Thursday, May 28, 2009

Art Work at Maison Conti

One thing I really enjoy about living in a big old house is that there is lots of wall space. Since I'm a printmaker, I have been collecting prints for many years. My husband as well happens to have inherited several really fine prints. At Maison Conti we have on display some lovely prints and a painting or two.

Normally different people who stay with us notice different things. Someone might notice that the coffee is particularly good (we grind it fresh every morning); often people will remark on the fresh fruit or fresh-squeezed orange juice we serve for breakfast and several people have praised the china we use in the morning. (It has hand-painted designs by a French botanical artist). Few people, however, notice the art work. There have been two artists who have stayed with us who did comment on our collection. It always gives me a great deal of pleasure when someone enjoys our art collection, as I really love the pieces we have gathered. None of the prints have very high value, but they are all excellent works.

The photos I've posted here are my favorites from our collection. The first is a Marc Chagall printed in 1959. It is unsigned, but does have a certificate of authenticity which came with it when I bought it from a gallery on the rue de Seine in the summer of 2000. I spent that summer living in Paris and every day I walked past this lithograph which hung in the window. The illustration is of Ruth the Gleaner and Chagall did a series of illustrations for the bible, this being one of those. There has been a lot of abuse of Chagall's prints since his death, since he did not destroy his plates. There have been unauthorized impressions made from his plates and sold as originals. I was told he supervised this particular impression, but of course I can't be sure.

 The next is a gorgeous etching by Whistler. The family story goes that Rick's grandfather met the father of James Whistler while they were working together in Russia on the railway system. Whistler's father was selling prints from his poverty-stricken son and Rick's grandfather purchased several. All the grandchildren in Rick's family received two etchings a piece, The one I've photographed here is called "The Kitchen" and was made in 1885, presumably by Whistler's own hands. If you want to see a wonderful photo of him with his etching press, visit this link.

The next two prints, a poster advertising the Musée Grévin (still open on the Boulevard Montmartre in Paris) and the cover of a magazine L'Escarmouche (the skirmish) were purchased in Paris in the summer of 1999 at a very wonderful gallery in Le Marais. These are likely reproductions of the original Lithographs, and at the time they were printed, in the late 19th century, they had no value. They were simply publicity. People saved these things over the years and now they are collectable. I find them both very charming and evocative of that era when Paris really was the center of culture.

The mermaid print, entitled "The Echoing Shore" is an original wood block print made by John Edgar Platt in 1931. He was an Englishman who studied traditional Japanese wood block printmaking (known as moku hanga) in Japan. He became a real master of this very demanding technique and created many western images using the Eastern method.

 Another exquisite wood block print in our collection is "Hummingbird and Fushia" by the very talented Japanese artist, Toshi Yoshida, who spent some time in Mendocino, California where he created this work in 1971. I bought the print in California in the early 90s. Mr. Yoshida died in 1995.

Another treasure Rick inherited were a group of Albrecht Dürer prints. This botanical is one of several we have framed in our entry. It is obviously a reproduction, but a really excellent one and it is already almost 75 years old.

 The last piece is one I really adore. It is not easily photographed as it is quite shiny with varnish. I hope to be able to learn how to clean an old oil painting one of these days. This one is by an unknown artist. The painting is signed, but indecipherable. Certainly the artist was no one of note. But the painting was created in the 19th century and oozes charm. The subject is "Dejeuner sur l'Herbe" which was a required subject matter during the student days of those times. This one has an original take. I found this painting on when I was decorating our house. I was very pleased with the find! And it was not at all expensive. It seems that in France people have things like this in their houses which have come down to them through the generations.

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