The French Connection 3-30-2007

Two exhibits showcase New Orleans’ ties to France

By: Cheré Coen

New Orleans and France have a long, intricate relationship beginning with the founding of the precarious city at the bend of the Mississippi River. Two months after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, a delegation of French diplomats and art curators visited the city and promised to offer their assistance. The result was a one-of-a-kind exhibition, titled Femme, femme, femme: Paintings of Women in French Society from Daumier to Picasso from the Museums of France, on display exclusively at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) until June 3.

“[The French delegation] wanted to help in a cultural area, and said they would send a major exhibition to not only help the museum get back on its feet but to jump-start the city’s cultural tourism,” said NOMA director E. John Bullard.

The exhibition brings together for the first time 83 paintings of women from the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay and 43 other museums throughout France. The theme focuses on women of the modern era, during France’s Third Republic of 1870 to 1940, and combines famous painters, such as Renoir and Picasso, with lesser-known artists who documented women as they entered the workforce, placed children in newly created childcare centers and performed new roles.

“I went to Paris in 2006 and met with the curators of a number of museums, including Francis Ribemont of the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Rennes,” Bullard explained. Bullard joked to Ribemont that French women in art would be a popular topic and the idea took hold.

“He came up with refining the concept, focusing on the modern era,” Bullard added. “During this period, painters were focusing on women as they asserted their independence.”

The exhibit features five sections: The Ages of Life, Women at Work, Women in Action, Women and Leisure and Women in Modern Life. Paintings range from the dark, social commentaries of Palliere’s “The Orphan” and Antigna’s “Death of the Pauper” to the exuberant women driving a car with the wind through their hair in Stewart’s “The Ladies Goldsmith in a Peugeot Voiturette in the Bois de Boulogne in 1897.” Many are huge canvases carrying vibrant images of women in the many stages of life. Others, like Picasso’s “The Bathers,” are petite but every bit as impressive.

The exhibit, pulled together in an amazingly short amount of time, cost France $1 million and includes a beautiful, fully illustrated catalogue in English and French. And thus far, attendance has been strong.

Bullard hopes the exclusive engagement and the blooming spring will help boost NOMA’s attendance back to pre-Katrina levels.

Also in town as a gift from France to help boost tourism is Four Hundred Years of French Presence in Louisiana: Treasures from the National Library of France at the Historic New Orleans Collection in the French Quarter. The exhibit features the National Library’s collections relating to Louisiana, including several items never exhibited before, from early drawings of the colony and its wildlife to plans of New Orleans. The exhibit is complemented by a selection of artifacts from the Historic New Orleans Collection and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The modern relationship between Louisiana and France is examined as well, featuring 19th-century musicians and writers and the jazz explosion of the 20th century. Highlights include playwright Victor Sejour’s “La Mulatre,” the first published short story by an African American and the French premier of Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Both exhibitions will continue to June.

LES DETAILS

Femme, femme, femme: Paintings of Women in French Society from Daumier to Picasso from the Museums of France now through June 3 at the New Orleans Museum of Art in New Orleans City Park. www.noma.org; www.ticketmaster.com

Four Hundred Years of French Presence in Louisiana: Treasures from the National Library of France now through June 2 at the Historic New Orleans Collection in the French Quarter. www.hnoc.org

>