Thursday, December 09, 2010

Claude Monet (1840-1926) at the Grand Palais, Paris

by Michelle Nott

Claude Monet will be at the Grand Palais in Paris until January 24, 2011. Most art lovers have already heard this months ago when it opened in September. But, have they gotten their tickets yet? With just a couple months left, now is the time to get on line and in line for the biggest Monet exhibit ever. Oddly enough, Monet has been much more acclaimed by Americans and by the British than by his own fellow Frenchmen. Parisians, French, Europeans, anyone on the continent or who can get here should take advantage of this extraordinary display of life and color and light.

The first room initiates the visitor to Monet' s beginnings as a child and then as an artist, as a husband and then as a father. His personal and professional foundations are rooted in Normandy. Throughout his work, he never loses sight of who he is or where his inspiration lies.

The visitor will experience so much more of Monet than what floats on the lilipads. Those greenish, bluish, water plants can be found on every mug, dorm room poster, and tote bag from here to eternity. But, Monet was much more than the decorative artist of current, general opinion.

After spending his childhood in Normandy, Claude Monet would travel to Fontainbleau like many artists of the time, into Paris, back to Normandy, to the Mediterranean, to London and to Italy. He also did magnificent portraits and classic still life paintings. His brush strokes were quick in some scenes, long and drawn out in others. In all, he painted life into objects and people via his mastery of light and color.

His search for light and its variations led him to paint series. Monet either went back to the same location at the exact same time of day to paint the exact same subject; or he would paint the exact same subject from the exact same location but at different times of the day. The beauty in his idea invites the viewer to enter into a day, or simply into a moment and feel the sunshine or the surrounding fog.

Only in the last room of the exhibit does the visitor get a good look at Monet's lilipads. He painted these in the last years of his life. The immense, mural-sized Nympheas were left to France with the stipulation that they would not be displayed until after his death. However, Monet fans will still need to take the short walk over to the Orangerie to see those.

The exhibit is well worth the ticket price, the train ride (or plane ride), and day out in Paris. To read a more in-depth description of the exhibit, please refer to Monet in Paris.

Once you have your ticket, get to the Grand Palais before the specifically-printed time in order to get in line. Yes, there is still a line but certainly not as long as the line for visitors without tickets (which can literally take hours to get to the door). Once through the security screening, check your coat to the right and proceed to the left. I highly recommend the audio-guide, which is available in many languages. Children can also take advantage of a specific, age-appropriate audio-guide although only available in French.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Musée Hergé in the Heart of Belgium

by Michelle Nott

Less than a half hour drive south of Brussels, tourists and Belgians alike arrive in the university town of Louvain-la-Neuve. In this pedestrian town, visitors rise from the underground parking lot of the Grande Place. And by the end of 2011, the Hergé fan will be able to walk a few steps over to the cinema to marvel (hopefully) at Steven Spielberg's and Peter Jackson's cinematic portrayal of Tintin with all his friends. Until then, let's walk in the opposite direction, behind the shops to Rue du Labrador (previously Boulevard du Nord).

Down the bridged pathway, pedestrians face a mural of Tintin. But, he's not looking at them. His gaze looks ahead of himself, ahead of the crowd, forward and above. Each step accept sthis invitation and approaches until the painting is hovering over heads, until the visitor is peering up at Tintin in the exact position he is looking onward. Entering underneath him into le Musée Hergé, the Hergé fan, or soon-to-be-one, is not just in for a day-out. This is an adventure.

The museum is cleverly designed to bring the visitor into the world of Hergé's “bande dessinée” (comic strip in French). To begin, the museum patrons take the free audiophones available in English, French, Dutch, German or Spanish. They then enter the elevator. Fans will recognize the exterieur checkered design as the rocketship from Destination Moon (Objectif Lune, 1953). The doors slide open and the lift takes off to the third floor.

Boum! The music of Charles Trenet sways the visitors into the early 20th century. Not surprisingly, the artist and writer George Remi often incorporated music into his work, even in comic strip form. And Hergé? That is indeed him, his intials in the reverse order (RG) are pronounced in French as Her - gé.

