The Musée de l'Orangerie, in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, reopened to the public this past May. The institution's first exhibit since then, Orangerie, 1934 : les Peintres de la réalité, has just opened, recalling the museum's glory days exhibiting modern art before World War II. Éric Biétry-Rivierre reviewed the show (L'Orangerie rallume ses lumières, November 27) for Le Figaro (my translation):
Two players back to back, two masterpieces side by side: for the first time, La Partie de cartes (1950) has been hung on the same wall as Le Tricheur (à l'as de carreau) (c. 1620). And one can see what Balthus owes to Georges de La Tour. This exceptional and enlightening encounter is taking place right now in Paris, at the Musée de l'Orangerie. It is emblematic of what Pierre Georgel, the institution's director, planned and realized: "Establishing a symbolic link between the past and the future of the newly restored Orangerie."A number of modern artists, both those coming of age at the time and their predecessors, saw the show and it had an impact on their work. This show combines the works with those modeled on them, including Picasso, Magritte, Jean Helion, and Balthus. How much are the air fares to Paris this winter?
The past is 1934. In that year, the museum of the Tuileries gardens presented Les Peintres de la réalité en France au XVIIe siècle, an exhibit that was going to become one of the most famous ones during the period between the wars. Paul Jamot (1863-1939), chief conservator of the Department of Painting at the Louvre, and his young second-in-command (and brilliant eventual successor), Charles Sterling (1901-1991), conceived it as the irrefutable proof of their theory. For them, contrary to what was widely believed then, the Grand Siècle was more than just Poussin and the art of Versailles. There was a world without wigs parallel to sacred art and history painting. Behind the Baroque and late mannerism was a more intimate, more immediate universe that emphasized observation, the day-to-day, the profane.
The selection of a hundred or so works was a shock. Besides the revelation of La Tour, the public knew next to nothing of the beauties left behind by the Le Nain brothers, Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne, of most of the French followers of Caravaggio, the less idealizing output of Lorrain, or even the masters of still life, Baugin and Linard.