Today we stopped by the Musee de Montmartre, what a find that was. It was a treasure chest of bohemian, Belle Epoque and peasantry paintings, posters and artefacts. Among the well-known images of the Moulin Rouge, Toulouse Lautrec posters and archaic documents I stumbled upon a new artist, Adolphe Willette; and fell in love with a painting, Parce Domine.
It is a whirlwind of Belle Epoque spirit as the dreamy festivity of the music hall and cabaret fades into the angst and suffering that was the reality of the time, with Cheret-like dancers floating in mid-air like fairies. The pastel tones of the painting are blissful and soothing, but there is an evident undertone of the harsh reality of the day that, after the dream has ended, cannot be removed by intoxication. I particularly like the characteristic Montmartre windmill made up of music scores.
Today I got inspired. I stumbled par hasard upon an exhibition in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs on Rue de Rivoli; it was about a French couturieuse called Madeleine Vionnet. She was also known as "queen of the bias cut" and "the architect among dressmakers".
Born in 1876 her creative life spanned the two World wars and she was an important contributor to the Modern movement. With the notion of looking back to look forward, Vionnet drew on Greek art, especially the form of the vase as an example of the female form, in order to create groundbreaking couture for the newly independent women in the period that followed the Great War.
Despite her humble background in Chilleurs-aux-Boix, Vionnet went from strength to strength as she moved from her home to London, and eventually to Paris; opening her own fashion house in 1922 after having worked alongside the Callot Soeurs.
Invention: the bias cut
Vionnet's work is characteristically subtle, elegant and fluid, drawing on a base of flesh tones, shades of stone and well-defined colours. Also, she frequently uses scatters of bugle beads, impossibly beautiful crepe and silk fabrics and forward-thinking cuts. After all, she was the inventor of the bias cut; which was revolutionary for women at the time. Quite literally the corset of the years that preceded the war gave way to the loose, independent and subtle second skin of Vionnet's elegant bias cut.
Quite aptly, thus, is Madeleine Chapsal's book about her named La Chair de la Robe (The Flesh of the Dress). Madeleine Vionnet's aim was to give women in the intermittent years of the two wars a seductive freedom. The seduction embodied in these dresses was that of subtlety: a draped neckline, a gaping back or shimmering swathes of fabric.
Her use of Greek art as an influence is apparent in the majority of her dresses as the woman appear like goddesses.
Also need to quickly say how quickly I've got hooked on this amazing novel. It makes my commute much more pleasant at 8.00a.m. on a weekday morning...it's fascinating and I can't wait to see how the author deals with the logistics of time-travelling...will update later...
The Marais is my new favourite spot. I adore Place des Vosges, we ambled through the streets at the weekend and ended up in Victor Hugo's apartment. It was surprisingly dark and gloomy, but incredibly spacious for a Parisian flat. The view of the perfectly symmetrical, carré, aesthetically London-esque Place des Vosges seemed like the most apt setting for the family home of this French poet, writer and playwright, probably best known for Les Misérables.
This is my favourite Victor Hugo poem:
Demain, dès l'aube...
Demain, dès l'aube, à l'heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m'attends.
J'irai par la forêt, j'irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.
Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.
Je ne regarderai ni l'or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j'arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.
Tomorrow at Dawn
Tomorrow, at dawn, in the hour when the countryside becomes white,
I will leave. You see, I know that you are waiting for me.
I will go by the forest, I will go by the mountain.
I cannot stay far from you any longer.
I will walk with my eyes fixed on my thoughts,
Without seeing anything outside, nor hearing any noise,
Alone, unknown, my back curved, my hands crossed,
Sad, and the day for me will be like the night.
I will not look at the gold of the evening which falls,
Nor the faraway sails descending towards Harfleur.
And when I arrive, I will put on your tomb
A green bouquet of holly and flowering heather.
There's something so therapeutic about wrapping up in woollies to go outside in the cold...(maybe I'm just saying that as it's all I've brought to Paris with me...!) But the thought of cozying up with a French style mug of hot chocolate which, as I found out in Cafe Charlot in the Marais, equals your body weight of it served in a bowl...! We have said 'bowl mugs' in the flat and I can't wait to indulge...I can slowly feel Paris turn colder which makes me think forward to Christmas time here and how beautiful it would be if it snowed...
Being in a foreign country makes you reflect on your home country. While I love Paris, I miss things about England...like English Breakfast Tea, tomato ketchup, Boots, Radio 1, Elle magazine, Marks and Spencer, newspaper supplements on a Sunday morning, cold frosty walks in the wintry countryside...
the Breton tee. I was wandering through the Latin Quarter yesterday evening and spotted a little shop selling Breton tees among a myriad of other "French" paraphernalia...There's something so quintessentially French about them and teamed with a Burberry style sandy mackintosh, skinnies and worn out brogues, it's an irresistible "Alexa Chung" meets "French Sorbonne student" melange.