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28.8.05

Pushkin Museum Exhibit in Switzerland

The Russians, like me, were notorious francophiles, and they collected a lot of French artwork, much of which is now in Russian museums like the Hermitage. This is a problem for the French art lover who misses the paintings of his countrymen that he must now travel abroad to see. I have chatted many times with French tourists in the National Gallery and the Phillips, taking one last look at the French paintings marooned in the United States. Well, some French paintings that live normally at the Pushkin Museum in Russia are now on exhibit (La peinture française, Musée Pouchkine Moscou) at the Fondation Pierre Giannada in Martigny, Switzerland, which isn't quite France but is a lot closer than Moscow. Philippe Dagen reviewed it (Le Musée Pouchkine exporte ses trésors d'art français, August 5) for Le Monde (my translation):

On one wall, there is a Poussin from his first Roman years, Renaud et Armide. Across from it, at the other end of the central room of the Fondation Pierre Gianadda, there are three Cézannes, one landscape of the Ile-de-France, a study of bathers, and a standing man smoking a pipe. And between them is Cézanne's famous phrase, his hope that he was "doing what Poussin did, but according to nature." We don't know if, while hanging these paintings, the curators of the exhibition deliberately placed Cézanne and Poussin across from one another. In any case, they couldn't have done it better: the opposition, if it doesn't explain Cézanne's sentence completely, it does give it some meaning. It makes clear what Poussin and the three Cézannes have in common: resolution.
Dagen's rather lengthy argument, demonstrating how Poussin and Cézanne are the same, is engaging, although I did not end up agreeing with him. Another article (Anthologie des perfections françaises, August 26) by Eric Biétry-Rivierre for Le Figaro says that the Pushkin Museum, which has 700 French paintings, has the largest French collection of any museum in the world, after only the Louvre and the Hermitage. It has loaned 54 paintings for the exhibit, which is described in some detail in this article (my translation):
First, since painting loves to give homage to myth and the arts, we have Molière. Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) painted him in right profile in a trompe-l'oeil oval. Irina Antonova, director of the Pushkin Museum and the exhibit's curator, has surrounded that antiquity-like cameo with two representations of Susannah and the old men. The spirit of Monsieur Poquelin [Molière], in his curls and mustaches à la Dalì, a nose like Cyrano (before he existed), and eyes open to everything, is seen thus illustrated by two choice Rubénistes, Jean-François de Troy (1679-1752) and Charles de La Fosse (1636-1716), who have shown Susannah as a beautiful innocent girl harassed by a pair of old men. The pain inflicted on virtue is always the worst.
Since there is not much information and far fewer images from the museum, this article was the best way to discover a large part of what is being shown in this exhibit. However, you must supply your own mental images.

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