Sunday, May 24, 2015

Paris in the Spring, a Cliche'? Part One--Art

Irises in Spring, Lily Silver copyright 2007

"Lilac bushes are in full bloom and the air is heavy with their fragrance. In all the public gardens and squares flowers have been planted and are thriving. The streets are thronged with ladies in beautiful dresses--crowds of persons sitting in front of the cafes and restaurants . . . the boulevards are filled with vehicles (carriages) of every description--yet there is no unpleasant hurrying no pushing. . . "  Quote from The American Register Newspaper, circa the late nineteenth century. 

I love Paris, all things Paris.  Big surprise there, who doesn't?  

 However, I just finished writing a novel where one of the main support characters doesn't.  To quote Dan Wilson in Some Enchanted Dream, "I hate Paris in the spring, it's a fucking cliche!"

Well, Dan is a modern man so he is forgiven for being a cynic.  He's also a sassy character who speaks his mind a bit too frequently. He makes the statement above when he arrives in Paris of 1889, during a blinding rainstorm. By the time he meets Henri Toulouse Lautrec, and goes to the Moulin Galette, however, he's loving Paris in this time period. Its a modern man's paradise.

For the past six months I've been researching Paris life in 1889, during the Belle Epoque.  Specifically the Montmartre neighborhood, and the Paris expo of 1889. It's been so much fun. I've devoted a couple of Pinterest boards to just the visual aspects of Paris in that era. 

What is the appeal for me? Or you?  Well, there is plenty to get your blood moving if you are familiar with the era. 


The Artist Movements: 


Van Gogh's The Starry Night, compare with image directly below this one

We've all heard of Vincent Van Gogh, right?  The guy who has his images plastered on mugs and tee shirts, whose original paintings sell now for a fortune each.  But back in 1889, things weren't looking so good for Vincent. He was a poor painter, had only sold one painting in his lifetime, and people generally thought he was nuts. He was laughed at, scorned, and looked down upon. He was an emotional guy, true, but he was brilliant and no one recognized that face. He lived in obscurity, painting life as he saw it. And his method was part of a new movement called Impressionism that the art world and critics hated. The art curators would not let the Impressionists hang their paintings in the annual salon show for viewing by the public. They considered the works of Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Henri Toulouse Lautrec, Seurat and others to be too different from the norm of painting realistic almost photographic depictions of historic event.  See below:

Oath of the Horatii, by David, a traditional painting of era

The impressionists and post impressionists were painting what they saw in the blink of an eye, and that upset a lot of people. These artists were also delving into subject matter that was taboo, like nudes of women known in French society--recognizable women. They immortalized prostitutes, and Absinthe drinkers, people most of society didn't want to even know about much less be the feature of a modern art show.  

But, the impressionists and other artists of the time kept painting. When they were refused entry to the established circles of galleries and salons, they set up their own art shows in the parks, allowing the general public to decide for themselves what they liked instead of the gatekeepers who controlled the galleries and what was seen by the public.  So this era is very interesting as it brought unimaginable changes to the art world that we take for granted today. 

 Okay, two reasons to love Paris in the Springtime.  One, the  Spring Salon was a big annual event where vetted art approved by the critics and curators was put on display to the public for a couple of weeks. And second, the unapproved artists also displayed their works in parks and public cafes to get the work out to art lovers when they were banned by the establishment. 

Gauguin's Tahiti period, Note a similar style by later artist Frida Kahlo

These artists were also interesting characters, having wild affairs, being eccentric, drinking Absinthe to gain inspiration from the muse, living on a dime, and making the conservatives around them cringe with their flamboyant lifestyles. Paul Gauguin, for example, quit his day job as a stock broker and left his wife and children (not cool in any age), to pursue an art career. He went to Tahiti to paint nudes of natives, among other things like landscapes.  Abandoning his family is not admirable in any age, but he did become a famous artist, eventually.  He's best known for those Tahitian nudes, which are primitive by the standards of the art era he lived in, but sort of revolutionary in style compared to the traditional depictions of previous times.


