Homage to a Couture Icon – The Yves Saint Laurent Paris Museum

Homage to a Couture Icon – The Yves Saint Laurent Paris Museum

It all begins with paper dolls, for which the adolescent Yves Saint Laurent creates entire couture collections to the delight of his two younger sisters. This early passion for fashion design leads him straight to Paris, where he enrolls at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture (school of the official trade association of French high fashion). His designs quickly gain the notice of Michel de Brunhoff, the then editor of French Vogue, who introduces him to Christina Dior. Monsieur Dior hires the barely the 19-year-old on the spot.

Paris YSL-sketches

The process of creation begins with sketching and swatches

For the next two years the young prodigy works at the side the master. He learns every aspects of creating a collection of some 200 designs, from original sketches to final fittings. He earns his mentors’ trust to the point that when Christian Dior suddenly dies of a heart attack in October 1957, it is revealed that he has named the young man as his successor. Yves Saint Laurent, age 21, is now artistic director of the most prestigious couture house in France. His first collection, unveiled four month later, is an immediate success. Side-stepping the cinched waists and voluminous skirts of the past decade, he introduces his Trapeze line of fluid dresses that flare from fitted shoulders. Its easy elegance appeals to active women everywhere. In retrospect, It changes the course of fashion.

His tenure at the House of Dior is cut short when he is replaced upon being drafted for mandatory military service in 1960.

Saint Laurent Paris

Paris YSL-1962 collection

The Saint Laurent Couture 1962 inaugural collection.

Fast-forward two years, and Yves Saint Laurent decides to create his own couture house with his partner Pierre Bergé. Saint Laurent Paris opens its doors at 30 bis, rue Spontini, in the tony 16th Arrondissement. His first collection in January 1962 is an unmitigated success. For the next twelve years he will continue to create here, inventing the modern woman’s wardrobe. The pea coat and trench coat of his first collection are followed by the first women’s tuxedo in 1966, then the safari jacket and the first women’s pants suit in 1968.

Paris YSL-iconic pieces.

A display assembles the emblematic early pieces.

These female adaptations of mainstays of the male attire are enthusiastically adopted, not only by the wealthy clients of the couture brand, but by all women. Now they can express their confidence and boldness while maintaining their femininity. For them, he opens his Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique in 1966. This first ready-to-wear store to bear a couturier‘s name paves the way for ready-to-wear fashion as we now know it.

5 Avenue Marceau

Paris YSL-jeweled jacket 1990.

Jeweled jacket from the Spring-Summer 1990 collection

In 1974, the Yves Saint Laurent couture house moves to a mid-19th century mansion at 5, avenue Marceau, a stone throw away from the Pont de l’Alma. For the next three decades, it remains a symbol of fashion excellence. In his fourth floor studio he creates designs that are then brought to life by the nearly two hundred tailors and seamstresses of the in-house workrooms.

 

 

Jewelry is displayed in the Cabinet de Curiosités gallery.

After Saint Laurent announces his intention to end his career in 2002, the building undergoes extensive renovations before re-opening its doors two years later as the Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent Foundation for the preservation of the couturier’s body of work. After functioning for a decade as exhibit space dedicated to fashion and then further extensive renovations, the mansion re-opens in October 2017 as the Musée Yves Saint Laurent, a permanent temple dedicated the French haute couture icon.

 

The YSL Museum

Paris YSL-Salon.

The visit begins in the Salon.

Today, the museum offers a unique opportunity to experience the designer’s world. The visit starts on the first floor, in the salons where clients once sat for private showings of his work or were received by their personal saleswomen when they came for fittings. Then we experience YSL’s process of creation, thoroughly documented with sketches, drawing and swatches, before entering a display of his most emblematic designs.

 

Paris YSL-Picasso evening.

The Picasso evening dress from the autumn-winter 1979 collection.

In addition to the highlights of his 1962 debut collection, there are also nods to collections that pay homage to an era, intricately decorated jackets, theatrical designs and stunning custom jewelry. The last gallery includes his iconic Mondrian dress, other dresses inspired by great painters, including Picasso, Van Gogh and Matisse, and his Africa and Russia-inspired ensembles.

 

 

Paris YSL-Studio2.

