Friday, December 31, 2010


A.E. Marty: Les Deux Nigauds from La Gazette du Bon Ton janvier 1914

We may be far removed from the Druids who, on the sixth day of the moon after the winter solstice, celebrated the rite of the Night Mother dressed in robes of white as they prepared a sacrifice before a venerated oak. Mistletoe was rare on an oak tree and was considered so precious that it was cut off carefully with a gold sickle. The parasitic plant was caught as it fell in a cloth of white wool. Its magic powers might be lost if it touched the ground and it was highly valued as a  universal panacea. The plant was brewed with very pure water to cure maladies and protect from bewitchment. For  centuries, celebrations of Guianeu from au gui de l'an neuf  (new year's mistletoe) were carried out to bring luck by children in the countryside. Today it decorates my home, and any magic it spreads starts with a kiss.

Happy New Year to All -

my very best wishes to friends and companions in the blog world for health, happiness, and beauty in 2011

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Joyeux Noël

image: lemondedesreligions

For the first time in France, the Musée de Cluny (Museum of the Middle Ages) is exhibiting some of the most precious treasures of Gothic art collection from the National Gallery of Slovakia in Bratislava. This haut-relief sculpture was inspired by a vision of Christ's birth by St. Brigitte of Sweden, which places the sacred event amidst a fresh outdoor scene of winding roads, grazing sheep, and country folk.
More pictures from the exhibit here.

A very merry Christmas to you all!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The perils of an unmade bed

Le lit défait by Eugene Delacroix
Réunion des musées nationaux

I was intrigued to read some time ago a tale concerning Delacroix's youthful work, The Unmade Bed, which I have never come across elsewhere.
As Sacha Guitry tells it, he had his sights set on purchasing the painting when it came up at auction. He fully intended to do his utmost to acquire the work, until he was dissuaded by a  friend in-the-know who explained that no one had been able to keep the painting, and if Guitry were to buy it, he would surely get rid of it in a month's time. Five times already, the friend explained, the watercolor had changed owners in recent years.  The reason? Hidden in the tousled folds of the bed's crumpled sheets - wherein lies all the painting's considerable charm - appears a head of Medusa. 'Once you have noticed it, you won't be able to look at anything else,' claimed the expert. Guitry heeded his friend's advice and did not even bid on the painting. He realised that, very quickly, such a feature would become an obsession and that he would no longer be able to relish the sensuous composition with his eyes returning over and over to that one irresistible form.
It took me some time to find the head. Now I see at least two.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Architectural Assortment

photo Le style et la matière
1722, 1930s, 2010-11

Three buildings, three architectural periods and one construction/renovation project 
to link them as the new improved Postal Bank's headquarters.

from left to right: hôtel de Choiseul-Praslin; postal sorting center;
new office building with a post office on the ground floor

photo Le style et la matière

Oops. Four architectural periods, in fact! This building is located behind the hôtel de Choiseul-Praslin and is part of the enormous project as well. I believe it dates to the 1880s.

views from la rue Saint-Romain

Monday, December 13, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pattern in all things

yesterday: snow in the Parc de Saint Cloud

 photographic explorations by Bentley, the snowflake man
image Wikipedia 

Of all the forms of water, the tiny six-pointed crystals of ice called snow, that form in such quantities within the clouds during storms, are incomparably the most beautiful and varied.

W.A. Bentley

lace pattern from Foillet's compendium of 1598


image of snowflakes and more information on Bentley, here

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A convenient contraption

photo: Jean-Bernard Naudin

Detail: a plate warmer from
a good book

Proust: La cuisine retrouvée
by Anne Borrel, Alain Senderens, et Jean-Bernard Naudin

Happy Thanksgiving, America!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Broken Towers of Chateau Brissac

photo: Le style et la matière
There was some grumbling when we arrived there. We had missed the last guided tour before lunch time closure and would have to wait until the chateau reopened. We were told we could visit the grounds and have a snack while we waited. No 'proper meal.'  It  wasn't worth it to leave, so we would have to wait. Suddenly the architecture's somewhat clumsy appearance was magnified. Our timing frustrations and growling stomachs made a monster loom before us.

photo: wikipedia
What are those portly medieval  towers doing weighing down that Renaissance structure?
I have to show a Wikipedia photo to give the full effect. My own weren't taken straight-on and as often with 3/4 views, are all more flattering. 
I do have to say, I have a wonderful husband  -- yes, he's just about perfect ----------
except when he hasn't eaten en temps et en heure.
It is in those moments that the glass is clearly half empty.
He did accept to wait it out until the next visit, but not quietly.
What could I say? The facade was imbalanced and squeezed uncomfortably beween its towers like a girdled giant;  I still wanted to get inside.

