It's All in The Details — The Opulent Designs of The Chairs of Versailles

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


In the year 1668, Louis XIV began his expansion of a small chateau into what we now know as the opulent Palace of Versailles.

Every surface and object in the palace was painstakingly designed and created by thousands of artists in the Royal Academy, led by the three head designers — Le Vau, Charles Le Brun, and Andre Le Notre — in order to create a palace fit for the Sun King and his court of almost 20,000.

Visitors can now explore the palace and see for themselves, the bed that the king once laid upon, the Hall of Mirrors where he used to hold elaborate parties, and be dazzled by every gilded door frame, carpet, and chair.

The chairs of Versailles

Recently, art director, photographer, and artist Malorie Shmyr visited Versailles and found herself completely enthralled by the objects that fill the palace — especially by the many chairs that can be found throughout the hundreds of rooms.

Being engulfed in the opulence of Versailles left me trying to imagine what it would be like to live in a space where not one square inch was forgotten about.
 
I studied the every day objects in each room, imagining using them for their function instead of just an object on display. 

I honed in on the elaborately detailed chairs because it was exciting to see a normally humble piece of furniture dressed to the nines!

When Malorie returned home from her trip, she contacted me wanting to find a place to share the photos that she took of Versailles’ version of this every day object. Check out the details that she captured in the images below.

See more of Malorie’s amazing work on her website or on Instagram @malorieshmyr.

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The chairs of Versailles
The chairs of Versailles



7 Must-Visit Art Galleries Around The World

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


I was recently disappointed on a visit to an art gallery while travelling in Vancouver, BC. The admission was way more than the poorly lit, unimpressive exhibits and sparse displays were worth in my opinion. The gift shop was more interesting! 

When visiting big cities, it is easy to fall into the assumption that their art galleries are going to be impressive and well-worth spending an afternoon in, but as I have often discovered, this is not always the case.

But how do you know if a gallery is going to be good or not? This post is a good place to start!  

Here is my list of galleries that are well-worth your time, and money:

1. Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA)

The structure that houses the AGA — designed by the late architect Randall Stout — is as much a work of art as the art that it houses! It is a beautiful swirl of glass, steel and zinc that is inspired by both the Northern Lights and the curve of the North Saskatchewan River that runs through the heart of the city that it is located in (Edmonton, Canada).

The exhibits are always revolving and showcase art created in Alberta, Canada, and around the world, including visiting exhibits of works from top museums and galleries in Europe! It also contains an award-winning restaurant, and a cafe with an incredible view. 

2. The Tate Modern

This blocky, industrial looking building is located on the south side of the River Thames in London, England. It houses an incredible collection of works in it's permanent galleries that are FREE to visit, and don't disappoint!

There are always a few galleries that contain paid exhibits, and these are full of works by working artists, or travelling collections of famous ones. It has a lovely cafe overlooking the river, and a rooftop restaurant. 

3. The Hamburger Banhof

After a reconstruction by architect Josef Paul Kleihues, the Hamburger Bahnhof reopened in 1996 as the Hamburger Bahnhof: Museum für Gegenwart (Museum for Contemporary Art) — one of the first state museums in Berlin devoted to "living art." 

This beautiful gallery — my absolute favourite in Berlin, Germany — is now all skylights, white walls and polished wooden floors and is the home of an outstanding collection that focuses on art created since 1960. 

The central collection is from Berlin entrepreneur Dr Erich Marx, that includes work by Beuys, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein and Warhol (whose iconic Mao has a permanent home here).

4. The Louvre

Located in the heart of Paris, France, the Louvre will not disappoint. BUT, you must step off the beaten path a little bit, and actually absorb what you are seeing rather than try to just cross the "must-see" items off your list.

First of all, take a moment to really absorb where you are! The gallery is housed in the former royal palace and the ceilings, views, and architecture are breathtaking! There are priceless treasures in the galleries (yes, more than just the Mona), so many that you could spend days and still not see them all!

There are restaurants and cafes located on site, but they are a bit pricy. (Check out my post: Tips For Visiting The Louvre).

5. The Musee d'Orsay

I could have stayed at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, France for days. The Impressionist works in the collection are stunning, priceless and have a home in this former train station that is now full of natural light, high ceilings, and whitewashed walls.

Like most of my favourite galleries, the building is as interesting as the art, which says a lot because the art is stunning. You will find a vast collection of works by Monet, Pissarro, Degas, and other masters. 

6. Uffizi Gallery

Located near the river in the centre of Florence, Italy, this stunning gallery showcases the best of the Renaissance with sculpture, large-scale artworks, and fascinating sketches housed in a beautiful colonnaded building.

