Painting is not at all an abstract conception, elevated above history . . .it is part of the social consciousness, a fragment of the mirror in which the generations each look at themselves in turn, and as such it must follow society step by step.
–Jules-Antoine Castagnary, art critic, 1863
Earlier this week we spent a night in Paris. Well, not exactly in Paris proper, but at the Denver Art Museum’s new Passport to Paris exhibition.
My love affair with all things French started in high school. I had the loveliest teacher who instilled in me a love of French culture, French cuisine, French art and the French language. After taking French class for four years, I started college intending to get a French minor and studied the language for two more years before switching to philosophy.
Let’s just say that I have been eagerly anticipating the Denver Art Museum’s newest exhibit, Passport to Paris. It’s actually three shows including Court to CafÃ©, Nature as Muse and Drawing Room. There are works by Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Claude Monet and many others. The exhibit explores the change in art and society during three important centuries of art history.
Court to CafÃ© is the largest gallery, featuring 50 masterpieces, and visitors walk through France’s art history, starting with the 1600s and ending in the early 1900s. I always utilize the handheld audio tour guide, and this exhibit has listening material suitable for children and another more suitable for adults.
“Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm in the world.”
The children version is performed by a woman with a strong French accent who points out some of the more child-friendly items in the paintings and encourages the listener to use his or her imagination. The adult version is drier, but I did enjoy the ambiance of birds twittering in the background or the sounds of an ocean (depending on which painting the speaker was referring to).
I enjoyed the flow of this exhibit. It was not only a chance to see great artworks, but also a few furniture pieces, as well as women’s dresses, giving the visitor a glimpse at what France’s culture was like at the time.
Each of the three galleries are thoughtfully put together, with intriguing quotes throughout. As a writer, I am perhaps drawn to the quotes more than others, but I felt these quips by the artists and their critics give the paintings even more depth. I would encourage you to stop and read these quotes as you go through Passport to Paris.
This exhibition would make a great date night in Denver. It is open now through February 9, 2014. You don’t want to let this one slip by. Go to DenverArtMuseum.org for ticket information.