Van Dongen and Manet

But before I forget, here’s a song I keep forgetting to add to my post about Elvis: Mojo Nixon’s Elvis is Everywhere.

Whew, now that I got that off my chest, on to our daily post. I did a typical Fino thing today: hit two big expos in one evening. As a dad of two my time is EXTREMELY limited and since the kids are off with their mom and grandparents, I figured it was a unique opportunity to indulge in one of the great pleasures of living here in Paris: Art Expos!

The Van Dongen expo is at the MAM (the new name for the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris). Van Dongen was quite prolific and although he is primarily remembered for his fauvist work, he changed and mixed styles during his entire career. The expo is chronological covering his early work and ending in the early 30’s. The thing that really struck me about him (and reminded me of my post yesterday) was that he started out as a rather radical anarchist / extreme left militant and because very, very bourgeoise. Surprisingly enough, he even stumped for the nazis in the early part of the war. Perhaps this is why no paintings were displayed of the period following about 1933. What I really enjoyed about Van Dongen were the brilliant colors and the use of wide, rough brushstrokes sometimes using the thickness of the dried paint for adding texture and depth to his paintings (reminiscent of Van Gogh I suppose). I think my favorite period is during the portraits and nudes of the late 00’s – especially L’Idole from 1908. The sensuality of the pose, the shadow cast over the turned head, even the framing and blueish background add to the voluptuousness of the painting. The other period that struck me was the Roaring 20’s where he stretched his partying, dancing nudes into impossibly long, sinuous, El Greco-inspired (perhaps) floating bodies. Very impressive in particular was Le Tango with the oddity of the male figure wearing high heels. The one strange thing as I previously mentioned was how the exhibit abruptly ended at about 1933…definitely worthwhile. I have always enjoyed Van Dongen as emblematic of fauvist portraiture and was very happy with this pretty exhaustive retrospective.

What I didn’t mention above is that since Van Dongen is not really all that well-known, there was no massive crowd and plenty of space and time to enjoy the work. Not so for Manet over at Musée d’Orsay. OMG! The crowd was incredible. I got there at almost 20h and the line was scarily long still (with only 90 minutes before closing!). Thankfully, I have a year-pass so I slipped right in…into an incredible mass of oglers. There were people everywhere. Traffic jams in all the hallways. All this made it hard for me to really relax and enjoy the exhibit. I have the habit of going through from start to finish and then retracing my steps once or twice. With Monet, the crowd was so dense that I had to do about half the exhibit, redo that circuit and then do the 2nd half and so forth.  As for the works presented, as this is the first retrospective on Manet in 30 years (I did attend the Manet-Velasquez show about 8 years ago and loved it), let’s just say, it was big. The classics were all there: Déjeuner sur l’herbe, Olympia, Le Fifre, Le Torero Mort, Le Balcon, Un Bar aux Folies Bergère (next to my apartment!!)…and they are all fantastic. I also loved the still life section with the asparagus and so forth.  Manet was pretty revolutionary but at the same time, his style owes so much to the influence of Velasquez and other Spanish painters he discovered on his visit to El Prado as well as the influence of his contemporaries that I found that I was left wanting sometimes. Or perhaps it was the crowd. As much as I enjoy the work, I find it sometimes a bit derivative or just perhaps less revolutionary than, say, Van Gogh or Picasso or even Matisse. That doesn’t take away from his greatness – it just puts his work in perspective. For those that are less familiar with Manet than, say, with Monet, this exhibit is a must. For those that have already seen the various Manet’s in the Orsay collection and elsewhere, the exhibit is a nice reminder but lacks in documentation – you must take the audioguide if you want to learn anything at all about the paintings.

A quick word about the catalogs: the Van Dongen expo catalog costs 38€ and is a paperback. It is well-documented with about 200 pages of pictures and texts. The Manet catalog costs 42€ and is in hard-cover. It is a about 260 pages long. I have to say though that I have only looked at it twice or three times, primarily in researching this article and the cover is already getting warped. Oh well!

Next exhibit for Fino? Perhaps Kubrick tomorrow and hopefully Claude Lorrain at the Louvre.


About mfinocchiaro

IT Architecture Guru for large PLM software company but dabbling in Web 2.0 and other stuff.
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2 Responses to Van Dongen and Manet

  1. Pingback: Ungrateful s.o.b | Fino's Weblog

  2. segmation says:

    Hi Fino,
    If you like Matisse, please take a minute to look at my blog at: and thanks for allowing this comment.

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