The Swedish Institute

Behind this dark entrance in the Marais area is a paved court… and a 16th century building, “Hôtel de Marle” (hôtel = private mansion). It was bought by the Swedish State in 1965, was renovated during several years and opened to public in 1971 as the “Le Centre Culturel Suédois”, today  L’Institut Suédois” (The Swedish Institute).

In the summer and during the day it looks different. You are welcome there to see expositions, have a coffee with some Swedish pastry… or just visit.

I went there the other evening, once again with my friends from the “Association Aritistique Suédoise à Paris” (see previous post) for an exhibition by some Swedish “comic strips” artists.

“Comic strips” is possibly not the best way to translate what in French is called “bandes dessinées”; this kind of art is today definitely far from always comic, funny. “Drawn strips” is maybe a better translation and what is produced today must often rather be considered as “graphic novels". There is a big market for this in France. In January there is an annual festival in Angoulème in the south-west of France, the biggest one in Europe, with several hundred thousands of visitors and where several thousands of cartoonists and other professionals meet, expose…

This year a group of Swedish artists made a special exhibition in Angoulème with August Strindberg as a common theme. This exhibition can now be seen at the Swedish Institute in Paris and that was the reason for our visit.

Do I need to say something about August Strindberg? If you wish you can go here, but just a few words: Swedish playwright, novelist, poet, essayist, 1849-1912. The hundredth anniversary of his death is thus now celebrated, including in France (expositions, theatre plays…). Strindberg spent several years in Paris and its surroundings, wrote some of his works in French, became befriended with painters and was portrayed by some of them like Eduard Munch, Carl Larsson (see previous post), Anders Zorn (see previous post)

… and he was a great painter himself, with a limited production, often of with the sea as motive.  At least two of his paintings can be seen at the Orsay Museum.

One of the exhibiting cartoonists, whom we met, Knut Larsson, was executing another portrait of Strindberg on a wall of the stairs of the Institute. Knowing Strindberg’s excited life and excited sea paintings, it’s easy to understand why he portrayed him emerging from a wild sea.

We were guided around to see the works of the other participating artists.

Maybe some particular words about what our guide, Knut Larsson, presented at this exhibition: Strindberg much appreciated a painting by the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin, “Die Totelinsel” (Isle of the Dead). Böcklin made five versions during the years 1880-86. The one you see below once “belonged” to Hitler and is now exposed in Berlin. One was lost during WWII, the other ones can be seen at Basle, Leipzig and NYC (MMA). These paintings later inspired a lot of people (Dali, Ernst, Rachmaninoff…), but already in 1907 Strindberg wrote a never finished play with the same name and this is what inspired Knut Larsson. There is an obvious link between this Strindberg’s unfinished play and the finished one, also from 1907, “The Ghost Sonata”, which is supposed to end with the image of “Die Totelinsel” and to be accompanied by Beethoven’s “Ghost Trio”.

At last, we went up the beautiful stairs to the upper floor for a glass of wine … and we could of course also admire the beauty of the room as such, decorated by paintings (permanently) lent by Swedish museums and institutes.

Perhaps a special glance at the portrait of René Descartes (Cartesius), painted during his short stay in Stockholm with Queen Christina, before he died there in 1650 of pneumonia during the Swedish winter…. and the ceiling, which was one of the nice surprises during the renovation of the building.


Give your vote... please!

I have already posted (on my previous blog and on this one) on Place de Vendôme and the Vendôme Column.

Passing by a dull afternoon last week, I thought I should try some different illustrations of the column and then check which one you possibly prefer.

But first, maybe a few words about the column: It was originally erected by Napoleon to celebrate his victory at Austerlitz (1805). The 425 spiraling bas-relief bronze plates and the statue of Napoleon as a Roman Emperor and “peace-maker” on the top were made out of cannons taken from enemy armies. When Napoleon had abdicated and the Royalty was back, his statue was pulled down (and the bronze was used for the recast of the equestrian statue of Henry IV on the Pont Neuf (see previous post). Later in the 1830’s, during King Louis-Philippe’s reign, a replacement statue of Napoleon in a “modern” dress took place, again replaced by another more heroic version in the 1850’s during Napoleon III’s reign. Then, in 1871 (the Paris Commune), the whole column and statue were taken down (the bronze plates were preserved), finally to be re-erected in 1874 with a copy of the original statue on the top. (A copy of the original statue has been preserved.)