This is the home of Botticelli's famous, breathtaking pieces "The Birth of Venus" and "Primavera" (pictured). There are incredibly long lines to get into this gallery in the summer months, but it is well worth it. 

7. Picasso Museum

This museum/gallery was a total surprise to me, as I had no idea that Picasso had done anything more than the abstract works that we know him best for.

This museum showcases his early, figurative works that are full of colour and incredibly interesting. The building is historic with gorgeous courtyards and sets the tone for the fantastic art that is displayed within. You will find it in Barcelona, Spain. 

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Visiting Monet's Water Lilies At The Musee De L'Orangerie In Paris

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , ,


One of my favourite gallery or museum spaces in the world, the Musee De L'Orangerie is located in Paris on the southwest corner of the Jardin Des Tuileries.

The last time I was in Paris, I was determined to visit smaller museums and locations in the city that had little-to-no mention in tourists books.

That is how I came across this incredible place. 

While it has an impressive collection of Impressionist works, the most incredible part about this gallery is the two, huge white oval rooms that were built in 1927, to Monet's specifications, to display his eight-panel series, Decorations des Nympheas, or Water Lilies

I had no idea what to expect when I walked into the museum, but what I was met with is one of the most unique, peaceful, and inspiring displays of art that I have ever seen.

The shape of the room gives an unending view, allowing people to stand in the middle and be surrounded by Monet's beautiful work.

The lighting is perfect, the crowd quiet, and I ended up spending well over an hour moving back and forth between the two rooms, taking in Monet's brushstrokes, and observing other's enjoy the work

This museum should be on any art lovers must-visit list in Paris — I can't wait to go back! 

Here's what you need to know to plan your visit: 

Musee De L'Orangerie: Jardin des Tuileries, Place de la Concorde, 75001
Open: Wed – Mon 9 am – 6 pm
Admission: 9 Euros (free on the first Sunday of each month)

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Art or Eyesore? The Eiffel Tower History You Probably Didn't Know

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


Nicknamed La dame de fer (the iron lady), the Eiffel Tower is one of the most well-recognized buildings in the world. This latticed iron structure, located in the Champ de Mais in Paris, was erected in 1889 for the World’s Fair of that same year.

Though the tower is now considered to be a cultural and global icon of France, beloved by the majority of its citizens, this was not always the case.

When engineer Gustave Eiffel (the man after whom the tower is named, who also created New York’s Statue of Liberty) put forth a proposal for the 320m (324m including the antenna) building, he was met with massive opposition from the artistic elite.

Some of the most influential members of the art establishment banded together in a group called The Committee of Three Hundred in order to defend what they considered to be “the untouched beauty of Paris”. 

They insisted that the “metal asparagus”, a useless monstrosity, would humiliate and overshadow beloved monuments like Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe.

To them, it was an ugly and overblown work of engineering. 

Every 7 years, the Eiffel Tower is painted with 50-60 tonnes of paint to protect it from rust. Painters use three different colors, with the darkest on the bottom and lightest on the top, to enhance the impression of height

Despite their objections, construction on the Eiffel Tower moved forward and was visited by over 2 million Parisians the day that it opened to the public.

Though many grew to accept the tower, there were still some from The Committee who refused to accept its presence. It is said that writer Guy de Maupassant ate lunch every day at its ground floor restaurant — the only place, he claimed, where he couldn’t see the offensive thing.

Though some still see it as an eyesore overrun with tourists, the 7,000 tons of metal are now widely considered to be a striking piece of structural art.

What do you think — art or eyesore?  

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The Eiffel Tower in Paris
 



Armless Propaganda: The Story of the Venus de Milo

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


The Venus de Milo is one of the most famous statues in the world, but like most famous art, one has to wonder what makes this piece more important than any of the other statues collecting dust in the galleries and storerooms of museums. 

Well, first off, you can’t argue with the fact that she is beautiful.

Artists and critics have long praised the work as being the epitome of graceful female beauty, so much so that her image used to be on the seal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

On the other hand, though, there are many beautiful statues — and many that still have arms. 

Venus de Milo (Aphrodite of Melos), circa 150 BCE

Did she ever have arms?

No, Venus was not created without her upper limbs. She did originally have arms but was found with them already broken off. The buzz created by scholars over the mystery of the placement of her arms and what she may have once held has aided in her popularity. Only adding to the mystery is the fact that fragments found with the statue when it was dug up on the Island of Melos in 1820 have been lost.

The fragments, if reconstructed, would have been from the right arm of the statue and would have shown her holding an apple. Because the fragments were made of stone that was rougher than the rest of the statue, it was concluded that they were from an earlier restoration and so were set aside without being documented properly. They have now disappeared.