The studio is recreated in minute details.

Then on the fourth floor, we reach the heart of the house, his exactingly reproduced studio, filled with drawings, scraps of fabric, boxes of buttons and finished designs, which offers a vivid picture of the life and practices of a haute couture atelier. His signature glasses are still on the desk near his sketch pads and freshly sharpened pencils. His portrait by his friend Bernard Buffet hangs over the worktable. We can still feel the creative energy of the place. It’s clear that everything happened here.

 

Paris YSL-Home.

The projection room shows images of Saint Laurent’s home.

The visit ends in the screening room, where a multi-image diaporama brings Yves Saint Laurent, the man and his career to life, narrated by Pierre Bergé, his partner in work and life. Bergé was the driving force in bringing the museum to completion, but sadly died just four weeks before the inauguration on September 28, 2017. A second YSL museum opened in Marrakech, Morocco on October14, 2017 near the former home of the two men.

 

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

YSL Museum

Christian Dior – Designer of Dreams

Christian Dior – Designer of Dreams

The main event of this fall’s fashion season didn’t happen in the rarified runway atmosphere of the Paris Couture Week. It’s been going on through the summer and will continue until the end of the year in the Rohan and Marsan Wings of the Palais du Louvre, home to the prestigious Musée des Arts Décoratifs. And it is a stunner!

Paris-DC red

Some thematic layouts explore the many facettes of fashion.

Billed as the largest fashion exhibition ever staged by the museum, Christian Dior, Couturier du Rêve (Designer of Dreams), is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the creation of the House of Dior with a lavish retrospective featuring more than 300 couture gowns by Dior himself and the six designers who led his house after his death in 1957. All are represented in the show, in a layout that is both chronological and thematic, to weave the story of the man, the house, and couture within the broader concept of art and culture.

Christian Dior, The Man

Paris-CD art gallery

The exhibition begins with an evocation Christian Dior’s early years and his Avant Garde art gallery,

Step through the double doors of a glass interpretation of the façade of the townhouse at 30 Avenue Montaigne, the iconic home of the House of Dior, and the exhibition begins with the making of Christian Dior. Documentary photographs, video clips, sketches, letters and trinkets compile a visual digest of a young man who was born to a bourgeois family in Grandville, on the Normandy seashore and came of age in the Paris of the Roaring Twenties and the Avant Garde art world. Symbolically, the starting point of the exhibition is a bust by Salvador Dali and a photographic reproduction of the progressive art gallery Dior ran from 1928 to 1934, showcasing works by the likes of Calder, Giacometti, Cocteau and Max Jacob.

Paris-CD Margaret.

In a series of wall-size black-and-white photos of women, here a young Princess Margaret, wearing Dior. As the image dissolves, the original gown appears behind the picture.

In turn those artists attended Christian Dior’s fashion debut in 1947, eager to see what this man of eclectic artistic taste would do for a fashion industry devastated by the Second World War. The juxtaposition of Dali and Dior suggests that while they both pushed the boundaries in their respective fields, they also shared tastes for things as outmoded as Art Nouveau and the 18th century. Throughout the exhibition we are reminded that Dior thought of himself as a reactionary, rather than the revolutionary he is widely credited to be. His work as a fashion designer was guided by the romantic influences of his youth. The voluptuous femininity of his designs was his reaction to the drab frugality of the wartime years. In that, he was coincidentally innovative.

The Golden Age of Couture

Paris-Dior daytime debut.

A classic daytime dress from the 1947 Christian Dior debut collection.

The actual couture display begins with a classic daytime dress from 1947. Wasp-waisted, with soft shoulders over a fitted bodice and a full pleated skirt, in a brilliant crimson wool crepe, it stands like a beacon against the gallery’s black-lacquered walls. This is Dior’s “New Look,” the silhouette that brought him instant fame and spread throughout the world of fashion the new post-war ideal of hourglass femininity.

Paris-Dior Colorama.

The “Colorama” gallery is a rainbow of jewel-toned couture treasures.

The visual extravaganza begins with “Colorama,” a treasure-trove labyrinth of dresses, both in full size and miniature, hats, shoes, bags, jewelry and all manners of accessories arranged in a graduated rainbow of colors. It’s a jewel-tone representation of the fashion universe that Christian Dior set in motion with his agreements to start licensing the Dior name and image as early as 1947. Some of the windows are so overflowing with riches that it would take an hour to take in every detail.

