Louvre At First Sight

We had been wanting to visit the Louvre, but K couldn't take time off from work. (Not to mention wanting to keep our carbon footprint down and savings intact). So instead, we had the French send a selection of their paintings to the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo and save us a long trip. Nice of them, eh?

The exhibit, Master Paintings of 17th Century Europe, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the museum in Ueno Park, which, as you will discover shortly, has a French Connection. It features 71, count 'em, 71 works of European art from the 17th Century, including a Vermeer, and works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin, Claude Lorraine, La Tour, Domenichino, Guercino, Velasquez, Murillo and others. They were grouped in an unusual way. Rather than showing them by country, they were divided into three groups: The Golden Age and Its Shadow, Great Oceangoing Voyages and Scientific Revolution, and Relics of Classical Civilization in a Century of Saints.

The edifice of the National Museum of Western Art is interesting in and of itself, having been designed by Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965), a French architect. It was completed in 1959 and was said to be a symbol of the resumption of diplomatic ties between Japan and France after World War II. Not sure how good those ties were as the building is a typical drab concrete cube of the post modern school (with a spiral inside for "interest"), which seemed to be based on construction technology rather than around the people who would use it and for what purpose. [There has been an attitude in Japan - an inferiority complex really - since the Meiji Era and which persists to this day, that if an idea is from some other "developed" Western country, it must be better than what Japan would can come up with on its own. Thus, for example, BMW and Mercedes have snob appeal here, even though Lexus and Infinity are by every objective measure, of equal or better luxury, quality, and reliability and at lower cost. The Moody Minstrel has an interesting post (linked to his name) about a facet of this as it relates to the loss of traditions in Japan. Check it out.]

The Art Mausoleum Museum. Note the lovely "nature feature" common to this genre. Out of view to the right stands, appropriately enough, one of the three original casts of Auguste Rodin's bronze sculpture, "Gates of Hell".

Le Corbusier (a pseudonym) was an urban designer as well and in 1925 developed the "Plan Voisin for Paris" in which he proposed (I am not making this up) that the whole Le Marais district on the Right Bank be leveled to make way for rows of identical towers with freeways running between them. Thankfully, it was rejected. But I digress...

Before getting in line for the exhibit, we enjoyed a nice early lunch at the restaurant Forestier in the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan (cultural center with an awesome music hall) across the way. We got there at opening time and only waited 5 minutes for a table. By the time we finished lunch, the line had grown to over 30 minutes and overflowed the lobby and down the spiral staircase to the first floor.

The line for the museum was estimated to take 80 minutes. I got in queue while K went for tickets. It turned out to be more like 90 minutes or 100. (After we got home, K discovered that if we had purchased tickets at a "Lawson" convenience store and paid an additional ¥200 -the tickets were ¥1500 each - we could have bypassed the line entirely.) Next time, that is what we will do. That, and go soon after an exhibit opens rather than a couple of weeks before it closes.

The section called "The Golden Age and its shadow" had some exceptionally well painted pictures (duh - they're from the Louvre), such as Vermeer's "the Lacemaker", Rembrant's self portrait with hat and gold chain, and Pierre Dupuis' Basket of Grapes (of all things). However, I was most captivated by several of the paintings in the last group - Relics of Classical Civilization in a Century of Saints - which had paintings depicting scenes from classical mythological stories and Christianity. Who'd o' thunk it?

In the middle group, "Great Oceangoing Voyages and Scientific Revolution", Barbary Pirate with a Bow by Pier Francesco Mola was impressive, as was Wtewael's "Persius Rescuing Andromeda". In the last group, "Tears of Saint Peter" by Guercino was very moving and his tears seemed to come right out of the canvas. The lighting in St.Joseph the Carpenter by Georges le Tour was beautifully done.

We wish there had been more detailed information about the exhibit available online so that we could have prepared better. We like to read up on what we are going to see ahead of time, and were overwhelmed by the number of paintings and pace of the flow of people going through the exhibit. I also would have liked to spend more time with the paintings and less time in line.

Of course, any pictures that I post here can't possibly do justice to the real paintings, and are perhaps not the best selection, but I hope they give a hint of what we were treated to. Not included here are pictures of royals, and of ordinary folk enjoying themselves with drink and song - there were examples of each. I wish I could share a slide show of them all.

Peasant family - la Nain brothers.

It's an excellent exhibit and it was so nice of those folks at the Louvre to share a slice of 17th Century European art with us. If you'd like to see it, better hurry. June 14th is the last day. Of course, you could always visit the Louvre...

Seriously, the exhibit will next appear June 30th (Tuesday) — September 27th (Sunday) at the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art.


ladybug said...

This sounds like an lovely day for you both!..I certainly agree about the "mausoleum" look (an aside, I've always been creeped out by See's candy stores...they look like Funeral Parlors to me!); perhaps Le Corbusier was aiming for that Late Stalinist (or maybe proto-East Berlin) look?

Absolutely stunning paintings, I also like how they put the themes together, instead of by artist - it seems more interesting that way.

Thanks so much for this post, we all get to enjoy it vicariously with you!

Don Snabulus said...

