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Why I love first Sundays at the Louvre

476193_1I’m sorting through images for a conference presentation I’m working on for CAA 2011 and came across one of my favorite Boilly paintings, Public in the Salon of the Louvre, Viewing the Painting of the ‘Sacre,’ (c. 1808). Recently, I tried to explain to a couple of friends why I actually enjoy going to crowded museums, and I think this painting captures some of my sentiments about art spectatorship as a shared experience. Whenever I’m in Paris on the first Sunday of the month, I drag family and friends to the Louvre precisely because it’s free and that means that a lot of people will be there. In 2007, my family was with me, so with husband and kids in tow, we went off to seek the treasures they would immediately recognize, e.g., the Mona Lisa, and love to see–as I recall, my oldest daughter was madly reading all of the Magic Treehouse books, and several of these focus on artists. Anyway, my crowd-hating but ever-obliging husband took each of our kids and put them on his shoulders so that they could actually see the painting. Every time I look at the Boilly, I think about this experience (note the two children on their father’s shoulders in this canvas) of having my kids recognize and connect with art and see people from the world over who are also thrilling to see such masterpieces.

In the early part of the 19th century, the Salons were an especially popular entertainment venue–much like our movie houses and sport stadiums–and people talked of the best days and times of the week to go. One of the women critics that I work on admonished her female readers not to bother going to the Salon in the mornings, because that was when the connoisseurs would go . . . and all that they were interested in seeing was the art, and not, malheureusement, the spectacle of beautiful women. One goes to the Salon not just to see, but more importantly, to be seen, don’t you know. I yearn for that kind of social experience in the museum, where there is intellectual and aesthetic engagement and connection with kindred spirits who share your passion–this is why I love taking students on study abroad (more on that later).

Conversation topic: Have you had one of those shared experiences in the museum? Where were you, what were you looking at, and what was so rewarding about it?

2 comments

1 Melissa { 03.01.11 at 9:56 pm }

I have experienced this a couple of times. I am an undergraduate student specializing in fine art history. I also volunteer at a gallery in the city. I love watching people and how they interact and view art especially when they don’t know what it is they are looking at. I love Italian Baroque art and hope to some day be a professor in the field. My favourite piece in the gallery is Bernini’s Corpus. One day I was stationed outside of the gallery which houses this work and a couple of young mothers and their toddler babies came in. The mothers stopped in front of the Corpus to have a discussion of some sort while their children stared at the work until their mothers scooped them up. I always sit and wonder what viewers are thinking and what they see. I love talking to people who have no previous knowledge of art and are looking for additional information.
Great blog!!

2 Shelley Williams { 03.03.11 at 9:27 am }

Just yesterday I took my twin 21-month-old girls to the Springville Museum of Art. To keep their hands busy and to lure them away from the temptation to handle any low-lying frames, I brought their two pink shopping carts to push along in the galleries. Between their toddler chatter, their exuberant exclamations whenever they spotted a horse in a painting, and the racket the cart made on the uneven tile floor, I imagine we were heard throughout the museum. I noticed that our noise caused two elderly patrons to raise their voices from reverential whispers to conversational tones, and within a few minutes they were laughing and chatting. I’d like to think that having two noisy toddlers broke the “a-museum-is-like-a-library” quiet for the spectators, freeing their conversation. I too wish the museum experience was considered a more lively, even exhilarating, experience where we can leave our isolated everydays and connect to the human universal. Throw some human dirt in the white box!

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