Paris-Dior Versailles.

This 18th century Versailles-inspired exhibit illustrates how Dior’s designs chartered the course for his successors.

From there, a succession of thematic galleries are dedicated to the diverse periods and places that inspired the master and charted the course for the designers that came after him. From 18th century Versailles to ancient Egypt and from Masai Africa to Goya’s Spain, everything is anchored by related paintings and artifacts. By now, I have stopped glancing at the discrete captions explaining which dresses are by Dior himself or Gianfranco Ferré or John Galliano. Some are easily recognizable as they play off each other, like the extravagant ball gowns of Dior’s Trianon collection and Galliano’s surreal gold corset and bustle. I go in a dizzying state of sensory overload from gem-encrusted, silk velvet, Ballets Russes-inspired kimonos to the pure lines of a long, Palladian-style sheath of white pleated silk with an intricately embroidered bust, and a startling white taffeta coat gown as a canvas for Hokusai’s Great Wave.

A Dazzling Journey

The  Bar Suit, of the 1947 Sping-Summer collection became the embodiment of the New Look.

I reemerge into the central hall, feeling I’ve been wandering through a world where over-the-top is just the beginning, only to be confirmed that it is. The soaring space is dominated by one creation, sitting right in the center of it in a slick glass case: the seminal Bar Suit, the black and white ensemble with its soft shoulders, nipped-in waist and the undulating corolla skirt that came to embody the New Look. And beyond it, at the entrance of the second half of the exhibit (yes, all of the above is only half of it!), a towering three-tiered glass case displays various iterations of the look that triggered a golden age of fashion.

Paris-CD YSL trapeze.

The 1958 Spring-Summer Trapeze collection by Yves Saint Laurent. It was the 22-year old designer’s first collection for Dior.

The journey continue, chronologically this time, with a succession of six exhibit rooms, one for each of the designers who followed Monsieur Dior: Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and most recently Maria Grazia Chiuri. Here the focus is on analyzing how their designs contributed to the evolution of the house while staying faithful to Dior’s vision of haute couture.

Through the Looking Glass

Paris-CD toiles.

An entire hall is dedicated to the toiles of over 100 creations throughout the decades

The next space is a narrow, soaring hall with mirrored walls and ceiling, covered with a multi-level display of the original white toiles of over a hundred creations, their ghostly reflections fading into infinity.

Paris-CD finale.

Gowns are displayed under a rolling video stream of the celebrities that wore them.

As for the grand finale, it is staged in the ultimate ballroom, the cathedral-like nave of the palace with its arched 50-foot high ceiling, and an elaborate light projection that evokes the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. The sheer number of sumptuous gowns, some of which have been worn by famous customers, is surreal. At the far end of the gallery, video screens project a rolling stream of royalties from Princess Grace of Monaco to Princess Diana, and film stars from Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Taylor to Charleze Theron and Jennifer Lawrence, who wore these dream gowns.

 

 

 

 

 

Good to Know

  • Visiting – Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams , is on view through January 7, 2018 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, 107, rue de Rivoli , 75001, Paris. Opening hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm and Thursday until 9:00 pm. Closed on Monday. Contact: +33 (0) 1 44 55 57 50. On-line ticket purchase (in French only)
  • The exposition is enormously successful. The queue for those without advance tickets can stretch into hours on some days. The line for those with advanced tickets is significantly shorter (about 20 minutes on the day of my visit).

Location, location, location!

Musée des Arts Decoratifs

Paris – Vermeer at the Louvre

Paris – Vermeer at the Louvre

The Louvre requires no introduction. With a world-famous collection ranging from Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century, the once royal palace on the right bank of the Seine turned public museum in 1793 is a central Paris landmark that attracts close to ten millions visitors annually. I resolved long ago to refrain when ever possible from being one of them.

A Rare Landmark Exhibition

Paris-Louvre, Vermeer Woman at Virginal.

Johannes Vermeer, A Young Woman Seated at the Virginal. Oil on canvas. 25.2 x 20 cm. (9 7/8 x 7 7/8 in…), New York The Leiden Collection.

