Helping to Open the Tiepolo Exhibition

photo: cafe le carnot
One minute a terrace is okay; in the next it's pouring.

Less Than You Wanted To Know
About Halloween in France

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 26. October 1998:- If the opening of the prestige Tiepolo exhibition had not been a onetime event on a day when I could actually go, I would have gone on Friday instead, when it was raining. As it was, the sun was shining on the Petit Palais last Wednesday and rain was falling on me in the park at Bercy on Friday.

A small quibble to be sure. The price I pay for living far out in quiet western suburbs, is not going to 'openings,' which are usually held on Tuesdays. Last Wednesday's Tiepolo 'opening' was my first.

Of course I did it all wrong. I looked at all - nearly all - of the paintings on display and I did not pay much attention to the other people looking at them, or at each other. For this 'opening' was one organized for the press. More specifically: for the 'art' press hacks.

So who is this Gambattista Tiepolo? It is not like his name is on the tongue of every art fancier. When I write the name you are supposed to think of Venice, in the 18th century. When I consider his paintings and his career, I think of 'commercial artist.' A very successful one.

Tieoplo did 'deco' in churches and palaces, not in humble wood-cutters cabins. He got commissions from the lords of the church and from the noble people on thrones or close to them; in Italy, Germany, Austria andphoto: tiepolo poster, petit palais Spain, and he went to these places to live and carry out his work. He was sort of an early Euro-art-gypsy.

In this way, Tiepolo was a more modern European nomad than the international executive of today. His clients were the absolutely-powerful and wealthy; having his work hanging in their churches and palaces attracted other wealthy and noble clients; and he was 'passed-on' with a flood of recommendations and by tales spread around by nobility, who were the tourists of those days.

Banner poster on outside of the Petit Palais.

The class of paintings seen in modern hotels today do not usually denote any particular artistic fame, and I doubt very much that their display leads to commissions from businessmen on expense accounts; and nothing in the way of orders from their own accounts either.

While Tiepolo was in these various places, he also painted a lot of portraits, as sort of a sideline. I can imagine it: he is up on a scaffold doing a huge wall scene, and the brother of the prince gawking down below asks if he'll do his portrait, if the good Sr. Tiepolo isn't too busy.

If they weren't catalogued, these wouldphoto: pumpkin, to left be portraits of noble nobodies; but they are portrait-sized and - they are really Tiepolo's best stuff. Better than photographs; these are human-sized paintings of real humans, although there are not many wood-cutters in evidence.

The grand, huge, gigantic, colossal; paintings, frescos, ceilings - these are like the 'paintings' once done for movie marquees. Their themes are about as fantastical too. Just what is Tiepolo's career total for angels? Cherubs?

He was good at golden halos too; perfectly elliptical. Astonishingly elliptical! Well, the size of one of them is the secret - they're done by hand, so the larger they are, the better they look.

Doing the sketch for the 'perfect' ellipse took no more than maybe ten minutes. Painting it, very carefully, probably took a lot longer.

Can you imagine a career - even in the 18th century! - of doing this stuff? There's a couple of Anthony meeting Cleopatra, slightly different; but radically different from how people dressed in those Egyptian-Roman days. Both Anthony and Cleopatra are very tall; about the only animal in proportion is a horse's rear.

Don't get me wrong. Tiepolo was a good draftsman; you can see this in the portraits and in the drawings. He was also Italian and knew full well what Anthony looked like.

When you are a 'commercial artist' you do it the way the client wants. In Tiepolo's day big clients paid big money for big paintings. They paid nothing for historical accuracy.

The paintings now on show in the Petit Palais are rare inphoto: pumpkin, to right that they are seldom seen together. Before now in Paris, only in 1951 in Venice, 1971 in Udine and in 1996-7 in Venice and New York. Two of the 'Cleopatra' series, are on show outside Russia for the first time ever since the end of the 18th century. The 41 drawings are from public and private French collections, and some of these have never been in public view before.

Contrary to what I imagined, Tiepolo apparently did most of the painting himself - large and quickly. In the parts close enough to see clearly, there is some incredible detail; so you can imagine this in parts so far away that you need a telescope.

The best though, are the painted sketches made for the big paintings. These are done quick and rough, with more contrast, and are much more impressionistic than their larger, carefully finished end-works. The drawings stand on their own as finished works, never intended as sketches - and of these, Tiepolo did thousands.

In all, in the Petit Palais, which is not so small, there are 161 paintings, drawings and engravings on display. With proper shoes, the hardwood floor feels good. But there is still too much to see carefully all at once. Even if you ignore the big stuff.

Outside, the sun was still shining. I took the métro up to Argentine to look at motorcycles and get some of the week's other photos. Big motorcycles don't even look like motorcycles anymore.

Musée du Petit Palais
Avenue Winston-Churchill, Paris 8. Métro: Champs-Elysées-Clemenceau.
Open daily except Mondays, from 10:00 to 17:40. Until 24. January 1999. Info. Tel.: 01 42 65 12 73.

Note also that two Tiepolo frescos are on show at the exceptional Musée Jacquemart-André, a former luxurious private 19th century 'hôtel particulier,' now owned by the Institut de France. At 158. boulevard Haussmann, Paris 8. Nearest métro station: Saint-Philippe-du-Roule. Until 20. January 1999. Open daily, from 10:00 to 18:00. The museum's extremely fancy café is open from 11:30 to 17:30. Info. Tel.: 01 42 89 04 91.

Halloween for Max

When I was a little kid, 31. October was always on a week-night and never on Fridays or weekends. The first time I went out I was scared witless and my mother had to come along and ring buzzers and say 'trick or treat' for me. I was very glad when it was over. Mom or no mom, it was scary out there.

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