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Carmen, from the Opera by Georges Bizet, by Barbara Redmond

Carmen, from the Opera by Georges Bizet, by Barbara Redmond

When I am in Paris I sketch and paint with a theme in mind. I travel to Paris every chance I get and have sketched a lot along the way. I’ve gone alone, I’ve gone with a single companion, I’ve gone with family. I’ve stayed in hotels and apartments, shopped in boutiques and markets, walked miles, made friends, eaten all kinds of food in all kinds of venues, visited museums and busy tourist sites, and made personal pilgrimages to obscure places.

In Paris I sketch and paint. I arrive in the city with a theme in mind. A single theme that I study for months in advance of my departure.

The Opera Carmen

My first theme, several years ago, was the opera Carmen, by the French composer Georges Bizet (1838-1875). Six months prior to my trip, I had attended an avant-garde theater performance of Carmen by Theater de le Jeune Lune in Minneapolis. In the story, a soldier falls in love with a beautiful girl who works in a cigarette factory. Carmen, however, does not reciprocate the soldier’s love. The Jeune Lune’s portrayal of Carmen, the opera’s gypsy heroine, was of an intelligent, yet fragile, teenager who used her own cleverness for day-to-day survival but never did any real harm. This young Carmen convinced me there was something not right about the traditional American staging of the opera Carmen.

After listening to several recordings of Carmen, I began my research by reading the book Georges Bizet Carmen, by Susan McClary. I was fascinated by the musical codes that were developed to represent the power of Carmen and those of her lover, Don José, whose musical key was shifted down to match hers.

The story of Carmen

Next came the novella, Carmen and Other Stories, by Prosper Mérimée, first published in 1845, upon which the libretto is based. Merimée’s Carmen was very young, intelligent and spoke several languages. His Carmen lived by her wits and charm, similar to the Jeune Lune’s version. Merimée’s version of Don José, in contrast, was a murderer and is not the character we’ve grown accustomed to in traditional interpretations of Carmen.

19th Century French art―Romanticism, Orientalism

I studied nineteenth century French art and the elements of Romanticism, Orientalism, Egyptian motifs, the wild landscape, and the tragic anti-hero. Carmen, as the outsider, was a perfect fit in my study of Orientalism and the tragic anti-hero. Four films based on the opera closed my study: Carmen Jones and the versions of Carmen by Peter Brook, Francesco Rosi, and my favorite, Carlos Saura’s flamenco Carmen.

Sketching and painting in Paris

In my carry-on bag was make-up, a change of clothes to slip into before I left the airport, and my two-week itinerary of my day-to-day schedule: museum sketching in the mornings and neighborhood sketching in the afternoon and evening. If my checked bag of papers, pens, and tubes of paint were lost in transit, I could stop to fill my sac from my favorite art supply store near Musée d’Orsay; Couleurs du Quai Voltaire (Paris depuis 1887).

Sketching in Paris Museums

When the doors to Musée du Louvre opened, I was there. I was there to see two paintings. The first was Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres’ (1780-1867) Une Odalisque (1814) of a “harem woman,” whose accessories suggest the sensuous Orient―conjuring up an image of a distant land. The second painting, also by Ingres, was The Bather, known as the Valpinçon Bather (1862) of a nude as seen from behind.

The next day I was at Musée d’Orsay to study the wild landscape painting of Édouard Manet’s (1832-1883) Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (1863) of two clothed men having a picnic in the Tuileris Garden with two disrobed women.

I selected these paintings to ask myself, who holds the narrative context? The woman in the painting? The artist? Or me, the observer? Does the woman in each painting come to us or do we have to come to her? Was there a secret for me in Paris to discover with brush and paint?

