Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dreams and Reality: A Peek at Selected Masterpieces from the Musee D'Orsay's

'Dreams and Reality' was a special exhibition that recently ended its run at Singapore's National Museum. The exhibition showcased carefully curated masterpieces of paintings, drawings and photos from the Musee D'Orsay in Paris. Although I visited Paris some years back, I had time for the Louvre only, and even so, there wasn't enough time to see all the masterpieces in the Louvre. So this 'Dreams and Reality' exhibition was a great opportunity for me to view the top masterpieces without incurring the cost of an air ticket. :)

As I am partial to paintings, all of the works shown here are of paintings. Click "read more" for some commentary and pictures of some of my favourite works.

We took the guided tour, led by an enthusiastic lady who is obviously a very knowledgeable art lover, her description of notable paintings and narrations of the artists' era in the mid 19th century to early 20th century was lively and engaging. The guide remarked that during that time, to facilitate the artists' sale of their works to the public, the artists would submit their masterpieces to the Salon, which was a royally sanctioned institute of art patronage. The Salon's approval meant the artist's painting could be displayed in the Salon, to be viewed  and possibly purchased by the public. The Salon had a list of accepted Neoclassical genres, and the top 3 favourites were mythological, history and biblical themes. The current exhibition was similarly organised in such themes and more.

This painting entitled "Hercules Killing the Birds on Lake Stymphalus" by Edgar Maxence, depicts the mythological half man, half god, Hercules exterminating the ferocious birds that feed on human flesh and destroy crops.

This painting titled "Venus in Paphos" by Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres looked to be experimental. 2 points to note: the woman's neck formed an unnatural angle with her shoulder and the cherub on the right looked incomplete. I could not recall, but I think the guide mentioned that the Salon rejected this painting.

Alexandre Cabanel's "Birth of Venus" portrayed Venus in a lascivious pose. The painting was said to be a symbol of excesses in its era - decadence, corruption and amorality. Not surprisingly, Napoleon III purchased the painting.

"The Knight of the Flowers" by Georges Rochegrosse was inspired by a Richard Wagner's opera, Parsifal. Parsifal, is a knight destined to find the Holy Grail. After fighting the guardians of the Magician Klingsor, Parsifal stumbled into the flower maiden garden where numerous flower maidens called out to him. Thanks to his silver armour he was able to resist the temptation and move on. I've seen quite a number of paintings in my travels and admittedly I've never seen so many nudes depicted in a single painting. Regardless this painting, with its fascinating genre, portraying a decidedly honourable knight and featuring multiple splashes of colours, exudes an aura of mythic-ism and grandeur.

Gustav Dore's "The Enigma" is a painting that calls out to me mainly because of its tragic portrayal of war. Here the painting is dark and devoid of colours, showing the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War, where a sphinx atop a hill overlooks the scene - strewn bodies and rising smoke in the horizon from the burning city. A tear stricken woman with wings questions the sphinx in vain for an explanation of the war.   

A close up of the teary winged woman and the sphinx

Henri Rosseau's "War on Cavalcade of Discord" is a painting that clearly stood out amongst the paintings done by his counterparts in the 19th century. His style seemed 'cartoon-ish' and his usage of bright colours seemed at odds with the sombre genre he had chosen. Personally I thought he had an interesting style, and the colour of the strewn bodies being pecked away by crows looked vibrant and recently alive (I hope I don't come across as sounding morbid).

Moving on to more contemporary times, in Edgar Degas's "Dancers climbing a staircase", the painting revealed a perspective of a dancer peering into the dance studio. This looks like a snapshot taken by a camera.

Contrast these 2 paintings done by Claude Monet. The first is titled "Study of a figure outdoors: Woman with a parasol looking to the right" and the second is "Portrait of Madame Gaudibert".

The 2 couldn't have looked more different. The first portrayed a lady who looked like she was in motion and her features were barely visible as though her general frame was quickly rendered by the artist without focus on details. In the second, the lady's face was turned away from the viewer and the details of drapery of her brocade dress looked to be captured painstakingly. Monet, who was best known for his impressionism style, had clearly departed from this style of figure painting in his earlier years and subsequently delved into landscapes.

"Young Boy with Cat" by Pierre-Auguste Renior is an enigmatic painting not least because it featured a pale skinned boy with a non-athletic body, which is exceptional of that time where nudes tend to be portrayed with beautiful bodies, but because the boy looked at the viewer with a forlorn expression and the fact that he had his hands draped possessively around the cat. We would probably never know what the artist was thinking when painting this.

And now, the star of the show, Van Gogh's "Starry night". It's difficult to pin down my favourite Van Gogh painting, but this is a strong contender. The twinkling stars may be exaggerated but they make the night scene happily vibrant and inspiring.

Last but not least, here is a painting by Marianne Stokes called "The Young Girl and Death". I could almost feel the sadness emanating from the painting as I see the young girl who should have her whole life in front of her looking at the Angel of Death, and knowing that her death is imminent. To add on to the picture of misery, petals from the flowers at the side table were seen to have fallen on the floor, signalling impending death.

I hope this is a good mini tour that would entice you to visit the Musee D'Orsay one day. :)

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