One of the best reasons to travel to Paris is to take in the special exhibits. This past April, I loved the exhibit called “Paris 1900” at the very grand Petit Palais. In 1900, a huge exhibition occupied 500 acres along the Seine River, at the same time that the very first line of the Metro opened. The exhibition was a celebration of Paris as THE world center of art, innovation, technology, and above all entertainment. Entertainment in Paris 1900 ran the gamut from sublime theater performances to dance halls to houses of prostitution, tailored to all segments of society.
Annoyingly, all the exhibit captions were in French only. I had to call on my translating skills, which are pretty good but not great. There was an audioguide, but I was short on time. (When is there ever enough time in Paris?)
“Redemption,” Public Domain
A gorgeous large painting by Julius LeBlanc Stewart poignantly depicts the intersection of high life and low life in the fast-and-loose period known as the Belle Epoque. The title is “Redemption,” painted in 1895. Stewart was an American. Along with his fellow American, the more well-known John Singer Sargent, he made a nice living doing portraits of society figures. This is a genre painting, on the theme of the repentant prostitute.
A beautiful young girl, dressed in white, stands alone at one end of a dinner table–or rather, probably a table set for supper during a ball. Will this girl make an advantageous marriage? Or possibly she already has escaped her former life, and hopes she will not be found out. She looks vulnerable, ready to flee.
At the other end of the table, a portly gentleman is working on seducing a bare-shouldered woman. She holds him off with one hand–but for how long?
Join me next time for more explorations into the art and history of Europe!