wine map of Burgundy. From Dijon in the north, down through Nuits-St.-Georges and Beaune in the middle, toward Chalon-sur-Saone in the south. These roads are small and narrow, so to get from Ray’s first winery in St. Aubin to his grapes up in Gevrey-Chambertin and Moret-St-Denis would have been quite a schlepp.

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Harvest day September, 2012 in Puligny-Montrachet. White rental vans and red tractors crowd the tiny roads of Burgundy in September. You can feel the buzz of excitement in the air. These are world-class grapes.

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Here’s a porteur with the big cone-shaped backpack they use to collect the newly picked grapes. He had just leaned over, and with a somewhat graceful one-legged kick-out, dumped his grapes into the truck.

The vineyard of the legendary Batard-Montrachet.

The vineyard of the legendary Batard-Montrachet (literally the Bastard of Montrachet, who under French inheritance laws was entitled to a share of his father’s property).

So what are the odds that I would have a wine tasting at Olivier Leflaive's in Puligny-Montrachet, the same place where Ray and his wife first stayed the winter of 2009?

So what are the odds that we had a wine tasting at Maison Olivier Leflaive’s in Puligny-Montrachet, the same place where Ray and his wife first stayed in Burgundy in 2010 (Chapter 10)? We even got to meet Olivier as he passed through the tasting room to say hello. Olivier was the first of many very generous locals who agreed to help Ray with his crazy quest.

Me in the wine tasting room of Olivier Leflaive's grinning from ear to ear over the 2007 Grand Cru Batard Montrachet I'd just tasted.

In the wine tasting room of Olivier Leflaive’s. I’m grinning from ear to ear over the Grand Cru Batard Montrachet we’d just tasted. Too bad this isn’t Guilliame, the nice Brazillian fellow that Ray become pals with in the book – it sounds like he was gone by the time we got there.

And if you think Burgundy couldn't get any prettier, this little out building in Chambertin-Clos de Beze.

And if you think Burgundy couldn’t get any prettier, this iconic little out building in Chambertin-Clos de Beze might put you over the top.

Pinot Noir grapes in the Cote de Nuits

Pinot Noir grapes in the Cote de Nuits just days away from harvesting.

Clos de la Roche Grand Cru vineyard just north of Morey-Saint-Denis in Cote de Nuits, right next to Ray Walker's Les Chaffots.

We got to see the Clos de la Roche Grand Cru vineyard just north of Morey-Saint-Denis in Cote de Nuits, right next to Ray Walker’s grapes in Les Chaffots.

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As the day was fading, we stopped at the Latricieres-Chambertin Grand Cru vineyard in Cote de Nuits. We got to taste a 2007 from Domain Rémy in Moret-Saint-Denis. This vineyard is awfully darn close to more of Ray’s grapes at Charmes-Chambertin.

If you really want to see some great photos of Ray Walker’s wines at Maison Ilena, go to their website and see for yourself. Their photos are way better than mine. In fact, they look so good they’re making me thirsty for a good French pinot, but then so does The Road to Burgundy. Worse things could happen, that’s for sure.

The Road to Burgundy by Ray Walker: Highly Recommended

I received nothing of consideration in exchange for this review. I just wrote about it because I loved it and I think you will too. If you’d like to read a post about another French wine book tour, check out my October, 2012 post on Wine and War by Don and Petie Kladstrup. Cheers!

Also recommended for the more serious wine geek: Grand Cru by Remington Norman.

Also recommended for the more serious Burgundy wine geek: Grand Cru by Remington Norman.