Our very strict lockdown and curfew at 7 pm has an advantage: everyone wants to meet for lunch and discussions are intense over the most minute novelty. This week, the social event is Jacqueline de Ribes’s biography by Dominique Bona, an eminent member of the French Academy, who has already published many successful women’s bios. The problem with this one is that the heroine had no other interest than fashion (her own), flirting with men and women and her own beauty. It makes for a very thin (but 500 pages long) book which only literary critics who have never met her, “love”. Since there is not much to write about the book, they compare the Comtesse to the Duchesse de Guermantes: Proust has become a lovely custard or mayonnaise for tasteless dishes…
The enumeration of titles, baronne, comtesse, marquise, duchesse, sounds like a list in the phone book. No-one is properly described and even the scene of the dinner given in honor of Prime minister Pompidou is desincarnated. The only fun moment in the book is the description of how Ribes’ grandfather Olivier de Rivaud met Adrien Hallet, an explorer of the Far East, on a train from Brussels and invested in his gum plantations in Sumatra and Indochina. They both profited from it and her husband, Edouard, became President of Banque Rivaud. What a pity that the book does not explore this extraordinary adventure a little more!
At at time when Meghan and Harry discuss their race issues with Oprah Winfrey on television, Alexandra Lapierre‘s book on “Belle Green” (Editions Flammarion) becomes more interesting every day. This extraordinary portrait of a black woman who “passed” for white and created the Morgan library with J.P. Morgan, attracting envy from the whole world of librarians and antique dealers, has never been more actual.
If you are a passionate of Napoléon, which I am not, you will like to read “Les Goûts de Napoléon” by Philippe Costamagna, (Ed. Grasset), curator of Musée Fesch in Ajaccio. His style (with the help of Viktor Cohen) is excellent and fluid and he details all of the emperor’s tastes for furniture and porcelain or paintings. One discovers that he invented the turning armchair for his desk and put wall to wall carpeting instead of wooden floors in his palaces. He had a “dormeuse” reclining chair, to take his naps. He loved the Louvre and had simple artistic tastes as opposed to his “women”, mother an sisters who only loved lavish gilt furniture and Sèvres porcelain objects… The Emperor almost becomes sympathetic though the art historian’s eye.
As we are learning of June Newton‘s death on April 8 (she was a photographer under the name of Alice Spring), Helmut Newton’s devoted wife, it is still time for those of you who read French to buy the excellent biography by José Alvarez of the fashion photographer. The author (who knew them well) describes extensively how the young and spoiled Jewish boy escaped Nazi Germany through Switzerland and Singapore before being deported to Australia where he met June, already a celebrated actress. The famous couple was incredibly successful both professionally and personally and they led parallel brilliant photography careers. The book Helmut & June, published by Grasset is finalist for the Goncourt Prize for Biography.
We are being promised that museums and outdoor restaurants will reopen on May 15 in France. I am dying to see the new exhibition on “Women painters, 1780-1830” at Musée du Luxembourg curated by Martine Lacas. From Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun to Rosalie Filleul de Besnes who died at 23 and Marguerite Gérard, seventy works are shown which were painted by women. They were often the companions of male painters and therefore eclipsed from light. But their talent is obvious. (until July 4 th at Musée du Luxembourg) The catalog is already available at 40€.
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