Addendum March 2: I learnt that the Napoleon statue you can find at the Invalides is the one which in the 1830's was on top of the column. See previous post: http://www.peter-pho2.com/2011/12/arch-of-triumph-something-more.html

So, back to my question: Which illustration do you prefer? If I give the top picture the number 1 – not necessarily my own choice, this one would be number 2…

… followed by number 3…

… number 4…

… number 5…

… number 6…

… number 7…

… number 8…

… and number 9.

Sorry, there is nothing to win except my gratitude for having commented and possibly “voted”.


Spidermen and -women

I have the pleasure to be a member of the “Association Artistique Suédoise à Paris”. It’s an association with the task to support Swedish artists working in France - sponsoring, organizing exhibitions and visits to artist workshops, buying art for a lottery among members…. Now and then there are also some events, which are not necessarily linked to Sweden. This was the case last week, when we visited “104 – Centquatre” (the name comes from the address, 104, rue d’Aubervilliers).

The place we visited is since 2008 an artistic centre for the City of Paris. I made a post about it just after the opening. The place is a bit off the road and had some beginner difficulties which now seem to be overcome. A lot of cultural and artistic activities are now taking place in these large premises of which the major part dates from 1873 and then were occupied by undertaker services. From 1905 on, when the separation of Church and State took place in France, the undertaking services were managed by the City of Paris, having the city monopoly until 1993. All funeral services ended here in 1997. During its peak days, some 1400 people worked here.

So, it was fortunately decided not to destroy these remarkable buildings and after a few years of reconstruction, the place was thus opened in 2008 for its new tasks.

Apart from the large halls there are a lot of smaller spaces where artists can perform, exhibit … and work, prepare, rehearse…

Other activities include shops, cafés … and a nursery-garden, where kids - and parents – are “taught” how to play.

With our group we went for a moment down to the basement (which once was a stable for some 300 horses) and where we tried a labyrinth made of corrugated cardboard.

An ongoing exhibition, “In_perception”, offered three points to visit, all with the idea to draw the attention to the difference between perception and reality.

The first one (created by Leandro Erlich) is a false building, laying on the ground and mirrored. This is of course how different fiction heroes are filmed and our group members enjoyed playing Spidermen and Spiderwomen....  (The "real" Spiderman was not present, but I thought I had to add him, giving a helping hand to the president of the association.)

...the second one (created by Lawrence Malstaf) is again some kind of a labyrinth, sometimes with mirrors, sometimes not, which leads to some surprises… sometimes you see yourself, sometimes someone else… or nobody....

… and the third one (created by Veronica Janssens) brought us into a large room, full of dense “fog”. The camera saw better than my eyes, but even so I couldn’t see my feet.  The “fog” changed colours from grey, to blue-green and finally red. This makes you aware of the difficulty to find your way, only making use of other senses than the sight.  

Well, we found the exit.


A fun fair museum

This area, Bercy, used since the beginning of the 18th century to be Paris’ major wine storage and market… This was then outside the Paris borders and alcohol was for a long time tax free, so it was not only a place for merchants, but also a place of “guinguettes”; bistros and bars. Bercy developed to be the world’s largest wine market. Wine arrived in large barrels by road, rail … and by the nearby river Seine.

During the last decades the area has been transformed into a park (see previous posts) and only a few of the old warehouses (and rail tracks) remain.

At one end of the park you find some of the old warehouses transformed into a large number of shops and restaurants (Cours Saint Emilion), and then if you cross the street behind you see some more warehouses. Looking through the gate (see top picture) you wonder…

If you take the walk around the block, you will reach the real entrance to what is named “Les Pavillons de Bercy”. The buildings date from the end of the 19th century and have an assistant to Gustave Eiffel as architect. They have now been transformed into some kind of gigantic fun fair museum.

It has all been created by an antique-dealer, restaurant owner, who since some 30-40 years has collected all kinds of historic fun fair equipment from France and abroad … and on a large scale. The place is full of complete and important installations, carefully restored.

The first pleasure is just to walk between the buildings. In each window there is a little statue…

The decorations and the light settings are impressive…

No plastic around; the merry-go-round horses are in light linden-tree wood and the original paintings have been made visible…

You can watch some automated singing, dancing and playing…

Some walls are covered by wax figures from the Grévin Museum…

Some machines are really impressive…  Everything works and kids (and adults) can enjoy!

The below “bicycle-merry-go-round” (from 1875) has needed thousands of hours of restoration. It’s up to you to use the pedals. The speed you reach is amazing … and must have been felt even more amazing those days.

Surprisingly, the place is not permanently open. You'd better call (+33143401622) and check for an arranged tour. I was just lucky to pass by at the beginning of a guided tour. Next time I will bring the grandkids.