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Visiting France

Art exhibitions in Paris, February-September 2015

media Diego Velazquez, The Toilet of Venus (1647-1651) © The National Gallery

Spanish splendour from Velazquez, vice and low life in Baroque-era Rome, Tudor pomp, domestic bliss and ladies in the bath and some louche Outsider Art hit the Paris museums and galleries this season. But you may need sharp elbows to see the pictures in the biggest-deal shows.

Velazquez, Grand Palais, 25 March 2015-13 July 2015. The Grand Palais has another blockbuster on its hands with the works of the giant of the golden age of Spanish art, Diego Velazquez (1599-1660). He was still influencing French artists like Edouard Manet two centuries after his birth, not to mention Picasso, who reworked his Las Meninas in a series of 58 paintings in the 20th century. Another famous and influential work, The Toilet of Venus, is in the show, along with works by some of his contemporaries. Despite its size, the Grand Palais can get crowded, so be ready for a bit of Paris-style jostling to  view of the paintings.

The Baroque Underworld, Vice and Poverty in Rome. Petit Palais, 24 February-24 May 2015. Who says museums don’t do lurid? “This Roman netherworld, in which vice, poverty and every kind of excess flourished, has never been presented in France before,” reads the blurb. Pretty juicy, huh? No surprise to find Caravaggio here, then. There are also the Bamboccianti, Dutch infiltrators who brought the low-life genre painting developed in their homeland to the Eternal City in the 17th century, portraying “drunks and gluttons, scabby tobacconists, barbers and other 'sordid' subjects”, according to Italian Salvator Rosa, whose work is also represented, as are those of Claude Lorrain and other foreign visitors. The Petit Palais has brought in Italian opera director and scenographer Pier Luigi Pizzi to evoke the dens of iniquity and the palaces of the wealthy. As a side order, Claude Gellée, un Lorrain à Rome, 17 February- 31 May, has gone into the museum’s vaults and dug up work he executed in Rome, where he lived from 1627 until his death in 1682.

From Giotto to Caravaggio, the passions of Roberto Longhi, Musée Jacquemart-André, 27 March-20 July 2015. Caravagio again! Three works, including the famouos Boy bitten by a lizard (one of two versions), to start the show off. There are also Italian primitives seguing into the renaissance - Giotto, Masaccio, Piero della Francesco, Jose de Ribera and others. The works are from the collection of 20th-century art historian Roberto Longhi with others from French and Italian museums.

The Tudors, Musée du Luxembourg, 18 March-19 July 2015. Last season saw the Borgias at the Musée Maillol, spring sees the Tudors arrive in all their pomp at the museum next to the French Senate. Could anything so vulgar as TV ratings be influencing exhibition planners’ choices now? Even if Hans Holbein’s Henry VIII looks suitably pugnacious, visitors hoping for grisly details of wives meeting the axeman, murder in the tower and extreme sibling rivalry will be disappointed. But splendour there should be. This is the Renaissance arriving in England in the shape not only of Holbein but of other Italian, Flemish and Germanic artists finding work in the kingdom as it broke from Rome and laid the basis of Protestant, bourgeois prosperity.

Pierre Bonnard. Painting Arcadia, Musée d’Orsay, 17 March-19 July 2015. Paris’s museum of 19th-century art displays a proprietary interest in the best-known of the Nabis and explains that “exhibitions held the world over” have motivated to have its own. Bonnard’s Arcadia was largely domestic, notably the series of pictures of his wife Marthe in the bath painted throughout their marriage but not registering the effects of the ageing process. There’ll be plenty of post-impressionist light and colour, as well as sculpture, photographs, prints and decorative art and, according to the Orsay, “sharp, humorous observations drawn from his immediate surroundings”.

La toilette, naissance de l'intime, Musée Marmottan Monet 12 February-5 July 2015. Talking of ablutions, here’s a show that appears to be essentially lots of pictures of women in the bath, ranging from a 15th-century Dutch tapestry to Bettina Rheims’s 1996 Karen Mulder with a very small Chanel bra. “This is the first time that such a subject, unique and inescapable, has been presented in the form of an exhibition,” you’ll be unsurprised to hear. Not just your bog-standard exhibition, then. Advertised by a sensuous video

Hervé Télémaque, Centre Pompidou, 25 February 2015-18 May 2015. Surrealism and pop art influence Télémaque’s treatment of everyday objects in unpredictable juxtapositions. Born in Haiti in 1937, he has lived in Paris since 1961 and now gets a grand retrospective bringing together an unprecedented number of his works.

At the Paris Modern Art Museum from 22 January-30 May French abstractionist Georges Noel (1924-2010) is the beneficiary of “one of a series of tributes by the museum to artists working in France who have not been sufficiently shown”, five of his works having been recently donated. From 17 April-19 July German painter and sculptor Markus Lupertz gets a retrospective, featuring 140 of his figurative, expressionistic, art-history-literate works. Frem 29 May-11 October US Outsider Art legend Henry Darger (1892-1973) is honoured by the display of the three-metre-long first chapter of his illustrated novel about a children’s revolt, starring the Vivian Girls. He has influenced the Chapman brothers - you have been warned.

Les Clefs d’une Passion, Fondation Louis Vuitton, 1 April-6 July 2015. The newly opened art space in a publicity-grabbing building by Frank Gehry  on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne has “major works” by the big names of modernism – Malevich, Mondrian, Rothko, Léger, Picabia, Munch, Giacometti; Kupka, Matisse, Severini, Delaunay - lent by top museums – Moma, Tate, Guggenheim etc - but admits that the choice of works is limited.

Les Cahiers Dessinés, Halle Saint Pierre, 21 January-14 August 2015. Darger is no stranger to Paris’s Outside Art museum, which, although situated at the foot of Sacré Coeur, is not on most tourists’ to-do list. The Halle St Pierre has hooked up with Paris publishes Cahiers Dessinés, founded in 2002, to display drawings by 67 artists, some humorous, some playful, some dead serious.

L’Ecole de Lingnan, éveil de la Chine moderne, Musée Cernuschi, 20 March-28 June. The Lingnan school was the last great Chinese school of painting, playing part in the awakening of modern China, according to the Musée Cernuschi. Stirred by the nationalist spirit of the turn of the 20th century, Chen Shuren and the brothers Gao Jianfu and Gao Qigeng tried to revitalise Chinese culture and turned to Japan to do so. Whether it came via Japan or directly, Western influence can also be made out in their treatment of wildlife, vegetation and the daily life of ordinary people, in a style that seems familiar from certain greetings cards.

Dolce Vita? Italian Decorative Art 1900–1940, from the Liberty to Industrial Design, Musée d’Orsay, 14 April-13 September 2015. Italy's version of Art Nouveau, the Liberty style (named after a London shop not the partner to equality and fraternity), the aggressively modern futurist school and neo-neo-classicism are all represented in a show of Italian applied arts in the period following the unification of the country.

Les Maîtres de la Sculpture De Côte d'Ivoire, Musée du Quai Branly, 14 April-26 July 2015. Sculpture of the 19th and early 20th centuries from west Africa, notably Côte d’Ivoire, in a show that seeks to prove that “African art – like Western art – is composed of individual artists”, “illustrate the geographical, religious and social context” and “initiate the Western eye to the beauty and aesthetic codes of the region”. Tatoueurs, tatoués, 6 May 2014-18 October 2015 Takes a skin-deep look at tattoos. And L'Inca et le Conquistador, 23 June-20 September 2015 follows the Spaniards conquest of the Inca empire through portraits of Inca ruler Atahualpa and the Conquistador Francisco Pizarro.

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