Hergé started very young drawing in his notebooks, as so many young people do. As a boy, Hergé was a devoted Boy Scout. Understandably, his first strip is about a scout named Totor published in Scouts Catholique de Belgique. His scout days gave him a taste and love of adventure and camaraderie. Little Totor even experienced the U.S., traveling to Texas to meet his aunt and uncle which was interrupted by encounters with gangsters and American Indians. This first room of the tour is decorated with a history of Hergé's most beloved works, from Totor the Boy Scout (1926) to the street kids Quick and Flupke (1930) until Marlinspike Castle (Les Aventures au Château Moulinsart, 1963).

Hergé was an artist of many talents. The second room demonstrates Hergé's background in print, illustration, typography, and advertisements. Working in advertisements, he created “L'Atelier Hergé Publicité”. His experience in print ads gave him an appreciation for vivid colors but also white space and typography. All of which can be seen as influences in his own drawn strips.

From this rather dim room, the visitor steps out into the hallway, brightened (on a sunny Belgian day) by the large windows to the left. To the right, the visitor can peer down to the entrance hall and take in the impresive black-checkered design of the “rocket ship” elevator. The geometric walls are painted in a similar solid color pallette as in his albums. The same white birds, enlarged here, fly upon their two-dimensional sky.

The third room in the visit introduces Tintin's “family”. In glass displays, visitors can familiarise themselves with the main cast of characters. Descriptions and drawing from the different stories analyse each friend and foe distinctly. First and foremost, Snowy (Milou in French) is Tintin's faithfull partner. This particularly white fox terrier often comes out a hero in Tintin's escapades. For a good laugh, Thomson and Thompson (Dupont et Dupond in French) are the perfectly clumsy detectives who are just talented enough to pursue the wrong criminal. Professor Calculus (Tournesol in French) may have a hearing problem and be easily ditracted, but he is nonetheles a genius. Captain Haddock is the rugged yet tender partner. These traits paint him to be possibly the most human of all the characters, not to mention his appreciation for whisky. The one feminine touch to Hergé's series is Bianca Castiofore, the opera singer diva of the group. Visitors will continue to meet other characters as they proceed from here to the fourth room.

Spielberg was not far off target choosing to do a movie based on a Tintin comic book album. In fact, the manner in which Hergé created his adventures, square by square, can also be seen as similar to filmmaking. The visitor will discover how German science fiction movies and American film actors influenced the stories and characters in Hergé's strips, notably in Jo & Zette & Jocko. Also, Dupont and Dupond are not surprisingly similar to the other slapstick pair of the early 20th century, Laurel and Hardy. In fact, the black on white design accentuates the characters while minimizing the background to thin, fragile lines – all the better for comedic gaffs. This room proves Hergé's admiration for many aspects of film.

Continuing back through the “family drawing room”, the Hergé fans find a large chandelier directing the tour down a staircase. The immense light fixture is created by round portraits of 228 Hergé characters! A few couches and lamps decorate the area at the bottomof the stairs as well as a long murale of a New Year's greeting card made of all the personalities who can be seen throughout Hergé's repertoire. The audiophone presents an interesting explanantion of the composite of these characters.

A red carpet directs the visit into the laboratory. The patrons are face to face with the shark submarine from The Treasure of Rackam the Red (Le Trésor du Rackam le Rouge, 1945). In this particular story, Professor Calculus prouves himself to be far from the reputaion of an “absent-minded professor”, but of an actual genius. Throughout the laboratory, the guest learns that Hergé had the interest of bringing science to the level of the average reader. For example, in his way, he presented the notions of space and aeronautics in Shooting Star (1942) and Moon Objective (1953), respectively. He even went so far as to have the rocket model from Moon Objective approved by the scientific author, Ananoff, who published L'Astonautique in 1950. Hergé continues his pedagogical role to his public by eventually introducing Professor Calculus' “Tips and Tricks” column, explaining science to his youngest readers. The science behind the storylines then leads the visitors to the adjoining display of the artistic procedure and techniques behind his creations.

