Eugene Boudin at MuMa

Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art

Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art

If you’ve never heard of Eugene Boudin (1824-1898), you’re forgiven. Even Boudin, at the end of his life, recognized rather poignantly that he was destined to be a footnote in the history of modern art.

Yet Boudin does not deserve to be forgotten. Not only was he a source of influence and inspiration for the Impressionists, many of whom he knew and encouraged, but he was a delightful artist in his own right.

Boudin was born in Honfleur, France, and grew up in nearby Le Havre. Although he traveled to paint in Paris and Italy during his career, he returned to the area of his birth frequently; the maritime scenes of Normandy were a lifelong inspiration.

Now the Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art (MuMa) in Le Havre has mounted the first retrospective of Boudin’s works since 1906 and by far the largest, comprising as it does well over 300 works.

The curators have wisely arranged the exhibition chronologically, which allows them to illustrate their notion of Boudin as a “Craftsman of Light.” (The French title is L’Atelier de la Lumiere.)

By Eugene Bodin (Copyright, musee d'art moderne Andre Malraux.)

By Eugene Bodin (Copyright, musee d’art moderne Andre Malraux.)

A well-conceived guide to the exhibition (available in English as well as French) allows the visitor to follow his development. He began as a largely self-taught artist, but attracted the interest of established painters who encouraged him. The town of Le Havre gave him a scholarship to learn his craft by copying Old Masters in the Louvre; as part of his tuition he had to send the city one completed copy a year.

When he married, he spent time with his in-laws in Finnesterre in Brittany where he was fascinated by the austere landscape and sombre Breton interiors. There he produced a series of dark and evocative canvases.

But his first love was the seashore of his native Normandy, whose beaches, harbors, and sailing vessels provided a lifetime of subjects and inspiration. And of course light was a never-ending source of fascination for Boudin. Inspired by the Barbizon School he developed a penchant for painting outdoors, en plein aire in the French phrase, and became one of the pioneers of the method.

Later in his career he created study after study, quick, impressionistic sketches in paint, often used by artists as a sort of rough draft for finished works to be completed later in the studio. But Boudin seldom took the subsequent steps, a tendency for which he expressed some regret as artists were “supposed” to produce finished works.

And yet, by working his way, he anticipated the more informal “impressionistic” style that became Impressionism. His studies of clouds in particular are in essence proto-abstracts and quite lovely.

Boudin exhibit at Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art

Boudin exhibit at Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art

It may not be worth taking a detour to catch this exhibition unless you have a special interest in this little corner of the history of modern art, but if your travels take you to Le Havre it would be a shame to miss it. L’Atelier de La Lumiere offers a rare chance to survey an artist’s entire career (and Boudin was nothing if not prolific) and gain a deeper understanding of the wellsprings of one of the major artistic movements of the late nineteenth century.

boudin-poster copyL’Atelier de La Lumiere runs through September 26, 2016.
Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art
Musee d’Art Moderne André Malraux (MuMa)
Boulevard Clemenceau (on the seafront)
Le Havre




Split: City With a Funny Name

Radic Brothers Square, known locally as Vocni Square, or Fruit Square, because of a fruit market that once operated there.

Radic Brothers Square, known locally as Vocni Square, or Fruit Square, because of a fruit market that once operated there.

SPLIT, Croatia — The second-largest city in Croatia, Split boasts a beautiful site on the Adriatic Sea because a long-ago Roman emperor knew how to choose a spot for living out his retirement years.

A rendering giving an idea of how Diocletian’s Palace probably looked with first built in the late third/early fourth centuries. The south side rose straight from the water.

A rendering giving an idea of how Diocletian’s Palace probably looked with first built in the late third/early fourth centuries. The south side rose straight from the water.

Diocletian, who was born in the area, was unique among Roman emperors: He lived long enough to have a retirement, and he exercised the option.

While still on the job, he built his retirement “home,” a walled palace that covers about seven and a half acres. For about 300 years after his death in 316, the Romans used the property as a luxury hotel of sorts.

In the seventh century, with the Romans gone and marauding tribes on the scene, area residents made a new home inside the palace walls for better protection.

The entire town lived in the palace until people began settling on the outside in the 13th century. Today, 99 percent of Split’s roughly 200,000 people live outside the walls. [Read more…]

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Athens: 19 Hours in the Greek Capital

The tallest hill in Athens, spelled Lykavittos or Lycabettus.

ATHENS, Greece — I spent about 19 hours in Athens this spring, not long, to be sure, but worth the layover just the same.

I traveled from New York on Air France, flying for the first time on the world’s largest passenger airliner, the A380, on the New York-Paris portion of the trip.

The statistics are impressive. The plane is 239 feet, 6 inches long, 79 feet, 1 inch tall and has a wingspan of 261 feet, 10 inches. It carries a whopping 81,890 gallons of fuel.

Built to accommodate passengers on two decks, it can be configured with a three-class layout accommodating 555 passengers. In an all-economy configuration, it could take 840 passengers.

When boarding, I could see the staircase to the seats on the upper level, but once in my place on the first level, the travel experience was much like being in any other widebody aircraft.

