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Delight and Liberty*

March 24, 2010

Whenever I return to France, the first day of my Paris Love-Fest is always a little out of this world. If the skies are clear I will spot the Eiffel Tower from the air as my plane descends into the Parisphere. It is this moment of exhilaration, the miraculous confirmation that I have finally arrived…!

I am again reunited with one and thousands of other crazy frenchmen and usually dismissive frenchwomen. I am whisked through the maddening streets towards the heart of Paris, towards my comfort zone, my familiar nest. I am exhausted by the jet-lag, the visual bouquet, the doting attention, the immediacy of the penetrating french vibes… and then I am revived by the mouthfuls of edifying food that I have been craving for months…

I can’t wait to mount my cherry red vélo and dash through the narrow streets – barely avoiding dogs, their masters and mistresses, and the ever opening car doors. I am a little girl again on my first brand new burgundy coloured English bike that I had cajoled from my parents, and I am bombing around my neighbourhood showing it off. Except now my neighbourhood is the centre of Paris, a world and a half away from my childhood one. Who would have imagined?? Not I, back then in my sweat-soaked tropical island “innocent brightness” – when I relished in “Delight and Liberty, the simple creed of Childhood, whether busy or at rest, with new-fledged hope still fluttering in [my] breast-“*…Wordsworth says it so well, and this is still how I feel whenever I am in Paris riding through streets so different, yet so familiar now… oui oui, mes amis, toujours les grands délices et la Liberté!

On my second day, while valiantly ignoring jet-lag confusion, there are places to go, things to see, food to savour… and we head out with loose plans and serendipitous presumptions. Monsieur L needed to look for some bike parts at Decathlon, the sporting goods emporium, and since that is near the Galeries Lafayette we decide to grab some lunch from their overflowing Gourmet floor and sit on the sunny steps of the Opéra Garnier for an impromptu pique-nique. Monsieur L gallantly covers my sandaled feet with paper napkins so that they won’t get darker – because when they are too tanned, he thinks they just look dirty and wholly unattractive!

Silly little quirks aside, we share the flavours of Greece while evaluating the various tourist groups milling around waiting their turns to tour inside the sumptuous Opéra building. Always interesting to observe the idiosyncrasies of different nationalities and even social classes as they are herded to and fro! We move on as well and bike over to the Left Bank to look for the Musée Maillol where an exposition of the paintings by Séraphine de Senlis has been extended, and whose work I have been eager to see.

We had never visited the Musée Maillol – Fondation Dina Vierny before, and I must say that I did not know much about the life and work of Aristide Maillol…so this would be a double treat to learn about both Séraphine Louis and Aristide Maillol at the same location and on the same day.

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La Rivière” [Aristide MAILLOL 1938-43]

We walk through the unassuming entrance and immediately encounter a tumbling nude giantess on a plinth. She is frozen in an awkward and uncomfortable position as well as being wholesomely exposed! I felt that she lacks a little of the grace and litheness of Rodin’s girls, but I am here to learn more about Maillol’s oeuvre after all.

Aristide Maillol was born in 1861 in Banyuls-sur-Mer in the foothills of the eastern Pyrenees and had always considered himself more Catalan than French, even in dress. He began his artistic life as a painter in Paris, where he met Paul Gauguin who would encourage him to focus on the decorative arts. Maillol eventually established a tapestry workshop in his hometown and from there he also began to produce ceramics leading to a full concentration on the sculptural female form.  His nudes evolved to encapsulate a more purified and contemporary concept of beauty but their almost architectural shapes and poses retain a sensuality that reflects a classical sensibility.  Most of his work is now on display in this museum opened in 1995 by the Dina Vierny Foundation.

The intrepid and long-living Madame Vierny had met Maillol as a young girl and modeled for him as well as for other artists of the time such as Bonnard and Matisse.  She had her own art gallery after many courageous adventures during the second world war and generously presented some of Maillol’s monumental sculpture to the French state, some of which is now installed in the Jardins de Tuileries.  An eccentric collector of antique carriages [almost a hundred of them!] as well as hundreds of dolls, Madame Vierny apparently sold off her collections to fund the foundation and underwrite the museum dedicated to Maillol.  A selection of work by Degas, Kandinsky, Picasso, Duchamp and other so-called “modern primitives” is also included in the permanent collection.

After viewing the intensely soul-suffusing temporary exhibition of  Séraphine de Senlis in an upper salon, we wandered through the rest of the museum marveling at Aristide Maillol’s impressive output and the fact that after all the time we have spent in Paris visiting many, many museums and galleries, there are still others full of “visionary gleams”* waiting to be discovered!

[*quoted lines and phrases are from “ODE  Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William WORDSWORTH, 1802-04/1807]

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