Henri Toulouse Lautrec is also a prominent figure in this area. He was the son of a count, but again chose to go to Montmartre, the artist's district just north of Paris, and become a painter. Toulouse Lautrec was height challenged, a little person in modern lingo. He was also very flamboyant at times. Henri created a cocktail he called an earthquake, a mix of equal parts Absinthe and Cognac. He is famous for his depictions of the night life of the cabarets, including the Moulin Rouge.  His style was not at all traditional, either, and he took a lot of flack for it from traditional, conservative art critics at the time. He essentially painted naughty girls--can-can dancers, prostitutes, and gave some of the portraits a gritty edge. He was another brilliant player who influenced art in a big way, opening up the door to true realism in art and not just pretty, painterly realism that had a classic aesthetic.  Toulouse Lautrec began doing poster art for businesses, like the Moulin Rouge. Like Van Gogh, he died poor and unrecognized except in a negative way, and was committed to an asylum.

Lautrec's poster art

Art was one of the huge draws for me in creating a time travel story set in 1889 Paris, and more specifically, Montmartre, the artist's district.  I've studied art history for years and minored it in in college. This era is exciting for art in so many ways, so much changed within a short time as new artists brought new styles and techniques into play. And boy, did they live the life!  

As Dan Wilson says in my book, the hippies of the Haight-Ashbury era had nothing on these daring souls. The men leaving a comfortable home to live in Montmartre were brilliant in their own right, visionaries in the art world, post humus in many cases. They drank, partied, brawled, hung out in cafes late at night and discussed art together, made love with their subjects at times, haunted the dance halls and created a new age in art by breaking down barriers. Artists coming after them are beholden to them for taking the scorn and rejection and pushing through.  


Painting by Toulouse Lautrec

My apologies if I've bored you in my enthusiasm for the artists of this time. I started out in this post trying to share many of the elements that went into my newest Time Travel Romance Adventure, Some Enchanted Dream.  However, I couldn't put it all in one post. I couldn't limit my love of the artists of this time to one paragraph, as I originally planned. And since I've gone a couple of weeks without a post, this will make up for it, I hope. 

In the next few posts I'll devote time to other elements of the era that beckoned me to write the book, such as the Famous World Expo of 1889 that was held in Paris and used the newly completed Eiffel Tower as a centerpiece, the heavy use of Absinthe in this period, The search for the Green Fairy--the artist's muse, the avant garde lifestyles and of course the popular dance halls like The Moulin Rouge. FYI, there were other nightclubs before it that had just as much excitement going on to draw in patrons--circus acts, card games and beautiful showgirls enticing the men. Think Las Vegas, but without electricity!

Here is an excerpt from my book: Dan is a time traveler from our time, and is meeting local artists at a cafe in May 1889 to share Absinthe, dinner and some interesting conversation: 

Release date 5/30/15
Excerpt of Some Enchanted Dream, COPYRIGHT LILY SILVER, 2015
     "This was Paris, in the time of Le Heure Verte.
     Dan was enchanted by the phrase. The Parisians actually had a name for the time of day when everyone indulged in a glass of green liquor. L'heure Verte. The Green Hour.
     He was sitting at an outdoor table on the terrace of the Cafe Veron on Blvd Montmartre, sipping absinthe with two men he had met in the tobacco shop that afternoon.
     Never one for art, Dan couldn't name the famous fellow who had painted an outdoor cafe scene at night, he only remembered the guy had flaming red hair and was supposed to have cut off his ear and gifted it to some poor lady he admired. Mad fellow, that, but his paintings from this time were worth millions in the future.
     I'll ask Tara about the fellow, surely she'll know his name, Dan thought. Wouldn't it be a hoot if they could meet that famous painter? He was mimicking his companions, taking small sips of the bittersweet drink of pale, opalescent green that had an hour of the day named after it. L'heure Verte.  He tasted licorice, lemon balm and some other delicate flavoring that tickled his senses.  
     "Where are you from, good fellow?" Dan's companion asked politely. Arthur Bellows was the man who had directed them to their present lodgings the other day. Bellows hailed from England. He was spending a year in Paris, trying to establish himself as an artist.
     "America," Dan answered, rolling his lips and letting his tongue dart about them to garner another taste of the unusual drink. "I was visiting my daughter and her husband in Dublin. They decided to come to Paris on a whim. It seemed a pleasant diversion."