Back out on another red carpet, the museum patrons find a treasure of their own, like climbing into Tintin's attic or that of any child growing up with Tintin toys and games. Hergé took real relics (objects and/or photographs) from various places – the Congo, Egypte, China, Peru, Columbia, etc. - to inspire Tintin's adventures. Most of such objects were found in other museums, including the Louvre. The spirit of these objects or creative impressions of which have come full circle by finding a place in Hergé's museum. Reality, in this sense, enters fiction which in turn, encourages the discovery of truth.

From the bridge one floor up from the lobby, visitors are surrounded by the same geometric, pastel walls but now one floor down. Tall trees stand the heighth of the museum's three-story windows and the sunshine (on a sunny day in Belgium – and it was this day) brightens the visitor's path.

Studios Hergé is the next exhibit. The techinques, research, and history all involved in Hergé's creations come together here at the replicated desks of three of Hergé's associates, Bob De Moor, Jacques Martin and Roger Le Loup. Not only do Hergé fans get an idea of all the work and collaboration involved in producing a comic book album, but also all the fun. The audiophone and the description by various displays recount how Hergé would literally act out scenes for the other artists to draw. The author and artist dedicated years of himself to his literary and artistic endeavors. He not only created characters, but he grew as well with them. The evolution from Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (1929), for example, to Tintin au Tibet (1958) via The Blue Lotus (1935) illustrates for the reader an equal evolution in style and sensitivity – a natural human progression.

The final exhibit room is a tribute to the man born George Remi and remembered as Hergé. His personal character and heart made him one of the most respected and loved writers and authors of the 20th century. The testimonies of fans of all ages, of all walks of life, of all cultures attest to his importance for generations to come.

Le Musée Hergé
Rue du Labrador, 26
1348 Louvain-la Neuve
tel: 0032. 10. 455. 777
Opening hours
Everyday 10 am to 6 pm,
closed Mondays, Jan. 1, May 1, Nov. 11 and Dec. 25

A special exhibit runs until February 27, 2011 showcasing trains in Tintin's adventures. By sitting in a wooden replica of a train car, patrons peer out windows portraying each a train scene from a Tintin story while watching a publicity video done by Studios Hergé in 1980 for the SNCB (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Exploring Magritte on One Corner of Brussels

