Un Jour de Grève: Courbet at the Grand Palais


“Un jour de greve, un jour de reve pour aller au musee. ”
“A day on strike, a dream of a day to go to the museum.”
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So writes a visitor in the guestbook at the end of a visit to the Courbet exhibition at Musee du Grand Palais.
This would be the ONE time I decided to ‘plan ahead’ by reserving a ticket 48 hours earlier at the FNAC bookstore on Rue de Rennes.

For two extra Euros, you can reserve your tickets in advance (as long as you do so 48 hours in advance) which will allow you to cut the line and have immediate access. This would have come in very handy for the Arcimboldo show at the Musee du Luxembourg on the Toussaint weekend, but today, on Day 3, of the SNCF and RATP Metro strike, it wasn’t surprising to find NO LINE whatsoever for the Courbet show which will be closing in mid-January at the Grand Palais, Metro: Champs Elysees.

Not only that, but the #13 Metro LIne – Chatillon -St. Denis was moving along nicely. We caught our FREE METRO ride (as I mentioned, Metro transportation is completely free on strike days). There were very few people on the Metro today for the 11:30 am trip to the transit, but by 2 pm, numbers were increasing.

Gustave Courbet is considered by some to be the father of ‘Realism’ . The show which includes 120 of his paintings, plus sketches and photographs which he used in some cases as models for his paintings (including L’Origine du Monde!) includes some of his most famous paintings, i.e. “Burial at Ornans”, many self-portraits and landscapes. What you won’t see here is “The Stone Breakers” the painting that’s said to have propulsed the realist movement. It is presumed that “The Stone Breakers” was destroyed in Dresden.
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Basically, Courbet wanted to paint what he saw in normal every day life without the aid of rose-colored glasses, airbrushing, or vaseline on the lense. What you see is what you get. When it comes to his self-portraits, (which represent the earlier part of his career), you might wonder if he had a blind spot when it came to seeing himself with the same honesty as Van Gogh for example. But whether or not Courbet actually did find a way of painting ‘truth’ his stark settings and choice of subdued color have a way of letting emotions soar.

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Surely he has mastered portrait art, but more than that his subjects admonish, reach out to you, or simply stare off into the horizon, planning their day’s schedule, but even in such passive pose, each subject is palpably aware of the painter, and ultimately the viewer.

If you love impressionists, you may find Courbet to be downright drab in comparison. But I think most of what this painter has to say is not necessarily on the canvas, but much moreso about our rapport with the subjects.
And then there are the nudes.
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What’s really somewhat amusing about this exhibit is the careful ‘sheltering’ of the ‘Origin du Monde’ in an era of supposedly ‘anything goes’. A notice outside of the partial curved walls half enclosing this painting and the photos which served as models for the painting is a warning sign that ‘These particular paintings/photographs may be affect the ‘sensitivity’. To put this in plain Courbet language – we’re talking unabashed in your face exposure – here, i.e. by many people’s definition ‘porn’.

Included in this cubicle is a veritable peep show way of looking at the stereophotos that inspired his “Origin of the World”.

Needless to say, that not all of 19th century Paris was enthralled with Courbet’s idea of painting nudes (who horror of horrors included aging women with all their curves and cellulite). But maybe for 21st century viewers, Courbet’s ‘realistic’ paintings may be a happy respite from emaciated models, and computer simulated two-dimensional cartoons. One thing is certain, no two people will respond to this show in the same way.
All I can tell you, is that personally, I found Courbet’s span of expression to be phenomenal.

HIs nudes are lush and voluptuous. And their ‘reality’ was way different than The Stonecutter’s ‘reality’.

Courbet’s ‘reality’ paintings may have been initially rejected by the established art world, but that didn’t stop many of the Deauville/Trouville beach set from flocking to have Courbet do portraits of themselves and their dogs.

Regarding the Grand Palais and its recent renovation, aside from having access to its monumental staircase to the second level of the show, I couldn’t gather any sense of how the building may have originally appeared during the World Expostion when it was first built. You can best appreciated the Grand Palais by viewing its exterior which is particularly impressive on the occasions when its’ illuminated for special events.

Grand Palais
3, Ave. du Gen. Eisenhower, square J. Perrin (8eme)
Metro: Champs Elysees.
Closed Tuesdays.
Open Monday, Wed-Sunday from 10 am to 8 pm, Wednesdays and Fridays until 10 pm.
The Courbet show closes Jan 28, 2008
Tickets are 10 Euros or 12 Euros if reserved in advance at FNAC bookstores.
Parental discretion advised!
Tel. 01 44 13 17 17
Res. 08 92 68 46 94