But there are times when accommodations must be made, and crowds braved. The entrancing new temporary exhibit: “Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting “ is one such moment. This landmark event offers the largest and most dazzling selection of Vermeer works I could even hope to see in one place. Twelve in all are on display, or one third of Johannes Vermeer’s entire known output. Among them are The Milkmaid, on loan from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and poster image for the exhibition, the elaborately composed Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid, from the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, and the exquisite miniature-like Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, from a private collection in New York.

 

The Masters of Genre

Paris-Louvre, Metsu Woman Letter.

Gabriel Metsu, Young Woman Reading a Letter. Oil on wood panel 52,5 x 40,2 cm. (20.7 x 15.8 in.), Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, (Beit Collection)

More than 70 works by Vermeer’s fellow “Masters of Genre Painting” of the Dutch Golden Age, including Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Gabriel Metsu, Caspar Netscher, Samuel van Hoogstaten, Frans van Mieris and Jan Steen are also included. These “Genre” painters were a group of artists who rejected the grand classic subjects of epic kings, Olympian myths, bloody battles and gory martyrdoms of traditional art to take us instead into the homes and everyday life of Dutch merchants of the time. With women as their central characters, they immortalized with delicate precision the mundane moments of domestic life from the servants’ perspective as well as their mistresses’.

 

 

The Genius of Vermeer

Paris-Louvre, Vermeer Lady Writing.

Johannes Vermeer, A Lady Writing. Oil on canvas, 45 x 39.9 cm. (17 3/4 x 15 3/4 in.), Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art.

By juxtaposing works related in theme, composition and technique, this exhibition also demonstrates how these artists inspired and rivaled each other. And it provides a unique opportunity to understand what makes Vermeer stand out from his Golden Age peers. For me, the genius of Vermeer is in his unique use a sensuously cool palette, the lapis blues and pale golden yellows, and the silvery northern light that gives his subjects an enigmatic mood. The other painters in this magnificent display represent similar scenes with exquisite artistry: women writing letters, playing the harpsichord or the lute, and servants engaged in domestic chores. But to me, only Vermeer looks beyond the concrete world depicted by his contemporaries, to create a more insightful mood that hints at the inner life of his subject. Several of them seem to interrupt their writing or music-playing to engage me and make me part of the moment.

Paris-Louvre-Vermeer Pearl Necklace,

Johannes Vermeer, Woman with a Pearl Necklace. Oil on canvas. 55 x 45 cm. (21 5/8 x 17 3/4 in.), Berlin. Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

Others seem fully absorbed in their own world. I find myself wondering: what is she thinking, this young woman in her elegant chamber, holding up a pearl necklace as she looks intently at herself in the mirror? Is she putting it on or removing it? What does this necklace mean to her? Or even more poignantly, who is this young milkmaid in the austere kitchen? In the gray light of dawn, her downcast eyes and expressionless face suggests tired concentration as she cautiously pours milk from an earthenware jug to prepare breakfast before the rest of the household begins to stir. I see the story of a long-ago life behind every Vermeer painting, a life I want to know more about.

 

 

Good to Know

  • Visiting – The  Musée du Louvre, 75001, Paris, France, is open Wednesday through Monday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, with night openings until 9:45 pm on Wednesday and Friday. It is closed on Tuesday, and on January 1, May 1 and December 25. Contact: tel. +33 (0) 1 40 20 53 17, e-mail. info@louvre.fr.
  • Getting there –There is easy public transportation from anywhere in Paris to the museum: metro station Palais-Royal/Musée du Louvre (lines 1 and 7) or bus stop right in front of the Pyramid ( lines 21, 24, 27, 39, 48, 68, 69, 72, 81, 95, and the Paris Open Tour bus).
  • Admission to Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting – This temporary exhibition, which runs from February 22 to May 22, 2017, requires a special admission ticket for a specific date and time. It must be purchased in advance through the museum’s on-line ticket office: on-line ticket office
  • If you miss the Paris viewing – Don’t despair. After its Paris star debut, the exposition, which was realized in partnership with the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, will travel to the partner venues: National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, from June 17 to September 17, 2017, and National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. from October 22, 2017, to January 21, 2018.

