Archive for the ‘Vincent van Gogh’ Tag

1st – 4th March 2017 – Paris part 2 and Versailles   Leave a comment

In the last post I described the first three days of our trip to Paris which involved both sightseeing and a visit to my friend John at nearby L’Isle Adam, whom I have known since 1969.

This post covers the remaining three days with more visits to Paris and to the Palace of Versailles.

 

On 1st March John drove us to the Palace of Versailles about an hour’s drive to the south-west of L’Isle Adam. These golden gates were torn down during the French Revolution and have only recently been restored.

 

Once past the golden gates we could clearly see imposing facade of Louis XIV’s famous palace. From Wikipedia: The Palace of Versailles, Château de Versailles, or simply Versailles is a royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France. When the château was built, Versailles was a small village dating from the 11th century; today, however, it is a wealthy suburb of Paris, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) southwest of the centre of the French capital (point zero at square in front of Notre Dame). Versailles was the seat of political power in the Kingdom of France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved the royal court from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789, within three months after the beginning of the French Revolution. Versailles is therefore famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.

 

We expected rain to arrive in the afternoon so planned to visit the extensive gardens first. However the rain had already started by the time we got there so our time in the gardens was fairly short.

 

Not only was cold and wet with very low light levels but as it was still winter little was in leaf or in bloom ….

 

…. even so the statues, lakes and ornamental gardens exuded grandeur.

 

However grandeur takes on a whole new meaning once you enter the Château and see the chapel ….

 

…. and that theme continues when you enter the state rooms with their majestic murals and ….

 

…. wonderfully decorative ceilings.

 

I took so many pictures of these extraordinary rooms that it is difficult to know which to use.

 

One of the most celebrated rooms is the King’s bedchamber. In the highly stylised ceremonial traditions of the Ancien Régime’s absolute monarchy, Louis XIV just about ran the country from his bedroom.

 

Imagine waking up to this on your ceiling!

 

But the most famous room of all, perhaps the most famous room in any palace anywhere in the world, is the Hall of Mirrors.

 

From Wikipedia: the principal feature of this hall is the seventeen mirror-clad arches that reflect the seventeen arcaded windows that overlook the gardens. Each arch contains twenty-one mirrors with a total complement of 357 used in the decoration of the galerie des glaces. The arches themselves are fixed between marble pilasters whose capitals depict the symbols of France. These gilded bronze capitals include the fleur-de-lys and the Gallic cockerel or rooster. Many of the other attributes of the Hall of Mirrors were lost to war for financial purposes, such as the silver table pieces and guéridons, which were melted by order of Louis XIV in 1689 to finance the War of the League of Augsburg.

 

Used mainly for ceremonial reasons this hall is simply stunning.

 

Another impressive room was the 120m long Gallery of Battles intended to glorify French military history from the Battle of Tolbiac c496 to the Battle of Wagram in 1809.Gallery of Battles, with its 30+ panels (but no panels depicting Waterloo or WW1 or WW2!).

 

From Wikipedia: The Battle of Wagram (5–6 July 1809) was a military engagement of the Napoleonic Wars that ended in a decisive victory for Emperor Napoleon I’s French and allied army against the Austrian army under the command of Archduke Charles of Austria-Teschen. Try as I might, it is very difficult to photograph a painting when other members of the public are milling around it and get all the angles perfectly straight.

 

After three days of rather wet weather, Thursday 2nd was warm and sunny and we took the opportunity to see the obligatory tourist highlights.  We took the Metro to the Trocadero but low sun spoilt the view of the Eiffel Tower.

 

However by crossing the Seine to the Champ de Mars we had great views. However Margaret, who suffers from vertigo, didn’t fancy a trip to the top (or even to the first stage) and as I’ve been to the top several times we gave it a miss.

 

From Wikipedia: The Eiffel Tower is a wrought iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. Constructed from 1887–89 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was initially criticized by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but it has become a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world. The Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world; 6.91 million people ascended it in 2015. The tower is 324 metres tall, about the same height as an 81-storey building, and the tallest structure in Paris. Its base is square, measuring 125 metres on each side. During its construction, the Eiffel Tower surpassed the Washington Monument to become the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years until the Chrysler Building in New York City was finished in 1930. Due to the addition of a broadcasting aerial at the top of the tower in 1957, it is now taller than the Chrysler Building by 5.2 metres. Excluding transmitters, the Eiffel Tower is the second-tallest structure in France after the Millau Viaduct. The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second levels. The top level’s upper platform is 276 m above the ground – the highest observation deck accessible to the public in the European Union. Tickets can be purchased to ascend by stairs or lift to the first and second levels. The climb from ground level to the first level is over 300 steps, as is the climb from the first level to the second. Although there is a staircase to the top level, it is usually only accessible by lift.

