Lille is an easy destination, an hour on the train from Paris, and it’s another world in itself. The Palais des Beaux Arts has the greatest collection of Rubens and Goya and I discovered for the first time the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse, a former medieval hospital, where the great street artist Jef Aerosol has a retrospective. I did not have time to go to La Piscine in Roubaix where Chagall and painter Georges Arditi both have shows. And I wish I had spent the week end to visit more of the city’s museums.
“Where are the women” is the title of the exhibition in the galleries of Palais des Beaux Arts. Out of 60 000 works in the collection, only 135 apparently have been officially attributed to women! It is always dangerous to create statistics but this exhibition curated by Alice Fleury and Camille Belvèze has at least allowed the curatorial staff to find attributions to some of the anonymous works and to reestablish its works to artists who had voluntarily taken a man’s name like Octavie Séailles who called herself Charles Paul or Marie Jacques who took the pseudonym of Jacques-Marie. There are two parts in the show, women artists and a highlight of the vision that male painters have of them in the collections. When you know that Goya’s “The Old Women”, Picasso’s “Olga with fur collar”, Auguste Rodin, Emile Bernard and of course Rubens’ many chefs d’oeuvre are numerous, you visit the woman’s gallery with a certain detachment. But there are a few artists worth discovering.
Mathilde Bonaparte, Napoléon’s niece was one of them, whose “Une Juive d’Alger” has been shown recently at Musée du Monde Arabe. She was a student of Jacques Louis David and opened a literary and artistic salon in 1846 in Paris. Jacques Marie (Marie Jacques), a student of Bouguereau, exhibited often at the Salon des Artistes français under a male pseudonym. Her “L’étang de la Reine Blanche in Chantilly was immediately bought by the State in 1912.
Another artist, Elodie de la Villette has a pretty painting of the cliffs in Yport, Normandy. She is one of the rare women to have sold a painting to the state (in 1878). Also Rosa Bonheur, Marie Laurencin, the Belgian artist Suzanne Bomhals, Camille Claudel, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, have been bought by the museum. Marie Villedieu paints a portrait of Carolus Duran in 1909. He had opened in Paris an atelier des dames (studio for ladies) with Jean Jacques Henner, which she attended. Most of the painters were either the daughter of or the wife and companion of an artist. Some of them had a real talent. But this exhibition is mostly an excuse to visit the municipal museum which is superb, with a wide range of styles from Pieter de Hooch, Jacob Jordaens, Goya and Manet.
Walking for fifteen minutes to reach the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse (named after Jeanne de Flandre) was one of the great pleasures of the day. Lille is a very old city and this medieval hospital dates from 1237 two hundred years before les Hospices de Beaune. It houses the historical museum of the town and at the moment, the street artists Jef Aerosol has a fun retrospective. I had met him last year inParis and loved seeing again his installation of famous XX th century singers and actors in the chapel and many of his early works. He lives in the area and gives a renewed interest to this beautiful building in brick and stone. The old refectory and hospital rooms are superb.
“Où sont les femmes” at Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille until March 11, Jef Aerosol at Hospice Comtesse until January 21, and La Piscine in Roubaix until January 7.
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