Location, location, location!

Musée du Louvre

Not Just Another Paris Bistro – L’Accolade

Not Just Another Paris Bistro – L’Accolade

There are literally thousands of neighborhood bistros all over Paris, dishing out meals that go from banal to “can’t-wait-to-tell-my-friends”. It’s a French thing, the telling. When you discover a new swoon-worthy eatery, you are honor-bound to tell your friends. L’Accolade, the newly opened restaurant of Chef Nicolas Tardivel is a clear winner in the “tell” category.

Paris-L'accolade lamb.

The caramelized lamb shoulder is vacuum cooked at low temperature for twenty hours.

This latest stroke of gastronomic good fortune begins with a timing setback, when the place I had in mind turns out to be closed for a private event. At the suggestion of a friend who “hasn’t eaten there yet but has heard good things about it,” I make a short notice reservation at L’Accolade.

 

 

 

An Omen of Delights to Come

Paris-L'arcolade menu

Our server, Malik, discusses the blackboard menu with the gusto of one who has tasted and loved it all.

I know at Bonjour that I am onto a good thing. The instantaneous welcome is cordial and attentive. Then come the olives, promptly, with our drink order. Olives? I refrain the urge to turn my nose. Not that I actively dislike this ubiquitous Mediterranean staple, but I tend to dismiss it as the food equivalent of Muzak. These olives, however, play a much different tune. Speckled with herbs and glistening in their white porcelain ramekin, these little black nuggets, somehow, beckon. The first tentative bite reveals a sweet, mildly exotic taste I can’t quite identify. My dining companion and I enthusiastically polish off the dish. “The chef makes his own marinade,” our server volunteers when he comes back to discuss the menu, which I now peruse with added eagerness. A man who can do this to olives has to be a culinary wizard.

The Market’s Seasonal Best

No printed menu here. The blackboard changes every couple of months, but can be tweaked any time to take full advantage the market’s seasonal best. It is kept to five appetizers, five main courses, three desserts and a cheese board. But with every single item oh so intriguing, choice is still a dilemma.

Paris-L'Accolade tomato salad.

Heirloom tomato salad with basil ice cream.

My tomato salad starter is a platter of juicy slices of heirloom tomatoes (I identify at least five varieties), drizzled with Sauce Vierge, and enhanced by a scoop of basil ice cream. My friend’s large black tiger prawns are thinly wrapped in a sheet of crunchy phyllo dough and served with a spicy tomato mayonnaise. Alas, choosing also means renouncing. I can only hope the salad of girolles (golden chanterelles) with garden pea ice cream will still on the menu on my next visit.

Paris-L'Accolade cod.

Poached cod with passion fruit and coriander sauce.

Because my friend has her heart set on the slow-cooked caramelized lamb shoulder on a bed of mini-ratatouille, also my main course first choice, I opt for the cabillaud instead. The flaky slab of delicate cod is served with an al-dente stir-fried medley of seasonal vegetable and a tangy passion fruit sauce. An unusual harmony where tradition meets creativity for dazzling results.

The Sublime Mille-Feuille

Paris-L'Accolade mille-feuille.

Chef Nicholas’ signature mille-feuille.

By the time we reach dessert, we are both approaching the euphoric state of the blissfully satiated. It matters not that there are only three options, since one of them combines two of my guiltiest pleasures, mille-feuille and caramel au beurre salé (Napoleon and sea salt butterscotch). The portion is generous enough that it can be shared without afterthought, and so high and flaky that it can’t be done without making a finger-licking mess. In the process, I notice a thin layer of meringue within the layers, a new twist on the puff pastry classic that makes it extra light and crunchy.

Passion fruit Bavarois ravioli with sautéed pineaple and mango.

Passion fruit Bavarois ravioli with sautéed pineaple and mango.

The elegant passion fruit Bavarois ravioli with diced sautéed pineapple and mango on my friend’s plate is a delicate and refreshing creation. But it will always be the mille-feuille for me, as long as Chef Nicolas cares to keep it on the menu.

 

 

 

 

The Man Behind the Magic

Paris-L'Accolade Tardivel.

Chef Nicolas Tardivel.