 

From underneath, looking up at the restaurant on the first stage.

 

From the Champ de Mars we crossed the Seine and could look back at the museums of the Trocadero.

 

Soon we reached the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. This is the view to the east looking towards the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre ….

 

And this is the view to the west towards the Arc du Triomphe.

 

TheArc du Triomphe stands in the centre of Place Charles de Gaule and commemorates those who fought and died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Twelve avenues radiate out from the Place, however again Margaret didn’t want to go to the top to see the view.

 

We caught the Metro to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmartre. By now we were pretty foot sore, here Margaret stops to rest her feet and admire a pigeon.

 

From Wikipedia: The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris commonly known as simply Sacré-Cœur is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in Paris. A popular landmark, the basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Sacré-Cœur is a double monument, political and cultural, both a national penance for the defeat of France in the 1871 Franco-Prussian War and the socialist Paris Commune of 1871 crowning its most rebellious neighbourhood, and an embodiment of conservative moral order, publicly dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was an increasingly popular vision of a loving and sympathetic Christ. The Sacré-Cœur Basilica was designed by Paul Abadie. Construction began in 1875 and was finished in 1914. It was consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919.

The church is on the highest point of the City of Paris and the view is excellent.

 

The narrow streets and courtyards of Montmartre are well known for their quaint shops and picturesque appearance ….

 

…. none more so than the Place du Tertre which is packed with artists trying sell their wares to the tourists.

 

Once the centre of Paris’s modern art movement, now you are accosted at every step by an artist who wants to paint your portrait or caricature. One told Margaret he could make her look like the Mona Lisa.

 

Descending the hill we arrived at Place Pigale, famous for its many nightclubs, none more so than the Moulin Rouge ….

 

…. although some of the clubs we passed looked rather more seedy.

 

John had agreed to meet up with a couple of his old friends from work and had come into Paris to meet them. we met up with him at the Gare du Lyons and from there he showed us another part of Paris where he once lived (and where I twice visited him in the 70s). We entered the enormous Printemps store, not because we wanted to buy anything ….

 

…. but because John wanted to show us the wonderful stain glass dome on the top floor.

 

We met up with John’s friends Quan (centre right) and Lily (right) in an Irish bar and then went to another place to eat, it was a very pleasant evening with most enjoyable company.

 

On the way back we passed the Opera House and La Madeleine (above), a church built to celebrate the glory of Napoleon’s Army. Unfortunately one side was covered for renovation.

 

On Friday 3rd we caught the Metro to the east end of the CH and walked across the Seine to Les Invalides.

 

From Wikipedia: Les Invalides commonly known as Hôtel national des Invalides, is a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building’s original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the Dôme des Invalides, a large church with the burial site for some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte.

 

Louis XIV had this royal chapel with its beautiful dome built in 1708. Beyond the crucifix and the glass panel is the much plainer chapel (as apparently ‘fits their status’) built for the war veterans.

 

Below the dome now rests the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon died and was buried on St Helena in 1821 where he had been exiled by the British. In 1840 permission was granted for his remains to be returned to Paris where a state funeral was held.

 

We visited Napoleon’s original burial site on St Helena as part of our Atlantic Odyssey in April 2016. There can’t be that many people who have been to both of his burial-places within 12 months! Interesting this site along with Longwood House where Napoleon lived have been declared French sovereign territory meaning that there has to be an honorary French consul on the islands to administer them!

 

We didn’t have enough time to look at all the French military museums so waked across the imposing courtyard and back to the north bank of the Seine. Interestingly one facade was covered for renovation but the coverings were a fabric printed with an image of the original building, so from a distance the grandeur of the place was maintained.

 

Place de La Concorde is the largest public square in Paris. Constructed in 1755 to honour Louis XV it was renamed Place de la Révolution in the French Revolution. The new revolutionary government erected the guillotine in the square, and it was here that King Louis XVI and many others were executed.

 

We also paid a visit to the nearby Musée de l’Orangerie to see more impressionist and post impressionist paintings. This is Renoir’s ‘Portrait de deux fillettes’.

 

But the main attraction and the reason we had come was to see the eight panels of water lilies painted by Monet. These are housed in two oval shaped rooms each containing two long and shorter panels. Here art students practice their Monet technique with varying degrees of success.

 

Close to the painting just look a mess of colour but seen from a distance they are a delight.