Sketching during tea at the Hôtel Plaza Athénee

Exhausted from visiting museums and walking miles over the past two weeks, I discovered a young, precocious ‘Carmen’ embodied in a sixteen year-old Parisian girl who was not enjoying tea with her parents and brother at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris. Smartly dressed, and wearing flip-flops, one moment she’d flirt and tease―the next, she’d shrug and slump, then cover all but her eyes with her menu and at once fluttered the menu in the air like a fan. Sitting across from this animated and spirited young creature, not unlike my two daughters at that age, I couldn’t sketch fast enough as the hotel’s waiters, prim and proper with their hands clasped behind their backs, looked over my shoulder at my pen and ink sketches and smiled.

Paris paintings―ink, brush and watercolor paint

During the final days of my visit, every surface of my apartment was covered with interpretations now in ink and brush from the most promising sketches in my sketchbooks. Often, I made more than thirty brush and ink drawings to capture the right impression. My Athénée Carmen’s flirtatious tease or the slight snap of her scarf against her leg. I added a brilliant palette of watercolor pigments to accentuate a shimmer that brought the drawings to life.

I’ve re-imagined the four acts of Carmen through sketch, brush, water and paint, and a simple retelling of the libretto.

A Woman’s Paris™

Each year after my Carmen study, a new Paris theme has followed, until my favorite theme emerged, “A Woman’s Paris,™” for and about women who love Paris and France. A Woman’s Paris™ is a place to bring women together, a place where worlds converge. Every woman holds a narrative to her own story.

Collectors and Lovers of Art

FIAC International Contemporary Art Fair

21-24 October 2010
Grand Palais, Cour Carrée du Louvre, Tuileries

More than 200 galleries in France and abroad will showcase the work of contemporary artists from around the world. Galleries and collectors of contemporary art participate with artists in the annual Foire International d’Art Contemporaire. Art moderne, art contemporain, design, and performances.

The Marcel Duchamp Prize

The Prix Marcel Duchamp’s aim is to promote the international recognition of artists working in France. It was established in 2000 by the Adiaf (Association pour la Diffusion Internationale de l’Art Français) in partnership with the Centre Pompidou, National Museum of Modern Art and FIAC. The 2010 candidates include:

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, born in 1961 (galerie Xippas) Reporters: François Quintin, Director of the Xippas gallery.

Cyprien Gaillard, born in 1980 (Bugada & Cargnel, Cosmic gallery, Sprüth Magers, Laura Bartlett, Stroom Den Haag) Reporters: Elana Filipovic, Art Historian, Curator at the Wiels Centre of Contemporary Art.

Camille Henrot, born in 1978 (Kamel Mennour gallery) Reporters: Ami Barak, Exhibition Commissioner.

Anne-Marie Schneider, born in 1962 (Nelson Freeman gallery) Reporters: Eric de Chassey, Director of the Villa Medicis.

FIAC: Young Curators Invitational (YCI)

The FIAC and the Fondation d’entreprise Ricard have joined for the fifth consecutive year to establish the YCI (Young Curators Invitational). The YCI program gathers together in Paris during the FIAC, the most promising among the new generation of intellectuals, critics and curators of international exhibitions.

Book: “Georges Bizet Carmen”

by Susan McClary. with preface by Peter Robinson, published by Cambridge University Press.

Radio podcast: Bonjour Minnesota!

Bonjour Minnesota/KFAI Radio without boundaries 90.3 Minneapolis and 106.7 St. Paul
Podcast (live): 12 October 2010 Bonjour Minnesota

Vocabulary: French to English translations

Bonjour: Hello
Le déjeuner: Lunch
L’herbe: Grass or lawn
Odalisque: (Turkish: Odalik) A female slave. An assistant to the concubines and wives
Orientalism: Term used for the imitation or depiction of Eastern cultures in the West by writers, designers and artists
Romanticism: In literature and painting it stressed the importance of feelings, imagination, self-expression and individual creativity

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Fine art paintings of Paris

Fine art prints of paintings by Barbara Redmond of famous streets and places and gardens of Paris. Printed on archival 100% cotton paper, each print is signed and dated. Visit us! Or email Barbara at barbara@awomansparis.com. Free shipping in the continental U.S.A.

Text copyright ©2010 Barbara Redmond
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond
All rights reserved.