One unique feature, however, was the surprisingly nice bathroom. It was small, but seemed like a tiny version of a sleek hotel bathroom.

Acropolis Museum

At the dramatic entrance to Athens’ new Acropolis Museum, visitors walk on the glass that protects and reveals an archaeological dig below their feet.

In Athens, I joined a number of other travel press, and we made the most of a short visit with the help of a very effective tour guide, Natasha Koliakou. It was already after 2 p.m. when we launched our visit.

We headed straight to one of the newest attractions in town, the Acropolis Museum (which replaced an older Acropolis Museum), opened in 2009 and situated below the Acropolis itself.

The museum is fantastic, a thoughtfully designed modern four-story building that houses the treasures collected from the top of the Acropolis.

We entered by walking across very thick glass, which protects an archaeological dig visible below. Also, one section of the dig is walled but open to the sky for better viewing.

Some of the dig is visible under glass sections of the floor inside the museum, too. At one point, curators showed us a traditional offering for the gods through a glass section of the floor. And, in places, lower museum levels could be seen because of see-through floors higher up.

Displays include the originals of five Caryatids, referring to the pillars in the shape of women that were created for the Erechtheion temple.

Because another Caryatid resides in the British Museum, designers of the Athens facility created an empty position in the Caryatid display and await the hoped-for return of the sixth figure.

(Up on the Acropolis, the porch roof on the Erechtheion is still supported by pillars; they are exact replicas of the Caryatids.)

The gallery on the museum’s top floor displays at full length the Parthenon Frieze, a bas-relief in marble of a huge procession. The blocks are about three feet high, but once extended to 525 feet end to end. About 80 percent of that survives. However, more than half the blocks in the Acropolis Museum display are copies because large parts of this

The cafe on the third-floor terrace of the Acropolis Museum.

Taken together, however, the original marble sculptures plus the replicas form a mind-boggling display.

Before departure, we stopped at the outdoor cafe on the third floor for new views of the Parthenon — which was only about 1,000 feet away — and at the city’s tallest hill, Lykavittos (or Lycabettus, depending on the source).

Natasha told us that while Lykavittos is the tallest of the hills, the ancients preferred the second highest, called Acropolis which means top and city, because it had a natural plateau and a source of water at its foot.

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Amsterdam Getaway

Forget the Hamptons. Amsterdam is my candidate for the best long weekend getaway for hip and jaded New Yorkers. In just a few hours more than it takes to drive to Montauk on a busy Friday, you can arrive in this splendid little city of canals, art, and wall to wall charm. And given the cost of a summer share in the Hamptons, it’s probably not much more expensive.

[Read more…]

Amsterdam Getaway (cont’d) Museums

You can see those keyhole views for yourself in Amsterdam’s premier temple of art, the Rijksmuseum, the must-see museum for any first-time visitor.

At the moment (and until 2008!), the Rijks (as its is affectionately known) is in the midst of a major renovation, prompted by the discovery that the contractor responsible for an earlier revamping had left most of the asbestos intact. In the interim, the museum is presenting “The Masterpieces” in the compact Philips Wing.

[Read more…]

Self Portraits at London’s National Portrait Gallery

self portraits

London’s National Portrait Gallery is offering a small but attractive special exhibit that explores self-portraiture through the ages, from Van Eyck, the man who invented oil painting in the fifteenth century, to the brutal images of Francis Bacon and other rigorously unsentimental contemporary artists.

Painters turned out self portraits for an intriguing variety of reasons. For female artists, they were a necessary evil since women were denied access to live figure models until late in the nineteenth century — too unseemly, you know. For women, self portraits also served as advertisements in the days when commissions were hard to come by.

[Read more…]

A Very British Soap Opera

Note: I am generally suspicious of those “chain jokes” that endlessly make the rounds of the Internet, but one that recently landed in my in box caught my eye. I cannot vouch for the veracity of what follows, but it purports to be an actual correspondence carried out between the guest of a London hotel and its staff.

True or not, it has the saving grace of being amusing.

— Kelly Monaghan

Dear Maid,

Please do not leave any more of those little bars of soap in my bathroom since I have brought my own bath-sized Dial. Please remove the six unopened little bars from the shelf under the medicine chest and another three in the shower soap dish. They are in my way.

Thank you,

S. Berman

[Read more…]

Visit Europe? Stay Home? Why Not RV and Do Both?

RV Europe

European campgrounds welcome RVers.

Is it cheaper to tour Europe than to sit at home watching TV?

Not quite. But Adelle and Ron Milavsky have twice proven that you can do it for very little more. In 2002, the two adventurers spent 83 days seeing France and the Benelux countries in depth for less than four thousand dollars more than it would have cost them to stay home. They did it again in 2003, spending 77 days in the British Isles.

Their secret? They took their own RV to Europe.

“If you want to tour Europe comfortably for six weeks or more, there’s no cheaper way than taking your own RV,” say Adelle and Ron, who have the receipts to prove it. “And you can’t beat the comfort and convenience of traveling in your own home on wheels.”

[Read more…]