Friday, August 23, 2013

The Art Set: Paris History

Charlie at Musée Carnavalet in front of the opulent 1925 murals by José-Maria Sert for the ballroom of the Hôtel Wendel.
The Art Set: Paris History
by Charlie Scheips

One of my favorite places in Paris is the Musée Carnavalet in the Marais district. The museum describes itself as “dedicated to the history of Paris and its inhabitants” and spans from the prehistoric era to the present. I was first taken there by my great, now long departed friend, the art historian, curator and magazine editor Patrice Bachelard.

Patrice Bachelard and Charlie soon after they met.
Patrice was born in 1952 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye just outside of Paris. By the time I met him, and his partner, American-born food authority Gregory Usher, he had already moved on from a distinguished career as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris.

While there Patrice organized major exhibitions from 1977-1982 on a diverse range of contemporary artists as well major surveys of André Derain and Henri Hayden — artists on whom he also published important books. In 1983 he co-founded the art magazine Beaux-Arts — serving as editor-in-chief until 1988.

One day in 1989, after I had just arrived in Paris for a visit, I met Patrice at his office behind the Hôtel de Ville on the rue François-Miron. During lunch, he was shocked when I told him I had never heard of the Musée Carnavalet. He insisted we pay the bill at once and walk a couple blocks away to the museum to rectify this failure in my education.

At that time, Carnavalet had just expanded to include the Hôtel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau next door as well the beautiful garden behind on the rue Payenne. For the past 25 years almost all my stays in Paris have included a visit to this fabulous museum.
The garden behind Carnavalet on the rue Payenne.
The museum takes its name from the Hôtel Carnavalet — the palatial town house first built in 1548 and later purchased by the widow of François de Kernevenoy (pronounced “carnavalet” by Parisians of the era) in 1578. The Veuve de Kernevenoy soon set about to expand and remodel the building with the help of none other than the great French architect François Mansart.

In 1866, on the advice of Baron Haussmann, the great “remodeler” of Paris, the City of Paris purchased the building to house its massive art and artifacts collection. My friend William Foucault’s great-great grandfather, Roger Foucault (1852-1929), was among the group of architects who helped re-design the layout of this complex of buildings before the collections were put on public display in 1880. Currently, the museum’s Carnavalet section is undergoing massive renovations and will re-open this October.
Roger Foucault, architect extraordinaire! The wing of the Carnavalet designed by Roger Foucault.
I decided I could have no better tour guide to the museum than William for another pilgrimage to this amazing place. We started outside in the garden. William pointed out various large fragments installed on the walls and amidst the vegetation. These came from the destruction of the Tuileries Palace of the Louvre which occurred during the Paris Commune of 1871.

There are no plaques explaining this in the garden but I think it might be a very good idea for the museum to do so. Inside, you can see many paintings of the actual destruction of the Tuileries as well as the bloody and gruesome events surrounding the uprising.
Entrance to Carnavalet.
The formal gardens of Carnavalet.
Remnants of the Tuileries Palace. The Sun King in the courtyard.
After making the rounds of the garden, we headed around the corner to the entrance of the museum on the rue de Sévigné. Even before entering the Museum’s massive doors you are confronted by Antoine Coysevox’s 1689 appropriately larger-than-life bronze of Louis XIV standing regally on its stone pedestal in the courtyard dedicated to the Sun King. The first gallery one enters is an amazing collection of four centuries of Paris street signs and the wonderful façade of an old Parisian apothecary.
Parisian signs from four centuries!
Carnavalet is like the Metropolitan Museum for me. Its collections are so rich and diverse that no single visit would allow you to take in everything. Instead, I wander through the galleries and let my eye and current state of mind lead me to things. I always make new discoveries despite dozens of visits over the years. It is an understatement that there is something for just about everyone at Carnavalet.