Scholars have recently speculated that the fragments were the originals and were carved differently because they would have been above the viewer's line of sight and so did not require a smooth surface (a common sculpting practice at the time of her creation). Without the fragments themselves, however, this can not be proven. 

Who sculpted her?

Adding to her beauty, and the mystery behind her arms, is the fact that is is still not known who actually created the statue and for what purpose. Though it has been speculated that the artist may have been Alexandros of Antioch and she once sat in a high niche in the wall of an ancient city, none of this has been confirmed.

Though all of these facts are interesting, they do not add up to the kind of information that would attract the attention of the rest of the world.

Why is this Venus SO popular?

The main reason that this marble Venus is so recognizable is because of good ‘ol fashioned propaganda.

In 1815, France was forced to return the Medici Venus, which had been stolen by Napoleon Bonaparte, back to the Italians. It was (and still is) regarded as one of the finest classical sculptures in existence and to a country considered to be the art hub of Europe at the time, this was a HUGE blow to the ego.

When the Venus de Milo arrived at the Louvre so soon after the loss of the Medici Venus, French Officials immediately began promoting it as a greater treasure than what they had lost and voila, we now revere and recognize her as one of the most stunning and mysterious statues of the Hellenistic period. 

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Art History: The Birth of the Impressionist Revolution In Paris

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


In April of 1874, a group of 30 French artists (including Degas, Monet, and Renoir) agreed not to submit anything to the annual Salon exhibition and to create their own exhibit together in Paris. 

In France at the time, the French Academy had complete control over the display of art and artistic standards and until 1874 the Salon had been the only place to show art that would garner any respect or influence.

The French Academy had strict standards on what was considered ‘art’ and rejected works that weren’t done in classical or approved styles (portraits of famous historical figures, biblical stories etc...). The work of artists like Degas, Monet and Renoir had been rejected by the Salon numerous times because, to them, it looked unfinished and haphazard.

The exhibition outside of the Salon, called the Corporation of Artists Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc., was a declaration of independence from the academy and was the beginning of the end of the Salon’s hold over the French art world. 

At this first exhibition, a writer from a comic journal took the title of one of Monet’s paintings, Impression, Sunrise (1873) and dubbed the entire exhibition “impressionist”. The artists were thrilled with the label because it represented how they captured an instantaneous impression of a scene from nature in their art. 

At that moment, Impressionism was born, and Monet, Degas, and Renoir would go down in history as famous art revolutionaries.

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What's So Special About The Mona Lisa? The Real Story Behind da Vinci's Famous Painting

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


Mona Lisa, 1503-1506       Leonardo Da Vinci

When my sister recently came home from a trip to Paris she seemed impressed with everything that she had seen — except for the Mona Lisa.

One of the most recognized works of art in the world, reproductions of it usually come in poster sized prints while the original, hung behind thick, bullet proof glass and guarded by a velvet rope is miniature in comparison. 

She commented that in a museum filled with huge, wall-sized works of art, why should she care about something so small that she couldn’t even get close to?

This is a very good question and one that I am sure A LOT of visitors to the Louvre end up asking.

What's so special about the Mona Lisa?

The Renaissance era that Leonardo da Vinci lived in was a time of arts patronage, and artists usually only painted epic works at the request of a wealthy patron (basically someone who requested a certain type of painting and then paid for it).

Patrons valued these artists and usually gave generous commissions, but this meant that the artist had little freedom in what they were creating. Most works from this period were biblical or classical in nature and the patrons themselves were only painted if they were added into the scene. Unless you were a pope, a Medici (an influential family in Florence) or someone equally wealthy, there was little chance of there being a painting done only of you. 

And then there is Mona.

She is painted without a stitch of jewelry (unheard of for women of the era) — not even a wedding ring — and her look is contemporary, not drawing from any classical or biblical references. Women, at the time, were painted to look demure and would never be directly gazing at the viewer. Mona not only stares you down but does so with a smile on her face. It is almost like she is challenging those who dare to look at her. 

For someone like da Vinci, the painter of such revered biblical works like The Last Supper, this is a huge digression from the norm.

To make it all even more mysterious, the real identity of the woman is not known. There is speculation that she was Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant, but there is no direct evidence of this. Many have guessed that the women and the artist were involved in some sort of love affair, but for all we know, the woman in this painting was his housemaid.

Something about her or the painting must have moved him, however, because once it was finished he kept it with him for the rest of his life. 

So, why should you care?

It is not so much the painting itself, but the history behind it that makes the Mona Lisa so special. In a time when the majority of art created was for someone else to appreciate, Leonardo da Vinci created something that was only for himself.

Though tame to us, the style that he painted Mona Lisa in was scandalous for his time and if there is anything to love more than a mystery, it’s a scandal. 

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What's So Special About The Mona Lisa?