“En Jeu”, artists and sports 1870-1930, at Musée Marmottan-Monet

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Marcelle Cahn, “The Three Raquettes,” 1926, Cholet, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire

Erik Desmazières, director of Musée Marmottan Monet, is right to start early with “En Jeu”, because so many cultural institutions have programmed special sports themes for the Paris Olympics (even TCE with L’Olimpiade by Vivaldi in June), that we will soon be fed up! And this whimsical exercise of associating artists and games is totally successful. It has to do with the two curators’ panache and curiosity for all arts. 1920’s posters are mixed with a very large Courbet of a woman surfing on the waves in Trouville and etchings are shown on the same level as paintings or sculptures. Benjamin Herring II and Thomas Eakins, Georges Desvallières and Monet, Renoir and Caillebotte, Jean Metzinger and Jacques Gruber, Frits Thaulow, Daumier and Van Dongen are all mixed and very entertaining. Many games/sports are portrayed here from English Hippodromes, to tennis, cricket and even “pelote Basque”. But alas! golf is nowhere to be seen! For lack of good paintings probably?

Gustave Courbet, “Lady with the podoscaphe”, 1865, private collection

Better known for its fantastic collection of Monets, the museum has suddenly become a “terrain de jeu”, a fun place to walk around. The first section is devoted to Anglomania, which fueled the International expansion of sports on the continent and in America. Since the Antitquity, games have been important but in France where royal hunts were considered as a “loisir”, a pleasure for the aristocracy, everything changed after the 1870 defeat when the state put a special effort into training the body: the defeat was considered as a lack of training of the army and sports became democratic. This is when the artists started painting the different sports and made total chefs d’oeuvres. Toulouse Lautrec made amazing posters, Camille Bombois, who often worked in circus, painted  a charming “Les Lutteurs”, the wrestlers, Jules Abel Faivre made a great lithography of a lady skiing in Chamonix, Pierre Gatier did a series of prints of skiers and ice skaters.

Pierre Gatier, Iceskating in Bois de Boulogne, 1907, Paris Pierre Antoine Gatier, Jérôme Gatier and Nathalie Levesque Gatier

The way the exhibition is conducted is very smart. It is thematic rather than chronological and thus it allows to mix the different genres in a creative way. “I refuse to put prints in a ghetto” declared Desmazières who is himself a printer. And he is right, because the rhythm of the show is essential to keep up the visitor’s attention. Croquet on the beach in le Tréport by Louise Abbéma, a surprising “Ladies playing tennis in Nausicaa style” by Maurice Denis, and of course “the Archer “by Antoine Bourdelle all describe a new fascination for sports. An intriguing “The Boxers” by Vicente Do Rego Monteiro, a ravishing little oil “The Race” by Van Dongen and the “Fencing lesson” by Alcide-Théophile Robaudi are all great discoveries.

Ferdinand Gueldry, Annual match between the Société Nautique de la Marne and the Rowing Club, 1883, Nogent sur Marne, Musée Intercommunal

Ferdinand Gueldry’s painting should have been used as a poster for the Paris Olympics instead of the disastrous logo we are being inflicted. He was a fervent rower himself and his work is wonderful. A student of Gérôme at the Beaux Arts, he concentrated on this passion until he started painting factories. Team sports were encouraged by paternalism at the Turn of the Century and the “masses” were pushed to cycle, play football and box.

Kees Van Dongen, “The race”, 1904, Toulouse Fondation Bemberg

There is not a single painting in this show that I did not find interesting and discovering Monet’s “Ice skating in Giverny”, an almost abstract painting, enchanted me.  The freedom used by the two curators shows how talent can change the style of an exhibition, just like a good director can transform a play.

On your way out, you walk through the waterlilies and other magic sceneries by the master of Impressionism.

“En Jeu” is on until September 1, at Musée Marmottan Monet.

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3 Comments on ““En Jeu”, artists and sports 1870-1930, at Musée Marmottan-Monet”

  1. Ravie que vous nous fassiez découvrir l’exposition (entre autre) du Musée Marmottan. Le thème nous laissait assez sceptique, mais votre article nous invite à y aller rapidement. Merci pour toutes vos bonnes idées.

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