Thought-Pourri: Living Edition

It has been a very busy week at the Fortress of Solitude, even with the holiday thrown in on Monday that gave me a bit of time to get some much-needed matters squared away. Between work, research on upcoming travels, and keeping on top of art research and writing projects, among other things, it has not been a dull February. As the month of March nears, warmer temperatures return, and new life starts bursting forth here in the capital, there are always new things to see and think about, so here are a few for you to ponder from the world of art news.


Still Life

Should you happen to find yourself in Belgium or Italy in the coming months, you’ll want to check out “Spanish Still Life”, a simply-titled but object-rich exhibition of 80 works covering the development of still life painting in Spain between 1600 and the present. A joint effort by the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels (BOZAR), and the Musei Reali de Torino, the comprehensive show brings together paintings belonging to a number of private and public collections in Spain and around the world, and features works by big names such as Velázquez, Picasso, Goya, and Dalí, as well as masters of the genre who are lesser-known outside of specialist circles, but whose works have been prized by collectors for centuries, including Juan Sánchez Cotán (1560-1627) and my personal favorite, Luis Meléndez (1716-1780). Among the more unusual pieces in the show is this 1937 work by Catalan Surrealist Joan Miró (1893-1983): the artist gives these everyday objects an almost metallic quality, as if they were reflected in an oil slick. “Spanish Still Life” opens at BOZAR tomorrow, and runs through May 27th, before heading to Turin for the summer.


Low Life

While as a general rule, anything that makes the oppressive government of the People’s Republic of China unhappy makes me very happy, an exception to this rule may be found when it comes to the preservation of cultural artifacts. Some of the famous terracotta warriors from the tomb of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (259 BC-210 BC) have been on loan since Christmas to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, as part of an exhibition that runs through March 4th. It seems that a Millennial (natch) guest at a party held at the museum and some of his friends decided to sneak into the exhibition, which was closed during the festivities, and have a look at the objects on display. After his friends departed, this individual (allegedly) decided to throw his arm around one of the statues to take a selfie – WHICH I HAVE WARNED YOU ABOUT BEFORE – and then (allegedly) broke off the left thumb of one of the warriors, taking it home with him as a souvenir. As is to be expected, this imbecile apparently forgot that museums have security cameras. Good luck with your court case, brah.


Lush Life

If you’ve ever dreamed of staying at the legendary Hôtel Ritz in Paris, now’s your chance to own a part of its history. From April 17-21, Artcurial in Paris will be auctioning off nearly 3,500 objects from the hotel, which recently underwent a major renovation and restoration. Items include everything from beds, bathtubs, and bar stools, to plush carpets and bronze lamps, as well as highly unusual objects such as a Louis XV style dog bed for a particularly pampered pooch. Some of the objects come from suites in the hotel that were habitually used by celebrities, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marcel Proust and Coco Chanel. No word on whether they will playing “Fascination” – the recurring theme music in “Love In The Afternoon”, the classic 1957 Billy Wilder film starring Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper, and Maurice Chevalier which was shot at and centers around The Ritz – on an endless loop during the sale.


17th Century Masterpiece Discovered at the Hotel Ritz in Paris

There has always been something very special indeed about the Hotel Ritz in Paris.  Whether it was Hemingway and Fitzgerald getting plastered and arguing in the bar, or Count Esterházy bringing in a troupe of Hungarian gypsy musicians to serenade him and his dinner guests – a moment lovingly referenced in the woefully under-appreciated Audrey Hepburn/Gary Cooper classic “Love in the Afternoon” – this grandest of grand hotels has played host to numerous famous people and important events.  The Nazis took over the Ritz as the headquarters for the Luftwaffe in World War II, while Princess Diana dined at the hotel just before the car crash which took her life.

The Ritz closed in August for a two-year complete renovation, and as part of this many of the historic rooms were temporarily emptied of their fine French furnishings.  One of these was the suite where the legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel lived for over three decades.  In the process of cleaning out her former living space, thanks to the keen eye of a French art historian who had been viewing the rooms before their closure, the hotel has managed to bring about the re-discovery of a major work of Baroque painting.

Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) was the preferred court painter of Louis XIV; in fact the Sun King referred to Le Brun as “the greatest French artist of all time.”  His first royal commission so pleased the king that he raised Le Brun to the nobility, and put him in charge of all decoration in the royal residences.  The famous “Hall of Mirrors” at the Palace of Versailles for example, is covered in his work.  Le Brun was appointed the director of the newly-established royal academy of painting and sculpture, which later became known as the “Academie des Beaux-Arts”, and laid the foundation for the academic tradition in French art for nearly three centuries.

The work which hung unnoticed at the Ritz appears to be Le Brun’s depiction of the Trojan princess Polyxena, who was executed by the Greeks for complicity in the death of the hero Achilles.  If you remember your histories of the Trojan Wars, one retelling of the story is that Achilles made the mistake of letting Polyxena, whom he had fallen in love with, learn the secret of his vulnerable heel.  Her brother Paris later used this knowledge to kill the Greek hero with a poisoned arrow.

The painting is signed with Le Brun’s initials and dated 1647, which places it prior to his coming into the service of Louis XIV.  As such it is an important example of the younger Le Brun absorbing the lessons of the painters whom he studied in Italy during a three-year-long stay there, including the High Renaissance master Raphael, and his own countryman Poussin.  Taking what he had learned from these, Le Brun adding greater exuberance and theatricality to his own, highly fluid style, which perfectly exemplified the more emotional and dramatic style of the Baroque.

Le Brun’s re-discovered masterpiece is set to be auctioned at Christie’s with what to me sounds like a rather low pre-sale estimate of half a million euros.  While it is a large work, it is not nearly the size of the absolutely gigantic canvases which Le Brun was able to execute on behalf of the Sun King later in his career.  So should you have a spare million or two sitting around, gentle reader, owning a painting of this quality, formerly the property of the most famous hotel in the world, and which Chanel herself probably looked at every day, would not be a bad investment.


“The Sacrifice of Polyxena” by Charles Le Brun (1647)
Hotel Ritz, Paris