 

Another painting we saw, not that day but earlier in the week at the Musee d’Orsay was van Gogh’s wonderful ‘The Church at Auvers’ ….

 

…. after we returned from Paris John picked us up and took us to the nearby village of Auvers where we saw the church the painting was based on. Using a wide-angle setting has meant that the verticals in my photo as are almost as wobbly as in van Gogh’s rendition.

 

In the village we visited the simple grave site where Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theodore are buried. Surprisingly no ornate tomb in Cimetière du Père Lachaise for one of the world’s best ever artists.

 

All that was left to do on the 4th was to get the train back to Gare du Nord and get the Eurostar to London and the bus home to Poole.

 

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It had been a very enjoyable week and quite a change from the usual birdwatching trips. Margaret very much enjoyed her first visit to Paris and I was able to visit a few places for the first time and see many wonderful sites once more. It was also great to meet up with John and Florence once again and we thank them for their hospitality.

25th – 28th February 2017 – Paris part 1   Leave a comment

I have visited Paris at least five times, the first on a school exchange visit the remainder to see my friend John who has lived near there for much of the past forty years, but Margaret has never been, so a week staying with John whilst we ‘did the sights’.

Rather than fly, we travelled to Paris on the Eurostar and John met us at Gare du Nord.

 

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Here we are with John and his wife Florence at their home in L’Isle Adam. I first met John in 1969, we shared accommodation for four years at University in Leeds. After graduating he moved to Paris, after a spell back in the UK he returned to France and eventually settled in L’Isle Adam, a pretty town on the banks of the River Oise some 40km north of Paris.

 

That evening we went into L’Ise Adam and had a meal at a restaurant by the River Oise.

 

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The following morning John took for a walk around the town that has been his home for the last twenty years. This is the town hall.

 

he local market was full of delicious cheeses, sausages and fruit. Margaret was quite taken by the wide choice and was keen to sample what was on offer.

 

Being a Sunday John was able to drive us into the centre of Paris – although we got caught up with a Mardis Gras festival.

 

Not the cultural experience you would expect in the capital of France.

 

We visited the famous Cimetière du Père Lachaise to the east of the city centre, the world’s most visited cemetery.

 

The cemetery holds a remarkable number of tombs of famous French artists, musicians and politicians plus some foreigners who have died in the city. We didn’t have time to seek out graves of the twenty or so famous people who I was familiar with but we did locate the final resting place of Oscar Wilde (traditionally female fans of his works kissed the enormous headstone wearing bright red lipstick, but due to the fear of damage the headstone has been encased in glass).

 

We passed the tomb of Frédéric Chopin (John tells a wonderful story of an old school friend of his whose life’s ambition was to play Chopin’s ‘Revolutionary’ in the middle of a pub brawl and he actually succeeded in doing so).

 

But the tomb we wanted most to see was that of rock star and poet Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors who died in Paris in 1971 at the age of 27. The original tomb was covered in graffiti by fans and the stone bust of the singer was stolen in 1988. The entire tomb was replaced in 1990 and fenced off from the public. The Greek inscription translates as translated as ‘faithful to his spirit’ or ‘against the devil within’.

 

Later we headed to the Place de la Bastille, the site of the former prison which was stormed at the start of the French Revolution on the 14th July 1789. The monument was unfortunately partially hidden by hoardings, presumably for renovation.

 

Nearby is the new Bastille Opera House.

 

We took a wander around the area where John first lives when he worked in Paris in the mid 70s and passed his old (somewhat basic) flat that I stayed at in 1974. The area has had a major facelift in the intervening 43 years.

 

This bottle store looked quite enticing (because its attractively backlit – not because it full of booze!)

 

On the Monday Margaret and I headed into Paris on the train and visited the Louvre. It was a very wet but at least we would be inside ….

 

…. however we hadn’t bargained for the hour long wait in the rain to get in. Paris is still on a heightened security alert and all bags are searched before entering historic buildings.

 

The Louvre is one of the most important (and one of the most rambling) museums in the world and is packed to the brim with countless priceless works of art including this gallery of French sculptures ….

 

…. these bronze statues known as ‘the Four Captives’ are by Dutch sculptor Martin Van Den Bogaert and represent four nations: Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, Brandenburg and the Dutch Republic defeated by the armies of Louis XIV. Originally in one of Louis XIV’s palaces the statue was brought to Les Invalides and then to the Louvre. Each of the four statues is supposed to portray a different aspect of defeat.

 

…. and mosaics.

