Art in London

Sunday, after a relatively low-key weekend, I decided, kind of off the cuff, to go into London for the day. There was nothing I really went in for — other than some Christmas shopping — but I figured I’d wing it.

I had planned to shop a bit at the big Waterstones bookstore right off Trafalgar Square, but unfortunately, they didn’t open until noon. Having some time to kill, I wandered down the Strand. The skating rink at Somerset House was packed, so I ducked into the courtyard for a couple of photos. I noticed on the way out that the Courtauld Gallery inside the Somerset House complex was open. Intrigued, having never visited before, I went in to take a look. As a student, I got in free, which is always a bonus.

Paul Cézanne's "The Cardplayers"

Paul Cézanne's "The Cardplayers"

If you haven’t been able to tell before now, I’m something of an art enthusiast. I’ve never taken a formal art class — either history or practice — but I’ve been to several of the major galleries of Europe and developed a taste for viewing pieces. Italian Renaissance art and French Impressionism are my two favorite categories.

The Courtauld Gallery is comparatively small, but I was impressed with its pieces. The Gothic religious art, namely several triptychs and polyptychs, and its collection of Peter Paul Rubens paintings are excellent. The Impressionist collection, particularly a few Renoir works, was also awesome to see. A Botticelli painting depicting Christ being lowered from the crucifix featured a portrayal of Mary Magdalene I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a painting, with her hair loose around her in typical Botticelli waves.

The real experience at the gallery, though, was the fabulous short-term exhibit on Paul Cézanne’s “The Cardplayers.” Cézanne is one of those painters whose style is so defined, you can immediately identify his work. I’m a fan of his still-lifes in particular. “The Cardplayers” is a series of paintings depicting French rural peasants playing cards (obviously). The exhibit showed Cézanne’s process, including pencil “cartoons” (early sketches) of the figures and other portraits he had done of the subjects. At the time, his treatment of the peasant class was somewhat cutting-edge, especially given that he often depicted them in more genteel settings, such as his studio or a country house.

After I finished there, I walked (it was nice!) to the Tate Modern. I’m not normally enthusiastic about post-Impressionist work, but I had yet to see Salvadore Dali’s “Metamorphosis of Narcissus” and the Andy Warhol exhibit. After a quick espresso in the cafe, I headed upstairs to view the Dali painting.

The painting has one of the most clever visual tricks I’ve seen. On the one hand, you can see the kneeled figure of Narcissus, who in Greek mythology fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and drowned. The gods turned him into the narcissus flower. On the other side, you see a hand gripping a cracked egg, from which emerges a narcissus flower. Though the two figures are different, they are, in terms of shape, mirrors of each other.

Salvadore Dali's "Metamorphosis of Narcissus"

Salvadore Dali's "Metamorphosis of Narcissus"

I next visited the Warhol exhibit, a room plastered with gauche cow-print wallpaper that Warhol concocted after a friend told him that “no one does pastoral work anymore.” A self-portrait is there, as well as a camouflage installation, a stark black and yellow painting of a dollar sign, and a visceral (tinted with red, like blood) painting of two guns, done after the artist was shot by an admirer.

I spent the rest of the day roaming the city, going across the Millennium Bridge, having lunch at Chipotle (where else), getting a gingerbread cupcake at the Hummingbird (of which I’m now the mayor on Foursquare), walking through St. James’s Park and through Westminster and Whitehall (luckily the student protests have died down), browsing books at Waterstones and going down to the Imperial War Museum to view its Holocaust and crimes against humanity exhibits, in preparation for my human rights class next term.

Another great day in the city.

Advertisements

Paris: Day Four

Read about the first, second and third days in Paris.

Monday, our long weekend in Paris came to a close.

Lauren and I rode the Metro to Gare du Nord and stashed our bags in a locker, so they’d be safe and we wouldn’t have to carry them . We had breakfast — crepes, coffee and apple juice — at a cafe by the train station.

We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon up in Monmarte, visiting the beautiful Sacre Coeur basilica, which is on a hill and can be seen from across the city, and walking around the district. We stopped outside the Moulin Rouge for photos.

We had heard about good flea and farmers markets in Marais, but unfortunately the ones in which we were interested were closed.

Our next stop was the area around the national opera. After taking photos of the building’s exterior (the interior of lovely also), we visited the Apple store for the free WiFi and got coffee at a very opulent Starbucks. We’re talking chandeliers, tiles ceilings, shiny metal fixtures. It was swank. I also dragged Lauren into the United Colors of Benetton and picked up my souvenir of the trip — a UCoB shirt with “Paris” on it. I have one from London, too. It may just be my new collection.

With the afternoon left to kill, we went back to the Eiffel Tower so Lauren could see it in the daylight. It was so cloudy out that going to the top would have been pointless, as the view would have been obscured, so we hung around down at the bottom, took photos and watched souvenir peddlers run away from the police. Good times.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We walked across the Seine to the Trocadero, a complex of gardens and museums. The complex has an impressive history in international affairs — the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed there in 1948, and it also housed the first headquarters of NATO.

Lauren and I had one last late lunch together in a restaurant off the Trocadero, before heading back to Gare du Nord. I set up shop in a cafe with a coffee and a croissant, waiting for my train depart. Lauren took an overground commuter train to Orly, from where she was flying back to Germany.

So there you have it. Four eventful days in Paris. Très bon, oui?

Paris: Day Three

Read about the first day in Paris and the second day in Paris.

Sorry for taking so long to finish writing about our trip! I’ve been busy with homework and group projects.

The third day in Paris, Sunday, was very overcast and rainy. We took it easy and didn’t try to do too much.

Lauren had found a quirky expat American diner over in the Marais neighborhood, called Breakfast in America. We were going to have lunch there (we slept in on Sunday, go us), but it was pretty busy, so we decided to try again at dinner.

We ended up having a full English breakfast for lunch at a British pub, also in Marais. I had orange juice, coffee, hash browns, toast, an egg and rashers. Lauren had orange juice, an egg, toast, a tomato and beans.

After that we went to the l’Orangerie art gallery, a smaller gallery right off the Tuileries. Again, because of our EU residency and age, we got in free. The l’Orangerie has a few large, long rooms with Monet paintings set in panorama. The effect is pretty awesome. It also has a smaller permanent collection of Impressionist art and a temporary exhibit. The temporary exhibit when we visited was the photography of German artist Heinrich Kühn. The photos, which came from the early age of photography, looked almost like paintings. The exhibit followed Kühn’s work as it adapted to changes in technique. We both agreed that it was cool to see a German artist featured with so many French, Italian and Dutch ones.

We spent the afternoon at the Orsay, a largely Impressionist gallery built in an old train station. We had sodas and snacks at the cafe and looked at the Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Gaughin, Cezanne and Matisse works. The Orsay also features a lot of “practical art,” such as furniture and household decorations and items.

The galleries don’t allow photos of the art, so today’s a little light on photos. Sorry!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We went back to the flat to rest before going back to Breakfast in America. This time we were seated almost immediately. The diner’s story is interesting. An American film-maker founded it, because he missed American comfort food when he was studying in Paris. It’s largely financed by people in the tech side of the entertainment industry.

Lauren and had a California wrap, fries and a Dr. Pepper. I had a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke. Heavenly. For dessert, she had a brownie and I had a slice of cheesecake. It was a fun little place.

We ended Sunday night with a visit to the Eiffel Tower, which I’d never seen at night, for photographs.