Nicolas Tardivel is a man with two passions: rugby and cooking. He follows the former first. But after an early career as a wingman with the major league PUC (Paris Université Club) rugby team, he decides in his late twenties to pursue a culinary career. For the next decade, he hones his skills by assuming ever-increasing responsibilities in several noted Parisian restaurants. Along the way, he finds his mentor in Chef Christian Etchebest, one of the pillars of Bistronomie, the culinary movement started a quarter of a century ago by young classically trained Parisian chefs who wanted to bring haute cuisine down to earth. Applying their own creative talent to the highest quality products from the French heartland, they created simple dishes that brought bistro fare to new heights.

Chef Nicolas has mastered the lesson well. Now that the barely forty-something chef is at the helm of his own restaurant, he personally selects his local artisan suppliers. Then, using only the best of their seasonal bounty, he develops his own imaginative creations, juxtaposing flavors and textures in unconventional dishes that surprise and delight the palate.

L’Accolade’s wine list follows the same mindset: just over thirty labels, favoring handpicked small producers, with an emphasis on Burgundy, Chef Nicolas’ native region. Nine wines, well paired to the menu, are also available by the glass.

I look forward to a return visit to L’Accolade on my next stopover in Paris. I have already invited the friend who “hasn’t gone yet” to join me, as my thanks for steering me to this gem.

Good to Know

  • L’Accolade, 208, Rue de la Croix Nivert, Paris, 75015, is open Tuesday through Friday from 12:00 noon to 2:30 pm and 7:00 pm to 10:30 pm. It is open for dinner-only on Saturday from 7:00 pm to 10:30 pm, and for lunch-only on Monday from 12:00 noon to 2:30 pm. It is closed on Sunday. Contact: e-mail laccolade2016@gmail.com, tel.  +33 (0) 1 45 57 73 20.
  • Getting there – Located on a side street of a residential neighborhood near the convention center of the Porte de Versailles, at the southern end of Paris’ fifteenth arrondissement, L’Accolade is easy to reach by Métro from anywhere in Paris: stations Convention or Porte de Versailles (line 12) or Boucicaut (line 8).
  • In addition to its a-la-carte menu (average € 35 to € 50 per person excluding beverages), there is a fixed-menu lunch option (two courses for €19.5 or three courses for € 24.5 excluding beverages). Every night except Saturday, there is a table d’hôte four-course fixed-menu option at € 35 per person.
  • This cozy bistro with a relaxing contemporary flair can accommodate up to 35 guests. While it is still a word-of-mouth kind of place at the time of this writing, the word is deservedly getting around fast. Reservations are strongly recommended any time and are a must on weekends.

Location, location, location!

L'Accolade

A Gift to Paris – the Legacy of Henri Cernuschi

A Gift to Paris – the Legacy of Henri Cernuschi

It’s a sultry late summer day in Paris. The kind of weather that has tourists wilting under every bit of shade to be found in the Tuilleries Garden. What better time to retreat to the cool comfort of one of my favorite well-kept-secret museums?

Paris - Avenue Velasquez grillwork

Elegant grillwork marks the entrance of the Avenue Velasquez.

Located on the secluded Avenue Velasquez, in a remote enclave of the posh eighth arrondissement just a few steps away from the Parc Monceau, the Musée Cernuschi is a unique gift from its namesake, nineteenth century Renaissance man Henri Cernuschi, to the city of Paris.
 

Who is Henri Cernuschi?

Paris-Cernuschi ceramic urns.

Monumental Chinese and Japanese ceramic urns set the tone in the main foyer.

The history of the museum is indissociable of that of the man. Born in1828 into a wealthy Milanese family, Enrico Cernuschi is an Italian patriot who flees to France in the wake the 1850 collapse of the Rome revolutionary government, and in time acquires French citizenship. In Paris, he becomes a prominent economist, banker and passionate Asian art collector who makes his fortune during the Second Empire (1852-1870).

Paris-Cernuschi Chinese Bronzes.

Henri Cernuschi’s Chinese bronze collection ranges from the Neolithic to the thirteenth century.

 

An ardent republican, he actively supports efforts to create the French Third Republic, which once again puts him in a precarious political situation during the violent socialist uprising known as the Paris Commune (1871). He wisely decides remove himself to the Far East, where during a seventeen month journey through Japan and then China, he amasses well over 4,000 works of art, mainly ancient bronzes and ceramics.