 

There are also galleries of wonderful Assyrian (above), Greek and Roman sculptures …

 

Not forgetting, of course, the iconic Venus de Milo. The following is from Wikipedia: an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. Created sometime between 130 and 100 BCE, it is believed to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty (Venus to the Romans). It is a marble sculpture, slightly larger than life size at 203 cm (6 ft 8 in) high. Part of an arm and the original plinth were lost following its discovery. From an inscription that was on its plinth, it is thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch; earlier, it was mistakenly attributed to the master sculptor Praxiteles. It is currently on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The statue is named after the Greek island of Milos, where it was discovered.

 

Of course the Louvre is better known for its vast collection of paintings, none more famous that the Mona Lisa, a portrait of Lisa Gherardini by Leonardo de Vinci, painted between 1503 and 1506. Considered the most famous and most valuable (estimated at $880,000,000) painting in the world, it has been in the Louvre since 1797 (apart for a time in the early 20th century when it was stolen by an employee).

 

Due to a number of attempts to damage the painting over the years it is now enclosed in a climate controlled chamber behind bullet proof glass. Just getting to see this masterpiece is tricky due to the huge crowds that throng the Louvre. Of course people want a photo but why do they have to use a selfie stick to get themselves in the picture!

 

We could have spent several hours more looking at these treasures but after a few hours you get museum-fatigue and your brain can take in no more. If I lived in Paris I would go regularly and do one section thoroughly each time. Rather than leave via the main entrance we descended to the shopping mall below which led directly to the Metro. If we had known about this initially we could have avoided the long queue or at least if there had been a long queue, stood in it out of the rain.

 

All underground systems have their buskers, most of which are totally ignored by people rushing to or from their place of work, but the standard of musicianship in the Metro was outstanding, particularly this opera singer who was giving a rendition worthy of a concert hall (yes, we did give her a tip).

 

Although still wet, the weather wasn’t as bad the following day so we headed for the  Île de la Cité ….

 

… and the Palais du Justice.

 

Within its grounds is the Concergerie, which was used as a prison during the Revolution to hold those awaiting the guillotine, and preserves the cell that held Marie Antoinette.

 

We also visited one of the best churches in Paris, indeed in the world – Sainte Chapelle. The lower chapel where you enter is pleasant enough ….

 

…. and has a highly decorated ceiling ….

 

…. but when you ascend the narrow spiral staircase to the upper chapel your breath is taken away. This was on a dull day, imagine it in full sunshine with the light streaming through the windows.

 

From Wikipedia: The Sainte-Chapelle is a royal chapel in the Gothic style, within the medieval Palais de la Cité, the residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century, on the Île de la Cité in the heart of Paris, France. Begun some time after 1238 and consecrated on 26 April 1248, the Sainte-Chapelle is considered among the highest achievements of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture. It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns—one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom. Along with the Conciergerie, the Sainte-Chapelle is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the Capetian royal palace on the Île de la Cité. Although damaged during the French Revolution, and restored in the 19th century, it has one of the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collection anywhere in the world.

 

We still had one more architectural wonder to see, the beautiful Notre Dame cathedral. The queue to the mainland stretched across the bridge to the south bank of the Seine so we could watch the tourist boats pass by as we waited.

 

Notre Dame de Paris built between 1162 and 1345 ‘is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and is among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world’ (Wikipedia).

 

The beautiful rose window.

 

As we left we got caught in a torrential downpour and sought shelter in a restaurant adjacent to the cathedral. Not the cheapest of places to have lunch. With the weather improving we walked along the south left (south) bank of the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay.

 

The museum was originally a railway station and by 1970 it was due for demolition. However following a campaign it was saved as a historic building and turned into museum designed to bridge the gap between the Louvre and the National Museum of Modern Art at the Georges Pompidou Centre.

 

A former clock is now an ornamental window giving views out over the city …

 

… towards Montmartre and the Sacré-Cœur.

 

The museum holds many impressionist paintings including works by Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Cezanne and Gaugin. Here is Claude Monet’s ‘London, Houses of Parliament. The Sun Shining through the Fog’, painted in 1904

 

And here his famous ‘The Water Lily Pond’.

 

But if I had to chose my favourite artist it would be a toss-up between Salvador Dali and Vincent van Gogh. This is Van Gogh’s famous self-portrait.

 

As with the Louvre the day before we could have spent longer had time allowed but as well as getting museum-fatigue we were both feeling the effects of all that walking. we returned to L’Isle Adam and had a restful evening.

Part 2 of my account will deal with our visits to the Palais de Versailles, Eifel Tower, Arc du Triumph, Montmartre, Les Invalides and Place de la Corncorde.