photo: Le style et la matière
The Chateau park was was pleasant, however, bathed in beautiful Loire Valley light. We flew by the stables, then had most fun going through the dimly lit under belly of the property in long, damp subterranean passages. The 237 meter underground canal was created in the 19th century to avoid the flooding dangers from the river Aubance.

photo: Le style et la matière
Somehow, we didn't really approach the front of the building itself until we had finished some patisseries and café, then finally, the guide rang the bell for us to assemble for our tour.

photo: Le style et la matière
It was then we saw that it wasn't a continuous structure, nor a chateau with successive building stages such as the 15th century wing and the 16th century facade. We're used to that. No, up close we realized that the Renaissance building was cradled by the two very resistant medieval towers that someone along the way had refused to demolish. Towers are the very symbol of a chateau fort and these were not to be relinquished. Or so one supposes. They were kept surely as a reminder of the ancient fiefdom, indicating the venerable nobility of the Cossé family, Dukes of Brissac.

photo: Le style et la matière
The guide, excellent and entertaining, did not expound on the tower subject, but spoke of the main construction periods. The original château-fort was built in the 11th century, was enlarged in the 16th by René de Cossé. The edifice has belonged to the Cossé-Brissac family since 1502. Badly dammaged during the wars of religion, it's reconstruction was undertaken in the beginning of the 17th century by Charles de Cossé. His intention was to build a perfectly symmetrical façade with a higher, larger central section and in time - or so it was explained - to tear down the two medieval towers. This work was interupted when Charles de Cossé died in 1621 and never was taken up again. We see the chateau today as it was left. Why he would have built with the hinderance of the two standing towers is a real mystery to me. I'd like to think that one day some juicy tale will be unearthed about it.

photo: Le style et la matière
Take note: Chateau de Brissac is to this day a privately owned chateau where live the 13th Duke of Brissac and his family. With seven stories, it is known as the tallest chateau in France.  It is interesting for its continuous family history and connections with Louis XIII and Marie de Medicis, beautiful for its interiors and painted ceilings, and endearing for its wonderfully wacky towers. Because, what was considered flagrantly flawed just a few short hours before, had since our visit taken on another aspect. Like a broken nose in a classical face, Brissac's towers make it distinctive -- better than beautiful.

photo: Le style et la matière
gallery of the uppermost floor
photo: Le style et la matière
View from the corner window

photo: Le style et la matière
Such charisma.
I wasn't the only one to leave convinced.

more on Chateau Brissac

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday lunch

Poire au vin

My husband's answer to my craving for cinnamon and spices came at dessert on Sunday.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Low sky days and the comfort of a croquet à la cannelle with tea. I used to hear people speak with incomprehension about how Americans put cinnamon in EVERYTHING, but I've been seeing it around more often. Even cinnamon and spice tea is considered more palatable here if it is called Thé des amants, lover's tea....

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Schalcken lights the way

A Young Boy Holding a Candle Behind a Halloween Mask  

The mysterious chiaroscuro effects in the work of 17th century Dutch artist Schalcken so seized writer Le Fanu's 19th century Irish imagination, that he worked the painter into two of his Gothic tales. From a passing mention in Green Tea to an entire story as a romanced character in The Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter, the artist surely played a part in situations he had not foreseen through the bravura of his paintings.

'There are some pictures,' said I to my friend, 'which impress one, I know not how, with a conviction that they represent not the mere shapes and combinations which have floated through the imagination of the artist, but scenes, faces, and situations which have actually existed. When I look upon that picture, something assures me that I behold the representation of a reality.'

from The Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Boy blowing on a fire brand to light a candle  

I was very touched by the Schalcken painting of Ceres looking for Proserpina of my last post, stumbled across in museum in Bourges. It was just the right moment to come upon it, when the days had begun to shorten and fade into a grey mist and so, I looked for more. Now that I know that Schalcken made a specialty of flame lit pictures, indeed, painted scene after scene of illuminations contained in the darkest of surroundings, I'm once again contemplating of how diffferent we would all be without our wonderful, but sometimes glaring, electrified world. Just one wavering candle seems to reveal the generosity of darkness better than anything else.

