Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sublimely Off Topic

Political news seems to be in abeyance pending the U.S. elections, so I'll mention a cultural event that I wish I were in Paris to see: the Van Dyck exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-André. The thirty Van Dyck portraits and dozen drawings on display would alone be worth the detour, but I also have a special fondness for the museum in all its splendid, gaudy excess. For one thing, I translated Zola's La Curée, and the home of financier Aristide Siccard therein described bears an uncanny resemblance to the erstwhile home of banker Édouard André, even though Zola places the house on the Parc Monceau, which is actually a short distance away from the museum's location on the boulevard Hausmann. For another, I like the romantic love story between André and the portrait painter Nellie Jacquemart, who painted his portrait and then married him more than a decade later. Together they scoured Europe for the works of art that now fill the house and stand as a monument to their marriage.

André, a scion of la Haute Banque Protestante, had nothing in common with Zola's vulgar upstart Siccard except his southern origins. His highly cultivated taste was already out of fashion in his own day, but it has left us eclectic post-moderns with a remarkable specimen of high-capitalist nostalgia for pre-capitalist magnificence. If any of you Parisians go to the show, I recommend reading La Curée first and then trying to imagine the extraordinary scene of incestuous seduction that Zola sets in the Jacquemart-André solarium, which he populates with a range of exotic plants drawn from a catalog of the Jardin des Plantes across town. Of course he never set foot in the building that he describes in such detail, relying instead on newspaper accounts of the André galas.

No comments: