“There is nothing truly interesting in the world except Paris…everything else is just scenery”.
So said Jose Maria Eca de Queiroz in 1888 when he became the
Portuguese consul-general in Paris. The man had a point – and here’s the art exhibition to prove it.
Paris in the time of the Impressionists has been curated to relocate some of the important (and unseen) works from the Musée d’Orsay as its Impressionist galleries undergo extensive renovation.
Surprisingly it’s not widely advertised (a single poster on the Métro alerted me to the exhibition’s existence). It’s not even listed in Pariscope, that weekly bible of what’s happening and where.
Away from the claustrophobia-inducing crush of Manet: the Man Who Invented Modernity exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay and the smaller, more civilised crowd absorbing the private world of the Caillebotte brothers at the Musée Jacquemart-André, this little-trumpeted exhibition is a rare treat. Admittedly
there’s a steady queue for (free of charge) entry, but once inside it’s worth every second of the wait.
The exhibition’s starting point is the history of the transformation of Paris by Napoleon III along with his Prefect, Baron Haussmann from 1852 to 1870. Models and drawings show the scale of the project to divide Paris into 20 arrondissements, each with town halls, churches and schools. Slums
were demolished and a central administrative area created.
The resulting changes in every sphere of Parisian life and the emergence of new leisure activities and entertainments, as well as outdoor areas
for that highly Parisian occupation – people watching – gave artists new and
exciting subject matter. As well as chronicling the positive social upheaval, the depictions of the darker side of life with its strikes, riots and formation of La Commune provide a sobering counterpoint.
The paintings, drawings and pastels of, amongst others, Signac, Pissarro, Monet, Vuillard, Van Gogh, Seurat, Gauguin,Degas and Caillebotte evoke the artistic preoccupation with Paris between 1848 and 1914 and the dynamism which emerged from the city’s transformation under Napoleon and Haussmann. The entire exhibition is absorbing, informative and an absolute gem.
Hôtel de Ville, 5 rue de Lobau, 75004 Paris
Métro station: Hôtel de Ville (lines 1 and 7).
Open every day except Sundays and public holidays from 1000
to 1900 until July 30.