There is so much to see: furniture, decorative arts, painting, sculpture, military and political artifacts, photography, a huge collection of graphic arts and on and on and on.
Masterpieces from the French Revolution.
Personal artifacts from Louis XVI including his broken shaving dish.
A model of the Bastille prison.
My favorites include artifacts and furniture from Marcel Proust’s cork-lined bedroom; the swaggeringly opulent 1925 murals by José-Maria Sert for the ballroom of the Hôtel Wendel; the over-the-top Napoleon III baby crib created in 1856 for the ill-fated Prince Imperial who was speared to death by Zulus in modern day South Africa in 1879. Another favorite is Pierre-Paul Prudhon’s 1807 portrait of Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord — I equally adore the Metropolitan Museum’s 1817 Prudhon’s portrait of the famous diplomat and personality given to by Jayne Wrightsman in tribute to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Marcel Proust's bedroom.
Imagine Proust writing In Search of Lost Time here.
My friend Virgil Thomson used to also compose music in bed — not something I could do.
Another stunning installation is Alphonse Mucha’s art nouveau masterwork — the Fouquet jewelry shop of 1900. A new discovery for me this visit was the Neolithic wooden canoes discovered along the Seine in Bercy in 1991 — one of them is dated 4800 BC! Carnavalet has a fantastic website where you can explore the collection for hours:
Fouquet's jewelry shop installed at Carnavalet.
It would make me want to buy jewelry!
The museum also puts on wonderful temporary exhibitions — one not to miss will open October 17 through March 16, 2014. Working in collaboration with the Palais Galliera, the city of Paris’s fashion museum, which has been closed for renovations, they will present The Novel of a Wardrobe: Parisian Chic from the Belle Époque to the 1930s.

The exhibition is centered on the wardrobe of Alice Alleaume, the chief saleswoman (vendeuse) from 1912-1923 for the Chéruit haute couture fashion house that was located on the Place Vendôme near the Ritz Hotel. Alice’s mother Adéle was herself a couturiere of the Belle Époque; her elder daughter Hortense was the chief saleswoman at Worth on the Rue de la Paix.
Femme à l'écharpe
Huile sur bois 1900. Anonyme © Droits réservés
Photo © Musée Carnavalet/Roger- Viollet
This amazing collection of dresses by Chéruit, Worth and Lanvin is being seen for the first time ever since it recently entered the collection of the Galliera. It features evening shoes from Hellstern; hats by Alphonsine, Marcelle Demay, Madeleine Panizon and Le Monnier; headbands of Rose Descat; jewelry and myriad of other art and artifacts that will conjur up the chic of Parisian women during this soignée era to life. That, coupled with the reopening of the Hôtel Carnavalet wing of the museum this fall should be reason enough for you to book your flight to Paris now!
Robe du soir (non griffée), début XXème siècle. Mousseline de soie rose, tulle ivoire brodé de paillettes, tulle ivoire, broderies de perles et de strass.
© Stéphane Piera/Galliera/ Roger-Viollet
Chéruit, ensemble, 1921- 1922. Robe en lamé or, ceinture en lamé or et cordonnet jaune et fils métalliques or. Culotte en pongé de soie brun orangé et lamé or. © Stéphane Piera/Galliera/ Roger-Viollet
Jeanne Lanvin, plastron et paire de manchettes « Sèvres », 1934- 1935.
Cabochons en Celluloïd ivoire en pointes de diamants cousus sur un fond en toile de soie ivoire.
© Stéphane Piera/Galliera/ Roger-Viollet
Pierre Brissaud, Entre chiens et loup. Robe de ville de Worth, 1912. Gravure au pochoir coloriée à la gouache, extraite de la Gazette du Bon Ton.
© Pierre Brissaud / Droits réservés © Gazette du Bon ton / Droits réservés Robe © Worth, Paris Photo © Stéphane Piera / Galliera / Roger-Viollet
Jean Béraud, La sortie des ouvrières de la maison Paquin, rue de la Paix, vers 1902. Huile sur bois.
© Musée Carnavalet/ Roger-Viollet
After spending the entire afternoon at Carnavalet, I took the Metro to Montparnasse to have a drink with the wonderful writer Joan Schenkar at the fabled American Bar of the Closerie des Lilas. Originally a post office, this legendary café, surrounded by lilac trees is still a great place to meet. I thought I had arrived early, and took a seat at a table outside near the entrance hoping to spot Joan when she arrived. I I ordered a refreshing pression beer and smoked a few cigarettes happily in the shaded garden. Many of the tables of the Closerie have brass plaques for the famous personalities who frequented the place over the century. If you don’t know the history of the place then you can read more at their website here.
The fabled American Bar of La Closerie des Lilas.
American Bar at La Closerie des Lilas.
I was sitting at Louis Aragon’s table, and as the time passed, I began to worry that there had been some confusion surrounding our rendezvous. I went inside and ... voila there was Joan seated with her newspaper and iPad mini — she had been early too.

