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Visiting France

Art exhibitions in Paris, February-September 2014

media Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - Marcelle Lender dansant le boléro dans Chilpéric (1895-1896) Bridgeman Giraudon

The nymphs and courtiers of Watteau and Fragonard and the caustic graphics of Gustave Doré form quite a contrast on Paris’s art scene this season. The Empress Josephine and the Emperor Augustus get gallery time and there’s Vincent and his suicide, lots of impressionists and various ways of looking at the World War I anniversary.

Gustave Doré (1832-1883). The Power of the Imagination, Musée d’Orsay, 18 February-11 May 2014. A Facebook-friendly engraving of puss in boots advertises this exhibition of the work of Gustave Doré but the great 19th-century engraver, sculptor and painter wasn’t usually that cuddly. His illustrations of Dante, Dickens, Rabelais and many more still influence cartoonists and other artists. First retrospective for 30 years. Also at the Orsay Vincent van Gogh/Antonin Artaud. The suicide of society, 11 March-6 July, brings together about 30 Van Gogh paintings, drawings and letters as well as work by Artaud, who accused the Philistines of driving Vincent to kill himself.

De Watteau à Fragonard les fêtes galantes, Musée Jacquemart-André ,14 March-21 July. On a lighter note – although that’s not difficult - the Musée Jacquemart-André takes us to the flirtatious world of pert-breasted maidens and randy young men of 18th-century painters Antoine Watteau, François Boucher, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and their imitators. Fancy a frolic in the fields, a bit of ardour in the arbour? The Jacquemart-André will take you there in a flurry of powder blues and fleshy pinks.

I, Augustus, Emperor of Rome, Grand Palais, 19 March 2014-13 July 2014. Roman Emperor Augustus (63BC-19AD) had no intention of being forgotten – there are monuments to him all over Rome and its former empire - and on the 2,000th anniversary of his death the Grand Palais looks at life during his reign, complete with a reconstruction of a villa from the slopes of Vesuvius and the contents of tombs in Roman-ruled Gaul. Plus Bill Viola, 3 March-28 July, Life and death, light and dark, fire and water … moving paintings and monumental installations from 1975 to today from “the most celebrated exponent of video art”. And Robert Mapplethorpe, 26 March-15 June. Scandal over his representation of gay sex were what put Mapplethorpe in the headlines in his lifetime. This show examines the “classic dimension” of his work and his “search for aesthetic perfection” with over 200 images from the 1970s to his death in 1989.

And don’t forget the always-interesting Monumenta, the annual event that invites an artist(s) to create an installation in the Grand Palais’s huge hall. This year Russian couple Ilya and Emilia Kabakov create a utopian city.

Mapplethorpe/Rodin, Musée Rodin, 7 April-14 September. The charming museum on the Left Bank hitches its wagon to the Grand Palais by comparing 120 examples of Mapplethorpe’s work with 50 sculptures by the genius whose home it used to be. Expect a lot of muscles.

Joséphine, Musée du Luxembourg, 2 March-18 May. "Will return to Paris tomorrow evening. Don't wash," read one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s messages to the Empress Joséphine, so you may not be as keen as he was to “enter into the intimacy of Joséphine”, which the museum’s blurb invites you to do. It’s 200 years since the Martinique-born Joséphine de Beauharnais died and the Senate’s museum displays works that she collected and evidence of her influence on the style of her time. Incidentally, another of Napoleon's letters, describing his fading love for Joséphine, was intercepted by the British and published in their newspapers - and the Daily Mail didn't even exist at the time! Nor did Closer.

Les Impressionnistes en privé, Musée Marmottan Monet, 14 February-5 July. The privé (private) refers to the 50 collections the works in this show come from, which doesn’t mean they're all obscure. Manet’s Bar aux Folies Bergères and Degas’s Petite Danseuse are here, along with dozens of works by the stars (Monet, Pissaro, Sisley, Caillebotte) and the less well-known (Jongkind, Guillamin, Eva Gonzalès – no, I hadn’t either but she’s worth checking out). The presentation is chronological – no fancy curator’s tricks here, thank God – and ends with impressionism dissolving into the movements that gave birth to modern art. Some surprising, and not particularly pleasing, caricatures by Monet, including a couple of unflattering sketches of Englishmen.

Paris 1900, la Ville spectacle, Musée du Petit-Palais, 1 April-17 August. Paris relives its glory days, ringing in the 20th century with the Universal Exhibition, which brought the city the Eiffel Tower, several impressive railway stations and the first line of the Métro. The transformation of the city is shown in painting, photography and early film, there are Art Nouveau artefacts and a look at the art scene of the age, ranging from Gérôme to Cézanne, not forgetting Rodin.

Summer 1914 - The last days of the old world, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 25 March-3 August. As the British argue about whether World War I was a good thing or a bad thing, France is marking the centenary of the beginning of the conflict in a number of ways, including this look at the summer before the slaughter at the library built by former president François Mitterrand.

Martial Raysse, Centre Pompidou, 14 May-22 September, One of the artists who brought Pop to continental Europe, Raysse went on to experiment with film, neon, sculpture, multimedia and play with the Old Masters, famously giving Ingres’s Odalisque a make-over in the acid colours of the advertising age. Unlikely to cause much of a stir outside France. Also at the Pompidou Henri Cartier-Bresson, 12 February-19 June. The first major retrospective of the great photographer, who recorded France and the world through most of the 20th century, since his death 10 years ago.

Lucio Fontana Retrospective, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 25 April-24 August. The master of the slashed canvas gets a retrospective on the banks of the Seine – also includes sculptures, ceramics, installations, starting in the late 1920s and going on to his death in 1989.

Robert Adams – The Place we live, Jeu de Paume, 11 February-18 May. The photographer tracks banality and beauty in the American west, recording humanity’s effect on a landscape that was sublime. There are 250 photos, so take a sandwich. Also at the Jeu de Paume, Mathieu Pernot La Traversée (The Crossing)11 February-18 May. More photos, starting with documentary and moving on to series that aim to give accounts of themes, such as migration, “in several voices” and the use of archive images. A new work, Fire, has been specially created for the show.

Negro Anthology: l'Atlantique Noire de Nancy Cunard (1931-1934) 4 March-18 May Musée du Quai Branly. Shipping heiress Nancy Cunard didn’t stick with her family’s values, becoming an anti-racist and anti-fascist activist as well as hanging out with the French and American artistic avant-garde. The show looks back 80 years to 1934, when she used her contacts to produce a historic anthology of black culture across the globe. Also at Quai Branly, Plains Indians, 9 April-20 July. Objects and artworks produces by Native Americans going back to the 16th century. Plus Bois sacré: initiation dans les forêts guinéennes 4 March-18 May. Masks, statuettes, photographs and documents look at initiation ceremonies in west Africa.

La tentation de l'Orient: Georges Clémenceau et l'Asie, Musée Guimet, 12 March-16 June. France’s leader in World War I was nicknamed The Tiger. That was due to his aggressive handling of his opponents rather than any specialised knowledge of the Asian wild cat but Clémenceau did visit the Far East and was affected by its culture, amassing a collection of Asian art that forms the basis of this exhibition – another part of the WWI commemoration.

Objectif Vietnam, Musée Cernuschi,14 March-29 June. Photographs dating back to France’s colonial rule of Vietnam record pagodas, other monuments and customs, including the last performance of the Nam Giao or Giao Le – the ritual that linked the court to heaven – by the Emperor Bao Dai.

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