 

 

Paris - Cernuschi Mansion Museum.

The bequest of Henri Cernuschi turned his private residence into one of the foremost Asian art museum in Europe.

Upon his return in 1873, Cernuschi commissions the neo-classical Parisian architect William Bouwens der Boijen to design his private mansion on the Avenue Velasquez, where he lives surrounded by his continuously expending art collection. Upon his death (1896) he bequeaths the mansion and its contents to the city of Paris, with arrangements for it to be turned into a museum. Inaugurated in 1898, the Cernuschi Museum is now the second largest museum of Asian art in France after the Musée Guimet.

An Evolving Treasure Trove

Paris - Cernuschi Buddha.

The eighteenth century bronze Amida Buddha dominates the soaring central hall.

The museum has retained the atmosphere of the grand private residence it once was, noted especially for its Chinese collection that range from the Neolithic age to the thirteenth century, including rare mingqi (tomb figures) from the Han dynasty, 206 BC–220 AD. However, its most striking piece is the 4.4-meter (14.5-foot) high eighteenth century bronze Amida Buddha displayed in the soaring central hall. Purchased from a small temple in the Meguro neighborhood of Tokyo, it is also known as the Meguro Buddha.

Over the past century, the collection has grown steadily through donations and purchases to its current holdings of over 12,000 pieces, 900 of which are permanently on display. Today, in addition to showcasing one of the leading collection of Chinese art in Europe, the museum also features fine Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese works. And for the past century it frequently holds temporary thematic exhibitions of international stature. One more reason to periodically revisit this exquisite treasure trove of Asian art.

Getting to Know Zao Wou-Ki

The purpose of my recent visit to the Cernuschi Museum, other than escaping the scorching heat, is the opportunity to view a recent donation of works by another exceptional exile, the recently deceased Chinese-born French artist Zao Wou-ki.

Paris-Cernuschi Zao Donation.

The recent donation of works by Chinese-born French artist is the object of a major temporary exhibition.

Born in Beijing in 1920 and raised in Shanghai where his father is a banker, Zao Wou-ki’s precocious talent earns him admission at the age of 15 to the prestigious Hangzhou National College of Art (now the China Academy or Art). There, in addition to traditional Chinese drawing, painting and calligraphy, he is introduced to western perspective and oil painting, and develops an enthusiastic interest in Post-Impressionism. Drawn by the work of leading European artists, especially Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso he travel to Paris in 1948, a move intended to be temporary but soon becomes permanent due to the communist takeover of China. Within a few years he begins to develop the luminous style of abstract art that becomes evident in his bold large-scale paintings

Paris-Cernuschi Zao abstracts.

Budding artists experiment with ink on paper in front of a grouping of major abstracts works by Zao Wou-ki.

The works in the donation illustrate this key early period as he transitions from figuration to abstraction. It includes a number of his experiments on paper with charcoals, watercolors and inks. Then there are abstract ink compositions from the 1970’s to 2000’s as well as a striking series of late works on porcelain (2006-2009) that illustrate clearly the evolution of his artistic journey.

My visit concludes with the screening of Zao Wou-ki : Lumières et couleurs sans limites (Zao Wou-ki: lights and colors without boundaries), an enlightening hour-long documentary that puts into context the life and work of this fascinating artist widely recognized today as one of the foremost Chinese painters of the twentieth century.

Good to Know

  • Visiting – Musée Cernuschi, 7 Avenue Vélasquez, Paris. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed on Monday and national holidays. Contact: Tel. +33 (0) 53 96 21 50. The entrance of Avenue Velasquez is located between n°111 and 113 Boulevard Malesherbes.
  • Getting there – There is easy public transportation from anywhere in Paris to the museum: Métro stations Villiers or Monceau (line 2) or Villers (line 3) 
or Bus stop Malesherbes/Courcelles (bus numbers 30 and 94).
  • It’s Free! As is the case with all the City of Paris-owned museums, entrance to the permanent collection of the Musée Cernuschi is always free of charge. Temporary exhibits have a nominal entrance fee.

 

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Cernuschi Museum

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