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Posts tagged ‘Belle Epoque’

No. 299-300: Le Petit Palais et la Belle Époque

Kitcat was in town last weekend and since she is my “expo-kid”, we decided to make a leisurely visit to le Petit Palais and the wonderful exhibition ‘Paris 1900, The City of Entertainment’. I know I am a cliché, but I adore this period of French history, la belle époque, and turn-of-the-century Paris. I suspect there are many American Francophiles who do. If I had a time machine, I would slap on my button boots, slip on my pouter-pigeon blouse and trumpet-skirt, grab my feathered chapeau and set the dial for Paris, June 1900 and la Exposition Universelle

Mais malheureusement, time machines are still a vision of the future, so an afternoon at le Petit Palais will have to suffice. Amazingly there are over 600 works on display in the gorgeous ‘small palace’ that was designed by Charles Girault for the exposition. I cannot imagine a more perfect venue than these halls where the hatted and coiffed western world came to discover what the new century held. It must have been a real lollapalooza!

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The exhibition is organized into six ‘pavilions’ beginning with ‘Paris, window on the world’ featuring Gare de Lyon, Gare d’Orsay and Gare des Invalides, as well as Hector Guimard’s fabulous métro entrances. The expo ends with two pavilions focusing on the posh and wild world of entertainment on offer in Paris at the turn of the century—from opera to café singing, to Sarah Bernhardt and Debussy to brothels and circus acts, to everything else Baz Luhrmann would have us imagine in his fanciful film Moulin Rouge.

Filling the space in the middle are art nouveau posters and paintings, costumes, gowns, jewelry, everyday objects, objets d’art, sculptures, furniture, fine-arts, stained-glass windows, photographs and corridors filled with life-sized footage of revelers and curious fair-goers. A whole ‘pavillion’ is devoted to the myth of la Parisienne—the elegant Parisian women whose mystique still captures the imagination of women (and men) around the world.

 

Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, and Vuillard, are featured alongside Gérôme, Bouguereau, Gervex, Béraud, Degas, Besnard and, of course, Rodin and Toulouse-Lautrec…le Chat Noir, anyone?

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In lieu of a vrai time machine, this marvelous time capsule housed at le Petit Palais until August 17 will provide you with your Belle Époque fix and dazzle you with the promise and creativity from a storybook era long gone.

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Mais malheureusement: But unfortunately

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No. 289-290: Deauville and Trouville

deauville.jpgWe are wrapping up our quick getaway to the “Normandy Riviera”. It has been a lovely sojourn to celebrate Button turning 18 and the visit of a very dear friend and her 4-year-old fille. While the weather has been cool and grey, we have had a few hours of bright sun showers and sandy beach excursions followed by ominous, Armageddon skies, massive rain fall, and mad dashes across the notoriously wide strand in search of temporary shelter.

deauville_beach3.jpgdeauville_beach2.jpgdeauville_beach4.jpgStill it has been well worth taking the quick (and inexpensive) hop to the fashionable seaside town of Deauville and the funky and family friendly beach town of Trouville. Separated by a tiny inlet that depending upon the hour and the tide, can be traversed by a wooden footpath or accessed exclusively by a water taxi, these sister cities are a perfect pair.

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Deauville is the glamorous sister frequented by film stars, polo and horse-racing enthusiasts and high-stakes gamblers, while Trouville is the hip, but retro sister—a working fishing port, eulogized by artists and writers. Both towns offer the visitor a chance to lose themselves in the days of la Belle Époque. A Woody Allen movie in the making, the seaside towns are bursting with over 600 buildings protected as historical monuments. The lovely half-timbered houses so common in Normandy are complimented by the grand Art Nouveau casinos and Baroque-style buildings.

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It is easy to imagine the Paris smart set roaring into town in the 1920s and strolling Deauville’s famous boardwalk, disrobing in the individual beach cabanas and sunbathing in their scandalous swim costumes under the expanse of multi-colored parasols. How I would love to go back in time and walk the wooden-planked promenade or sit among the deck-chairs and umbrellas and admire the spectacle.

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Coco before she was Chanel (as you may remember from the movie) came to Deauville with her lover in 1913 and was so taken with the possibilities for dressing the beach, yachting, polo and racecourse crowd, that she was inspired to design a line of easygoing and wearable vêtements which she would eventually sell at her famous boutique in town. These days, Deauville is still considered a sophisticated shopping destination and continues to be a chic town packed with haute couture boutiques and stylish diversions.

Trouville, as I mentioned, is the more laid back sister, less expensive and super groovy, frequented by families and colorful bands of primary students exuberantly enjoying their first day ever on the long swaths of soft golden sand. The maritime town radiates the energy of the daily life of fishermen and sports one of the most interesting fish markets I have come across in France.

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The connection to Trouville’s past can be seen in the many en plein air Impressionists painting inspired by sunbathers, dinghies, sailing boats and seascapes. Impressionist artist such as Boudin, Monet, Sisley and Pissarro flocked to Trouville (and Deauville) to capture the holidaymaking, harbor and stormy skies and Proust, Flaubert and Marguerite Duras all found inspiration in this fisherman’s village.

There are still plenty of artistic offerings in each town and I loved them both. If you are planning a trip to Paris and are the nostalgic sort fascinated by the Golden Age in France, I would highly recommend taking a detour to these sister cities.

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