      "I salute their effort at spontaneity," Mr. Paul Gouffe' said with bold authority. "Didn't they realize every room in Paris would be let for the Exposition?" The man had a nose that seemed more broken than hooked. His face was grave, his hair black and his beard bushy and full where his comrade, Mr. Bellows had a countenance that was smooth-shaven and his manner was quiet and cultured. "The world has come to bow at our feet. We are the city of light."  
      An odd pair, these two, but friendly toward a stranger, Dan conceded.
     "Paul, don't be so hard on the fellow," Arthur argued. "Here's to you and your daughter, Sir. May your dreams become manifest in our fair city of light." Arthur raised his small glass toward the tower glowing in the distance, the Eiffel Tower, and they drank to his toast.
      "It is the time for dreams, no?" Paul, the burly fellow, gestured about. "Take me? I've left my stuffy life as a bank clerk to become a painter. We must all embrace our dreams, oui?"
      "Ah, yes. And if only you could find patrons for your primitive nudes," Arthur laughed, and slapped the brute fellow on the shoulder. "Then you'd stop complaining about not having two sous to rub together in this glorious city of light."
      Paul's face, coarse and unpleasant as it was, grew red, signaling trouble. He stood up, and tossed his empty glass to the curb. The noise of it shattering made the men at the tables around them turn to look. "M'sieur Bellows, you insult me with your jest in front of our guest!"
"Paul, sit. I meant no insult to you and you know it. You tell everyone here night after night how you cannot sell your glorious paintings to the salon, how you need to find patrons to fund your next trip around the world, so why the pretended offense if I tell the same story to a visitor in our midst?" Arthur argued.
      Murmurs about them, mostly in French, gave Dan the uneasy feeling a fight was about to ensue between the gruff Mr. Gouffe' and his more temperate English friend.
      A long string of French exploded from Paul's ruddy lips like a wind storm. He glared at Arthur. Arthur stood up, appearing to take issue with the Frenchman's hot words.
     "Gentleman," Dan rose and extended a hand toward each of them. "Do not ruin my first evening out in Paris with a brawl. I should like to hear more about your paintings, Paul."
     "Not tonight," the Frenchman hissed, and lumbered away from the open cafe.
     "He is a hot headed chap," Arthur explained as they took their seats again. "Doesn't take much to set him off. He'll be off to visit one of his whores to soothe his ego."
      Dan nodded, but didn't comment. The fellow had been so jovial earlier that afternoon when they met in the tobacco shop. He was sullen and ill tempered this evening. "So, he paints nudes, does he?"
     "This is Paris. We all paint nudes. To the beauty of the female form." Arthur lifted his glass once again in a toast.  
     Dan couldn't contain his grin. This place was turning into paradise. "Here, here."  
     A waiter came out bearing a tray of cooked meat, and a woman followed with plates and forks.            Dan swallowed hard, realizing he'd not eaten since before noon and it was now past six in the evening. He patted his pockets. "How much? I'll toss in half."
     "No." Arthur held up a thin hand with long fingers. "You are my guest tonight, Mr. Wilson. And my father, the ill humored Earl of Leicester, is the benefactor for our feast. Eat, friend. Eat. Drink. Celebrate. This is Paris, after all. And we are her suitors from afar, come to court Le belle dame sans merci, The beautiful woman without mercy." 
      The scent of roasted fowl was curling about Dan's nose with exotic tendrils of seduction. He could not argue with his companion. Hopefully, he'd be able to return the favor and buy Arthur a few pints later this evening. "Are you a poet as well as an artist?"
      Arthur sliced a piece of breast meat from the sultry brown carcass between them. He offered it to Dan by reaching across the table and placing it on his plate. There were steaming potatoes, and green beans. Dan smiled with wicked delight. If Paul hadn't become so foul tempered, he'd be eating with them now. Well, then, all the more for himself and Artie.  
     "I do write verse from time to time, but that quote is not my own. It comes from Keats, written long ago. Do you not know your English Poets, my good man?  "'I met a lady in the meads, Full beautiful--a  fairy's child, her hair was long, her foot was light, and her eyes were wild'.  To Keats, the beautiful woman without mercy is actually a fairy maid."
      Dan choked on the mouthful of roasted duck he was trying to swallow. Fairy. He'd been slapped upside the head recently over that odd business. And wasn't that what got him into this wild mess of time travel in the first place? Fairy magic. Tara's fairy magic, to be precise.

NEXT TIME: Absinthe, that lovely green drink that inspires men to dream, to write, to paint, to create! 

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