It is commonly believed that men lead in a dance; or at least generations of skillful female dancers gave us that impression; for in those dances where the sequence of steps is a bewildering multitude, men are commonly at a disadvantage — it was a woman who held the crib notes jotted down on her fan and surreptitiously suggested to her dancing partner which ones to take next. The fountain inaugurated last month in the gardens of Chateau Versailles pays tribute to those crib notes.
Perhaps I have spilled the beans too soon — erudite approach to an aesthetic object is so patronizing; but isn’t it how pundits dominate the first impression? I was caught on the horns of dilemma, trying to give this subject a charitable introduction, while staying true to my opinion; and what was my opinion, that first impression?
Entering the grove, I thought that the architect gave us his fanciest signature in the middle; and it had been preceded by plenty of squiggles in the margins, as if trying out a new pen: first ones he didn’t like, and honestly neither did I.
This chocolate portrait of Louis XIV decorates the shop window at 82 rue de la Paroisse. Easter came and went and I’ve just checked, nobody bought it. It is not hollow — thirty-two-kilo-solid chunk. Even if you had a party of thirty people, each one of your guests would have to eat at least a kilo of dark chocolate. That is something for Guinness Book of Records or Ripley Believe It or Not Museum. Amazing, you say, but none of it really surprises me. I have already mentioned how extravagant Easter presents can get around here: miniature anecdotes represented on the inside of a regular size egg, or something as big as statue hiding inside the shell. The mood is contagious, yet to help consume conspicuously, we need an institution; otherwise, it ends up looking like we can’t…. Yes, ridiculous. Last weekend I got a bunny ten times my appetite. The best I could do was nibble on his ears.
Perhaps I should remind my reader that in the days of the French Revolution, most of the parks were given away for pasture or raising crops and were often divided into lots; and though this anecdote seems to find its way into the painting, it cannot prevail over Jacques-Louis David’s situation. And his situation wasn’t enviable. After the execution of Robespierre, people associated with him followed suit; and in 1794 Jacques-Louis David painted this view of Luxembourg Garden as it presented itself out of his prison window, which gives us a very personal and at the same time brutally objective interpretation of his window into reality — not only composition, the very freedom of choice seems to be in question; and though there is little room there for pathetic fallacy — any Romantic inclination being out of question, the emotional need is obvious — the painter ought to paint. This is why the framing ideas for this work of art are the absence of choice and the need to paint. In the context of so rigorously defined formalism, the discussion of any other formal attributes — the foreground, middle ground, landscape, city-scape, human figures; the fence, the alley; vertical, horizontal, diagonal lines, colors, shadows — any kind of discussion seems ridiculous. What is the meaning of the work? Why did he paint it? We see that consistently his brush was applied to canvass.
22 March 1778, it was cold and Benjamin Franklin was dressed in a brown velvet outfit but had neither a wig nor sword about him as he entered the Crystal Gallery where the court, ambassadors and all the twenty Americans that happened to be in residence in Paris had been waiting for his arrival. At noon he was introduced into the Royal Chamber, where Louis XVI, not dressed for the occasion — his outfit matched that of his guest in its simplicity and his hair was undone, gave the first American ambassador an audience. Then followed the presentation to the royal ministers and dinner; but before he left, Benjamin Franklin had payed His Majesty a complement, “If all the monarchs were guided by your principles, we wouldn’t need republics.” Here we would need to borrow some of that laughter from “Cheers.”
In the Renaissance Italy the insides of footlockers were often painted, and sometimes those pictures were of nude women; perhaps this is why Titian’s Venus of Urbino has an open trunk in the background? Rumor had it that the XVII and XVIII century French grand pianos followed in the same tradition. How I wished to peek inside! Finally, my wish has been satisfied at Versailles Central Library; unfortunately, they showed me nothing as exciting as Angela del Moro.
The Louvre had recently opened a new department of XVII and XVIII century French furniture. One of the remarkable artifacts you can see there is this wax model of Madame Du Barry’s bed. I find it very late XVIII century — a little infantile, but not in bad taste.
There was also a fascinating porcelain piece I had noticed at the museum of Sèvre, a small figurine of Jeanne. It was probably meant as a souvenir for a member of her “clan –” she had a few loyal friends; one of them the Governor of Paris, Cossé-Brissac, murdered and then beheaded in the streets of Versailles in the course of the events of 1792 — that relationship wasn’t Platonic, this must be why the thugs threw his head into her garden. Otherwise, it could be a warning — a number of wounded royalists were hiding at her estate at Louvecienes.
Of course, the porcelain nick-nacks of this type are of a much earlier date — roughly early 1770’s when Jeanne could be seen strolling among the green houses of the Little Trianon: Louis XV was known to lavish many such presents upon her — a limited edition for sure, and it makes you wonder how many of these were in circulation. The other question the statuette raises is about Jeanne’s reading list. We know that by the late XVIII century standards, it was light — the Versailles Central Library keeps some of those books, mostly poetry. I think it’s peculiar how little these facts and artifacts correspond to the images generated by Duke Choiseul and recycled by Sofia Coppola.
What a sad little piece of porcelain when you think of it: “1715. Long live the king!” I wonder what Louis XV could remember from that day? “Your Majesty!” He was a lonely kid, always surrounded by adults, malleable and reserved. His uncles didn’t get along, and when taken away from the household of the Count of Toulouse, the boy cried.