Yesterday it was cold and rainy, so time to visit a few museums in the "New Athens" section of Montmartre.
The first was the Musée de la Vie Romantique, housed in the former home of 19-century painter Ary Scheffer. The house was also in the hands of relatives of George Sand, so contains much Sand and Chopin-related bric-a-brac (including Sand’s jewelry and her surprisingly good watercolors). Navigating the creaky wooden floors, you see Sand’s reconstructed salon, decorated by many portraits of the somewhat long-faced, droopy-eyed Sand, as well as portraits of various July Monarchy notables by Sheffer.
The temporary exhibition documented Picasso’s relationship with the Belgian-born engraver Piero Crommelynck, printed many of Picasso’s late engravings and etchings. Crommelynck was a friend of Picasso’s; he and his family generally visited Picasso from 5 until 8 or 9 in the evening, during which time there was a lot of badinage, but the mood was “pointed” and there were “passionate exchanges.” The etchings featured in the exhibition were a jocular, quasi-pornographic series Raphael and his model, La Fornarina. Apparently Raphael was discovered, err, diddling her, and Picasso has great fun imagining the sort of pretzel-like combination they could have been discovered in. Judging by the number of them on display, I would say these works, from 1969-1970, belong to Picasso’s "Sphincter Phase."
Then it was off to the Musée Gustave Moreau, in the Rue de Rochefoucauld. The Museum is located in the Moreau family townhome. Shortly before his death in 1898, Moreau converted the home into a suitable museum, hung all his works and sketches just so, and bequeathed it to the French State, which opened the museum in 1903. The two top rooms both of them large and high-ceilinged, contained almost 300 Moreau paintings in various states of completion, plus thousands of sketches arranged in cabinets. Moreau, considered a precursor of the symbolists, uses a wild combinations of techniques to embody equally diverse allusions. Byzantine icons in front of imaginary Indian landscapes, for instance. Plus plenty of griffons, unicorns, Persian poets, and the like. Apparently he’s big in Japan, since lots of signs were translated into Japanese. It all makes for a lovely museum visit, although I was pleasantly baffled by some of the more exotic canvases, and by Moreau’s textual descriptions, which are heavy on catalogues of capitalized emotion-words. ("The rose of Love grows out of the swamp of Anguish," etc.).
This part of Montmartre is full of hip, tiny record shops, and when I saw record, I mean good old fasioned round black vinyl. The center of these stores is almost completely occupied by stacks of wooden boxes filled with LPs stacked haphazardly on trestles, plastic delivery crates, or whatever else is on hand. You move around the perimeter, reaching into the sea of plastic LP cases, or turn to the wall display cases. This is where the CDs those soulless metallic imitations of the LP, rest in orderly shelves.
My favorite discovery was Black Cherry Blues, located at 15 rue Chaptal, just across from the Museum de la Vie Romantique. The store contains a mind-breaking collection of funk, soul, jazz, country, western swing, and any other sort of music made by the downtrodden of the U.S., including a healthy selection of LPs from the brothers at Black Jazz Records. The library features books in the following genres: Policier [detective], science-fiction, fantastique, Musique(s). The owners, two aging, bearded Paris hipsters, kicked me out (apologetically and nicely) for their lunch hour, but not before I’d secured title to some skiffle, Isaac Hayes, and Auguste de Breton’s Du Rififi chez les Femmes, which should help me catch up on my early-50s French slang.