Issue 196
Winter 2016

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Jun 27, 2017
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    Get down to the Louvre, right away!

    Our Paris correspondent, George Stewart, banging on about the paintings – with more to follow, apparently

    THE LOUVRE is the second most visited museum in the world (after the national space and aeronautics museum in Washington DC).

    Very much rooted in the C19 display style, it offers an unparalleled vision of the glory of France but, as with all things French, there is some confusion as to the real ambition.

    Napolean III created what the visitor sees but the Collections began with Francois I and Louis XIV. Napoleon I is still eulogised without question , Napoleon III is largely ignored. As I write this the French are half way to electing another é litist figure from the left to be President.

    The élite rules, OK? A secular society that has one of the highest church attendances in Europe. A society clearly not at ease with myself, unable to accept modern reforms. Unable to digest the disastrous WWII, the only major country not to establish a Government in Exile in London. No redemption possible here.

    The Louvre deals with all of this as it exhibits all these complex contradictions to the world. Just look at the Gloire de France.

    I M Pei's perfectly brilliant three hanging Pyramides allow huge numbers of people to visit these exceptional collections . There are wonderful Murillo, Velázquez, Zurbarán, Goya and El Greco. The world's best collections of neo-classical David, Ingres and Delacroix. And of course the absurd but unmissable wreck of the Medusa by Géricault.

    Lots of lovely Corot and Courbet. OK, Courbet's strange but compelling Origine du Monde is at the Musée d'Orsay – it would be a bit too naughty for the staid old Louvre. There are more Boudins at the Bowes Museum in Yorkshire than here. Yet the Lorrain, Rubens and Poussin are superb. There are even 24 of the latter, painted especially for the Palais de Luxembourg. Then there are Bronzino, Caravaggio, Mantegna, Rafael, Fra Angelico, Botticelli and Uccello.

    Many bought from the Charles I collection after 1650 and much pinched by Napoleon and others as the French rampaged through Europe over the centuries. The four bronze horses from St Marks in Venice were returned, but not much else. You really need a lifetime to look at this lot properly. I will have more to say about this in a further article.

    Then there is Holland (still called Pays Bas by the French ). A fine display of Hobbema, Post (the first European paintings of the new world in Brazil), van Loo , Wouverman and some fantastic Rembrandt, including Bathsheeba at her bath and three gripping self portraits. two Vermeer, the Lacemaker and the Astronomer.

    A marvellous Van Dyck of the Martyr King himself. It is absurd that the Louvre should have so much, but the Collections were among the earliest and were little dissipated between 1789 and 1802 or the Commune, although some of the buildings were destroyed in 1870, Holbein, Cranach, Dürer – nothing missing!

    And I'm still banging on about the paintings. Watteau, Rigaud, Fragonard, some luminous de la Tour, Chardin. OK, the Frick display their Fragonards much better . There are the four unbelievable gigantic le Bruns of Alexander the Great, delivered in 1660. I much enjoyed the portraits of Francois Clouet and Corneille de Lyon from the mid 1500s.

    During the many years of the Revolution huge religious collections were removed wholesale from churches (that were often turned into stables and warehouses) straight into the National Collections . Revolutions have some cultural benefits. The outcomes of course are rarely predictable or even desirable. The French have a quasi-monarchy but endlessly ramble on about the glories of their Republic. Plus ça change.

    I apologise if this seems like an endless unvarnished list of some of the world's most exceptional paintings but that is the Louvre in essence. A further article will cover everything else (global culture with no boundaries).

    Join the masses from all over the world who visit, you will emerge exhausted but improved and enriched.


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