Paris Art and Architecture: the Petit Palais


A week from now, my hubby and I will be on a plane for Paris. Although I’ll do some research, it will mostly be a vacation—a leisurely week spent visiting people we love and places that nourish us.

One of our first stops will be the Petit Palais. If you love Paris art and architecture, and haven’t visited, make a note now. This luscious building, created for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, became a museum in 1902. Its architecture and holdings represent the peak of Parisian craftsmanship at the turn of the 20th century.

Some of my favorite details: the gilded entrance gate, designed by architect Charles Girault; the grand gallery, with its floor to ceiling windows; the decorative murals by Albert Besnard, and ceilings by Ferdinand Humbert. I love the winter garden, any time of year.

The permanent collection has both depth and breadth, with works spanning the antiquities, the Renaissance, and the Nabis. My favorite, Camille Alaphilippe’s statue of A Woman with a Monkey (pictured above), is just inside the museum entrance.

Do you know this museum? What do you like most about it?

Les Macchiaioli at Musée de l’Orangerie

image Rotonde de Palmierei

At the heart of Les Macchiaioli , the current show at Musée de l’Orangerie, is the question of whether Italian painters developed their own version of Impressionism independently of the French, at about the same time.

Macchiaioli, named for areas of light and shadow, or “macchie”, shares traits with French Impressionism, to be sure. Painters of both movements rejected academic compositions and historical themes in favor of rural scenes; they expressed variations in lighting through contrasting patches of color. Both were influenced by photography and plein air painting.

Yet the Italians were fueled by political fervor, to protest against art that had become too elitist. They worked with a more restricted color palette than the French, eschewed industrial innovations as subjects, and developed an unusual elongated horizontal format.

My favorite work in the show, Le Rotonde de Palmierei, by Giovanni Fattori, uses simplified forms and horizontal bands of color to capture the movement of wind and light beside the ocean. It made me think of Eugène Boudin, who painted seaside in Honfleur, and of the influence of Japanese prints on French Impressionism.

The show at l’Orangerie is a thoughtful and delightful collection of work. On view are striking images of domestic life, landscapes bathed in sun and shadow, realistic battle scenes, even a film that incorporates political upheaval and decorative interiors.

Until July 22.

Have you seen this show?