I think the sharing of art between museums is a wonderful thing and definitely something to take advantage of.

The museum also looks like an upscale parking garage. Luckily, the treasures within show that within the crustiest shell can lie a beautiful pearl.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

What a super experience to see the paintings in a real way. Pictures in books often change the colour, scale of course. I was surprised when I saw Gauguin's paintings one time - they weren't very bright and they were small.

Pandabonium said...

Ladybug - Le Corbusier was into industrializing society. His houses featured blank white walls and bare light bulbs - would fit with your Stalinist idea.

See's Candy stores as funeral parlors. That's funny! I'd liked the sampler coffin, please.

Don - living near a big city has its advantages, and museums are a big one for us. That they share art around the world is truly wonderful. The contents of the "parking garage" were well worth it.

Wendy - you are so right. I had a tough time finding pictures to post with this - many were really out of whack in terms of color and tone. We were surprised at the bright almost weird colors used by Peter Paul Rubens. (no offense intended to Rubens fans)

We'll be seeing a Gauguin exhibit in a month or so. His "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" will be on display for the first time in Japan.

Martin J Frid said...

I loved this exhibition in Ueno, and thanks for finding the images - there were many more on display of course! Have to agree with Don S that the sharing of art makes a lot of sense.

The Rembrandt with the gold chain in particular was great to see "live" and some of the others were amazing - so huge! You have included the painting of an Oriental (with fur and bow) which must have seemed very exotic at the time it was painted. I forget who the artist was, but it was very large and fearful.

I'm not so familiar with religious motifs and especially Greek and Roman mythology always baffles me. Fun to see on canvas and the explanations were good too.

Pandabonium said...

Martin - I'm glad you saw it too. I had a hard time finding good pictures to post, but then there is no way to match the real thing anyway.

I got hooked on the idea of shared exhibits back in 1975 when, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I saw a wonderful collection of paintings from the Hermitage and the State Russian Museum, Leningrad.

HappySurfer said...

Awesome! Thank you for sharing them, PandaB. I wonder if these will ever come to Kuala Lumpur.

Pandabonium said...

HappySurfer - give them a call and ask if they get such exhibits. You might also check with Singapore Art Museum. I realize that isn't exactly close by, but it isn't as far as Paris. :)

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Oh the Gauguin - I looked at the link you gave but couldn't read the Japanese script of course. It is a magical painting. Perhaps that's the (subliminal) reason I went off to Fiji in 1962!

Pandabonium said...

Wendy - It says "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" and was painted while he was in mourning over the death of his daughter Aline. He had also attempted suicide. So it's about religious/philosophical questions. I excited about seeing it.

Talkingbees learn English said...

great art, I have enjoyed your site pictures, are you Japanese?
I also have a blog TalkingBees in Japanese ,hope you will like it.

Pandabonium said...

Talkingbees learn English - thanks for dropping by. I'm an American living in Japan, my wife, "K", is Japanese. You have a nice ESL teaching blog.

Robin said...

I spent a long time at Lourve, looking at every details of every painting, statues and crafts.

I am sure u will take a longer time than me.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful exhibition.

Pandabonium said...

Robin - this was a good sized exhibit. I can handle a certain amount and then it's "information overload" and I need a break.

Children of Fiji said...

Just love the images. Where do you keep all these images, do you have a gallery or something?

Please do bring them along to Taveuni when you're next there.

Pandabonium said...

Children of Fiji - thank you. I just searched the internet for the pictures I had seen at the exhibit. I keep most images at photobucket.com, so I can access them if I have an internet connection.

Last trip to Taveuni, the kids were wide-eyed at my collection of airliner pictures - none had ever seen such large airplanes. :^)

The Moody Minstrel said...

I went to that museum together with students back in the late 90s. At that time it was featuring modern art and had some pretty wild works (though I admit the featured artist, whose name I can't recall, didn't really impress me all that much, and the students were left scratching their heads). I think I would have enjoyed that exhibition more.

Thanks for the mention and link!

My word verification is "alien"!!!

Pandabonium said...

Moody - I think your post on lost traditions is quite interesting and sheds light on why Japan imitated or accepted some things that were not deserving. We'd been to that museum before a while back. It actually has some very good paintings on permanent display, and despite my joke, I like the Rodin sculptures. I just find it sad that Japan caught "post modernist concrete disease" (PMCD) after WWII which resulted a lot of ugly buildings IMHO.

Olivia said...

A wonderful post, thanks for your write up and for scouring the web to show us a little of what you saw.

Was a peasant feast for the eyes, although I have to admit, I am so tired today I fell asleep before reading it and just woke up again :)

I would like to comment more on mid 20th C. brutalist architecture and things like that, but I am fighting my eyelids now.

Pandabonium said...

Olivia - have a restful weekend. I'd be interesting in your comments on architecture.

Tara Hooks said...

My dog is named Momo, too. We think he is wonderful as well. He is a maltipoo that we thought was a shipoo.
Your Momo smiles just like ours!!

Pandabonium said...

Tara Hooks - Thanks for visiting, Tara. Our Momo is a female, part Shitzu, part something a bit bigger. We don't know because she literally wandered into our lives a few years ago.