Gottfried Schalcken 1643-1706, self portrait  image: Wikipedia

Here he is, quite the devil.  Part of the Leiden Fijnschilder's, or fine painter's, movement, Schalcken was a genre painter  who worked in an exquisite and highly polished manner. His master was Gerrit Dou, himself a student of Rembrandt. Reputed to be rude and uncouth with just the right nasty temper to set off his ill-mannered ways, it was no wonder the Dutch painter had problems getting along in society.  He didn't really fit into England where he lived from 1692–1697 and where he painted William III. Most known as a virtuoso of the candle lit painting and all the fuliginous obscurity which that implies, Le Fanu imagines him like this in his story:

"There are few forms upon which the mantle of mystery and romance could seem to hang more ungracefully than upon that of the uncouth and clownish Schalken--the Dutch boor--the rude and dogged, but most cunning worker in oils, whose pieces delight the initiated of the present day almost as much as his manners disgusted the refined of his own; and yet this man, so rude, so dogged, so slovenly, I had almost said so savage, in mien and manner, during his after successes, had been selected by the capricious goddess, in his early life, to figure as the hero of a romance by no means devoid of interest or of mystery."

That romance was writer LeFanu's fantasy, enflamed most likely by the view of not one particular painting, but several--and of his own imaginings.

Girl at the Window  image: National Museum Cardiff

"I had often been struck, while visiting Vandael, by a remarkable picture, in which, though no connoisseur myself, I could not fail to discern some very strong peculiarities, particularly in the distribution of light and shade, as also a certain oddity in the design itself, which interested my curiosity."

 Maiden with a Candle image: Repro-tableaux

"In its hand the figure bears a lamp, by whose light alone the form and face are illuminated; the features are marked by an arch smile, such as pretty women wear when engaged in successfully practising some roguish trick..."

Lady admiring an earring by the light of a candle  image: Repro-tableaux 

  "Your fancy has not deceived you, my good friend, for that picture is the record, and I believe a faithful one, of a remarkable and mysterious occurrence."

Sheridan Le Fanu's color sense and close interplay with the painter's art are demonstrated when at the end of his fiction he states that by limiting his literary palette he has chosen a starker focus.
"This tale is traditionary, and the reader will easily perceive, by our studiously omitting to heighten many points of the narrative, when a little additional colouring might have added effect to the recital, that we have desired to lay before him, not a figment of the brain, but a curious tradition connected with, and belonging to, the biography of a famous artist."

One artist shows just as much virtuosity as the other.

and a BBC production: Schalken the Painter

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why wheat?

Godfried Shalcken 1643-1706: Cérès cherchant Proserpine
Musée de l'Hôtel Lallemant at Bourges

This seemed to me to be the perfect moody image for the Fall season.  It's time for lovely Proserpina to return to the underworld for half the year as she has been doing ever since she was first abducted there by Pluto. In this 17th century version of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, harvest and motherly love is shown with her attributes of  fruit and wheat. With a determined flame, she is searching the dusky half-light for her beloved daughter and neglecting her earthly work while doing so. The soil will be barren until the return of Proserpina. Then Ceres will rejoice again and shower her daughter with fruit and flowers and the earth will enjoy Spring once more. It was the best sentence Jupiter could work out for a young maid who had partaken --oh, so little-- of nourishment in the land of the dead. So go the cycles.

In the word Ceres is the Indo-European root ker, meaning to grow. It is also the root for the words cereals, create, and increase. Wheat is associated with creativity, prosperity, regeneration.

chez Chanel rue Cambon

"Wheat is a recurrent theme in Mademoiselle Chanel’s apartment. She made it her lucky charm, like a subtle metaphor for creativity that never ends…

In each room of the apartment, wheat makes an appearance: as a brass bouquet, in gilded wood on the sitting-room fireplace, as gilded sheaves for a table leg, or even as a simple blade painted for Mademoiselle by Dali."

photo and quote:

last 2 photos: Ivan Terestchenko
from Les paradis secrets de Yves Saint Laurent et de Pierre Bergé by Robert Murphy

 In Robert Murphy's splendidly illustrated Les paradis secrets de Yves Saint Laurent et de Pierre Bergé,
Terestchenko's photos abound with views of sheaves, wreaths, and other intimate displays of wheat tucked here and there. In every one of their homes, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé kept bouquets of wheat.
We've seen it so much lately on the podiums, catwalks, shops in garb and jewel. After coral, wheat seems to be delighting us with its new/ancient forms golden or green. Why not?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