I met Joan awhile back at a party in New York at Jesse Kornbluth’s. She is the author of two of the most imaginative biographies I've read: TRULY WILDE: The Unsettling Story of Dolly Wilde, Oscar's Unusual Niece and The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith.

Our drink became a "snacky" dinner with Joan ordering some little round fish cakes and I taking the saucisson and radishes with butter. To learn more about Joan, visit her website here.
Bloomberg nightmare. My heaven.
Brass plates on tables at La Closerie des Lilas.
Du saucisson et des radis avec du pain et du beurre — délicieux!
Afterwards Joan and I strolled down past the Luxembourg Gardens and over to the Metro at Odeon.

On my way home I started to think about Patrice Bachelard again. Just a few nights ago his sister Isabelle, a wine expert and writer in France, came over for dinner at the apartment where I am staying. In 1990, after leaving Beaux Arts, Patrice founded yet another magazine called Muséart — some of my first writing for magazines appeared in its early issues translated into French by Isabelle.

Top: Patrice Bachelard — my great friend!
Above: Gregory Usher with Isabelle Bachelard in the kitchen at Vaupian.
In 1993, Gregory, who was then directing the cooking school of the Ritz Hotel, began suffering from complications from the AIDS virus. Gregory died in 1994 and soon after Patrice learned that he too had been infected. The “boys,” as we called them, had moved from their great apartment on the rue Michel Le Comte to a modern building by Renzo Piano at the rue de Meaux. I came back and stayed for a couple months after Gregory died and Patrice had fallen ill.

One weekend during that visit, Patrice decided we would drive to his country house, Vaupian, that he and Gregory had restored in the late 1980s. Vaupian is located just outside Montoire in the troglodyte hills of the Loir valley. About halfway there, we began to see the towering cathedral of Chartres miles away from the highway. Patrice asked me if I had ever been there for a visit. It was a gloomy day and Patrice wanted to make a rest stop and a phone call — no one had mobile phones yet.

As we approached Chartres, Patrice, who was one of the most cultured men I have ever known, mentioned that the organ of the cathedral was very important. He regretted the cloudy weather as not being the ideal conditions to view the great stained glass windows.

No sooner had we entered the church, the organ suddenly began playing a marvelous J.S. Bach Toccata and Fugue. Patrice was visibly shaken, and had to take a seat. I joked that he had secretly planned this concert for my benefit. “I am not at all religious but ...” he said with tears in his eyes. After he recovered, we slowly walked around the entire cathedral with Patrice pointing out things of interest. Then, just as we came back to the entrance full-circle, the Sun suddenly broke through the clouds and the magnificent central rosette bathed us with multi-colored light. I will never forget it.
The Scheips family enjoying the beauty of the garden at Vaupian: my sister-in-law Sophie, Peter, Pierre, Derek, Teddy, and my late father Charles.
At home at my surrogate sister Isabelle's house in the Loir.
Happy Charlie at Vaupian in the Loir a few years ago. David Hockney drawing me in the kitchen of Vaupian.
Lawns being sprinkled a la David Hockney in France.
Patrice made a last trip to New York before his death. By that time he was very ill. We had a long beautiful dinner at the old Park Bistro. Afterward, even though Patrice was staying uptown, he insisted on taking a taxi to the East Village to see the new apartment I had recently moved into. He approved of my new digs and we hugged goodbye.

Patrice died on May 10, 1995. I was having dinner with our mutual friend Cordula von Keller at artist Michele Zalopany’s apartment at the Chelsea Hotel when we learned the sad news together. The memorial, which I was unable to attend, was at “the artist’s” church of Saint Roch and an "homage to Patrice Bachelard” exhibition was held at the Jeu de Paume. Isabelle inherited Vaupian and it has been the site of many wonderful times despite Patrice and Gregorys' deaths. Their presence is still very much felt there.
Saint-Louis Saint-Paul. The "artist's church" Saint Roch, also host to the Marquis de Sade's wedding in 1763!
A couple of years after Patrice died, I bought an album of Cole Porter singing and playing his own songs. The first time I heard Who Said Gay Paree (1953 for Can-Can) I immediately thought of Patrice and Gregory. Almost 20 years later I still miss these two extraordinary men whose lives were cut way too short. I always said they “gave me” France. I couldn’t write these articles if it hadn’t been for them.

“Who ever knew,
Paris minus you,
Who Said Gay Paree?”