by Michelle Nott 

You are on your way to 1, Place Royale, sometime between 10am and 5pm (Tuesday through Sunday). From Wallonie, drive north on the N411. But if you are coming from the airport, take the ring to the N411.
Louise gets closer, Avenue Louise. Go down, in the tunnel, out, in the tunnel, out, in the tunnel. Out. Go right.
Watch for the trams that can follow you, don't turn yet. Park at the gardens facing the Palace.
This is as straight forward as the article will get.
Welcome to Brussels, to Magritte's city, to his spirit – for only when looking into the windows, will you see the clouds and the sky.
Les Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts has expanded itself as of June 2009 to include Le Musée Magritte. While the word surrealism is now overused and underestimated, this collection is a celebration of one of the most known and appreciated surrealists. Each hall pulls the visitor into understanding Magritte's journey. The trip is accompanied by his friends, into scenes and across words which are so uniquely his.
Throughout Magritte's work, from his futuristic to his surrealist to his “vache” and finally back to his surrealist periods, the artist's friends and family, notably his wife Georgette, appear. As spectators, we may see only one side of them, and that could be covered with a cloth, but the whole image is there (The Lovers, 1928).
Speaking of friends, or rather the continuous banishment of friends, no one can experience surrealism without a mention of Andre Breton. He was the man with the power to say who was “in” or not. Magritte was an official surrealist “friend” for years despite the fact that Georgette wore a necklace with a cross – the one symbol for which Breton had no tolerance.
So, when finally (as it happened to almost every surrealist at one time or another by choice or obligation) Magritte disassociated himself from Breton, he entered his “Periode Vache”. The literal translation is “cow period”. It was (and some would say, thankfully) short-lived. He did not swap his perfect contours, phantoms, leafed birds, etc. for cow pastures. In french, something “vache” is nasty. He named it himself and was symbolically sticking his tongue out at Breton. Shortly after their rupture, he had his first Paris exhibit, in 1948. These hastily painted scenes and people were not what the Parisians expected of Magritte as a surrealist. That was the point.
He even took this collection to New York City where the Hugo Gallery exhibited it. There, he met his future agent, Alexandre Lolas. The “vache” was not very well-received, but he had brought along some of his earlier work. The New York City art scene was already familiar with Magritte from his first American exhibit in 1936 at the Julien Levy Gallery. Lolas encouraged Magritte to go back to his tried and true style. Reluctantly, he did.
But, he did avoid being predictable. He was not going to paint a tree because he wanted the public to see a tree. The image was to come from behind our eyes. Why paint a full tree with a detailed trunk and green leaves when the word “tree” suffices to evoke just that. He painted words on his canvas just where they were to be visualized. So, what is being represented? What is the representation of such an object? Both of these questions help us understand also exactly why a painting of a pipe is absolutely not a pipe. The audio guide of the Musée Magritte will play for you his personal explanation, “Can you light the [painting] of a pipe? No, therefore it is not a pipe. If I had written underneath [the image] this is a pipe, I would be lying.”
In fact, the best manner in which to enter a Magritte exhibit is to not ask too many questions, but to listen and watch what first comes to mind. The audio guide also helps. The artist once admitted that there were no hidden meanings in his paintings. He simply wanted to see certain beings or objects in particular forms or positions in relationship with the work of art as a whole.
Not surprisingly, Magritte had never appreciated the routine or obligated habits of anything in everyday life. Nevertheless, he had started his career in advertising. Those promotional posters for products and events paid the bills. And, in the end, L'oiseau de ciel (1966) did become the well-recognized logo of Belgian's national airline, Sabena. Still, his attitude justifies why the sky looks like it is flying through the bird instead of a bird flying through the sky. Also on that note, why does a mermaid have rather the head of a fish and the legs of a woman? Why is an apple as large as a room (or a room as small as an apple)? Most people live and react like everyone else, that is reality. For a change, step into surreality. Hold you glass high to the giraffe standing in a champagne flute. Cheers to the cloud in the wine glass. Hats off to the man facing the mirror only to see the back of his head.
During your visit through the Musée Magritte, let the collection seep inside you. Maybe black-suited men do not rain from the sky, but if thinking of that image affects you in any way or not, so be it. Go ahead, open that old wardrobe and find a set of perfect breasts perking through a well-ironed (surreal enough already) night-dress. Go back for another look, to each room, to each quote, to each style and genre Magritte explored. This is not the end of his influence.
* To actually see, among many other souvenirs, the chimney from which an apparent train approached, visit Magritte's house at Rue Esseghem, 135 Brussels. This René Magritte Museum is open Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Blog Review:

Over time you get to see the blogs that stick to a consistent approach and a regular posting schedule. One of those blogs is, a blog that covers visits and walks suitable for families since 2006. Now for you recently arrived expats in Belgium there is one downside: the blog is in French! I believe it will still give you some good ideas.  And even better just type the web site address site in at and you are more than good to go!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How to remember where to go & when!

I am trying out one of those online Getting-Things-Done services, Remember the Milk. Basically I am setting up future visits as tasks with an email reminder on the day of the event. For example “Ghent Floralies” is a task for April 17th. Let’s see how this works as a system not to miss those great time limited events in Belgium.

Another GTD service that gets good reviews: Toodledo.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Ghent Flower Show

Every 5 years Ghent holds its famous flower show, the Floralies of Ghent. A 200 year old tradition it seems like a definite must-see for those of you with green fingers!

From Saturday 17 through to Sunday 25 April 2010

Opening hours:
From 8 am until 6.30 pm
Doors open until 5.45 pm

Entrance fee:
Individual tickets : 20 €
Free access for children under 12, if accompanied by an adult.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Flanders Today

Flanders Today just ran a 4 part series on some nice winter walks. If you have not subcribed I would recommend you get this free English weekly. A good mix of Flanders news and tips on what to see or do.

If the weather turns wet and cold again go see the Frida Kahlo art exhibit at the Bozar museum in Brussels. A hard life turned into beautiful paintings. Not recommended for children given the subject matters of some paintings.
Where: Bozar
When: until Sunday 18th April