L'Escalier de cristal: Beauty and decency

photo Le style et la matière
The widow Désarnaud (née Rosalie Charpentier) was the owner of the renowned boutique in the galerie de Valois of the Palais Royal named A l'Escalier de Cristal.  She opened the shop in 1802 as marchand-éditeur after the death of her husband and went on to influence the taste of her day. There she specialized in objets of great technical and aesthetic innovation, many composed entirely of crystal and gold plated bronze. What the previous century had done incorporating porcelaine into objects and furnishings, Mme Désarnaud-Charpentier did with crystal in the 19th. Very few crystal furnishings
have come down to us today.

photo Le style et la matière
This innovative table de toilette , donated to the Louvre by Claude Ott and Maurice Segoura in 1989, once belonged to the Duchess de Berry, daughter-in-law of Charles X. It was designed in 1819 by Nicolas-Henry Jacob, student of David, and received a gold medal at the Exposition des Produits de l'industrie. Entirely made of bronze and crystal, with the exception of a beech seat frame, the back of the armchair presents the shape of a lyre. The glass table top rests on four cornucopia and two balusters and is mounted by a duel-faced mirror flanked by two three-branched candelabra held by figures of Flora and Zephir. The drawer contains a musical mechanism whose melody is released, as a text specified at the time,

"pendant une heure: c'est-à-dire, pendant l'espace de temps qu'une jolie femme peut décemment passer devant une glace, en presence d'elle-meme.
for a duration of one hour: which is to say, for the amount of time a pretty woman may decently spend before a mirror in her own presence." *
La Duchesse de Berry by Thomas Lawrence

As of 1822,  it seems the mirror framed the graceful features of the duchesse de Berry whenever she sojourned at her country residence, the château at Rosny-sur-Seine. The Duchess, enthusiastic patron of the decorative arts, was forced to give up her scintillating accomplice in beauty after the fall of Charles X in 1836.

photo Le style et la matière
On display today at the Musée du Louvre, the looking-glass, having forever lost the melodious exchanges à deux with its mistress, stares out in mute indifference at art objects and on-lookers alike, admired for itself now rather than consulted.

Chefs-d'oeuvre d'ebenisterie, le mobilier du Louvre by Daniel Alcouffe et al.
-see also Persée for another aspect of A l'escalier de cristal

Monday, September 6, 2010

Felice compleanno, Mario Praz

photo Le style et la matière
entryway Museo Mario Praz, Roma

"The dwelling beomes the museum of the soul, the archives of its experiences;
 it rereads there its own story, eternally conscious of itself."

Mario Praz The Philosophy of Decoration

 jacket illustration The House of Life by Mario Praz

Mario Praz at home,  photograph by Jerry Bauer

photo Le style et la matière

 September 6 1896 - March 23, 1982

Monday, August 30, 2010

The attraction of Things

Delacroix Coin de l'atelier, le poêle  Musée du Louvre

Je crois que le plus grand attrait des choses est dans le souvenir qu'elles réveillent dans le cœur ou dans l'esprit, mais surtout dans le cœur....Le regret du temps ecoulé, le charme des jeunes années, la fraicheur des premières impressions agissent plus sur moi que le spectacle meme.

I believe that the greatest attraction of things is the memory they awaken in the heart or in the mind, but especially in the heart....the regret of times past, the charm of youthful years, the freshness of first impressions affect me more than the spectacle of life itself.

Delacroix Journal I

image source: lemondedesarts

Mr Design

the Paris waxworks.

I hadn't seen such a sight since I was a little girl holding tight to her big brother's hand in the New Orleans Musée Conti. My memories are heavy with History and Horror - often one and the same, but there were also contemporary celebrities.
There is no Hall of Horrors in the Musée Grévin, but it doesn't take childish imagination anymore to believe the statues could start moving around. What's eerie is the incredible realism that is now achieved. The statues are highly refined with glistening eyes, gleeming teeth, pores and apparent veins. One even had a wart on its knee.

And surprise, Philippe Starck
 has taken up residence in the museum since 15th of June!
Standing behind his famous "Louis Ghost," his likeness is all the more authentic as it is dressed with his own clothes: Agnès B  made-to-measure leather pants, blouson S+ARCK with Ballantyne, personal gloves and boots S+ARCK PUMA.

A  first for design at the wax museum.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


passage L'Isle sur la Sorgue

Bull racing Arles