Tell us a little bit about yourself—your background, major program of study, reasons for taking this trip, and anything else interesting you want to share (maybe something people might not know about you).
Hi! I’m Margot, an accountant turned artist. The only thing these occupations have in common is that they both start with the letter “a”. Whenever I make a life change this drastic, I go back to school. Because part of my life change included a move from the east to the west coast, my best artistic opportunity for returning to school was Kwantlen Polytechnic University. I have been a student for over a year, and have enjoyed both studio and art history courses. I was taking Drawing 2 when our teacher, Elizabeth, came to class waving the just published advertisement for a foreign study trip to Paris and Kassel. I’d never heard of Kassel, but Paris was on my bucket list and I could hardly wait to sign up. We spent six weeks in classroom in preparation for the trip, giving us the opportunity to learn about the revitalization of the city, some of the history of the people of Paris, and some of the artworks and artists who practiced in the mid 1800s.
What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about Paris so far?
I’ve been in Paris for a few days now, and my eyes are adjusting to city streets that are narrow roadways framed by six story buildings sporting flower-covered wrought iron balconies. There is a coziness in being on the ground surrounded by buildings that vary from each other much like people do. With more similarities than differences, I notice that which is different - the shape of roofs, the size of windows, the type of balconies, the colour of flowers. Buildings have their own life, a reflection of the people who live in them. In Paris, one meets the people on the streets. During the day there are children playing in the tree lined pedestrian walkway outside our building, and in the evening, the cafes and sidewalks are filled with people enjoying the company of friends and neighbours as they share a glass of wine. The most consistently positive experience I have had is the interaction that comes when I approach a complete stranger asking for help because I am lost and don’t speak the language. People waiting for a train on the Metro, people ticketing items in the grocery store, people bringing home groceries or on their way to the local cafe, all willing to stop whatever they are doing to help a stranger.
Today’s activity included a visit to the Arc de Triomphe. What were your impressions? What will you take away of the experiences of this day? What are the most memorable moments for you?
We visited the Arc de Triomphe to get a 360 degree view of the city and the Haussmannization of Paris, which occurred in the mid 19th century. Walking toward the monument, I saw a huge flag of France attached to the centre of the Arc, appearing close enough to be almost touchable by human hands. It moved with every gentle breeze, a majestic symbol of this great country. Our little group started up a tight, circular stone stairwell that Dorothy assured us was about forty steps. A few hundred steps later (!), I realized that every good thing comes with a price tag, and the cost of seeing this beautiful view was the climb to the top of the Arc. After a significant amount of climbing with heavy breathing and wobbly legs, there was the magic of Paris at sunset on a full moon evening. Wide boulevards emanated from our central position, opening the city in an ever expanding circle of architectural beauty. For the first time I realized what a central place the Arc de Triomphe is for the historical sense of Parisiennes. We spent the best part of an hour drinking in the sights of the city from this aerial vantage point. I must say that going down a second tightly curved stairwell was a lot easier. Although we didn’t spend time on the history of the monument, there is an eternal flame burning in the central ground of the Arc. Because there are many bouquets of flowers left by the flame, I think it burns in respect for the generations of French citizens who helped to form France as we know it today. After sunset, hidden lights shine on the monument, emphasizing the detailed sculptures and dedications that cover the surface of this huge structure.
Paris was revitalized from a medieval conglomeration of narrow streets and alleyways. In order to rebuild the old city, many people were displaced and their homes demolished. Baudelaire, a critic and poet of the time wrote “The Eyes of the Poor,” a poem about the appropriation of land for the benefit of the gentry with no consideration for the lower class of Parisian citizens. The cost of Haussmannization to the gentry came in the form of taxes, while the cost to the poor was homelessness. It was a heavy price tag that we rarely consider 170 years later as we stand in awe viewing the beauty that is Paris today.
Give us some insight into your assigned artwork from the D’Orsay Museum. After seeing the work in person in Paris (and any other related art from the same artist or art movement associated with the assigned work), what struck you most about it and/or how did the artwork’s form, content, and context shift for you when seeing it.
Reflecting on the topic of Haussmannization, I think about my assigned painting from the Orsay, Berthe Morisot’s The Cradle, which she painted in 1872. The Cradle is an image of Morisot’s sister and her new niece in a private moment together as the child sleeps. It is a meditation on the significance of small moments that make the memories a lifetime, those moments that reach for the meaning of life. What was it like for Morisot to be a woman of status and means within this time period in Paris? Morisot was trained as a painter in order to be the proper spouse of a well to do Parrisianne man. In this role she was the much-cherished wife of Eugene Manet (brother of the famous Edouard Manet) and mother of Julie Manet. However, Morisot insisted on also being a full time artist and an independent thinker of her time. This shift in a woman’s role was fully supported by her husband, and together they were able to create a household filled with artists, musicians, poets and intellectuals of the day because of the Thursday evening get-togethers started by Mme. Manet senior, and carried on by Morisot. It was possible for Morisot to be a professional painter in part because the shifts in the physical structure of Paris were paralleled by shifts in the art world. Strict conformity to Salon standards gave way to the practices of the Impressionists and for the first time it was possible for Morisot to use the daily life of women as an acceptable subject for painting. The opening range of appropriate subject matter made it possible for Morisot to shine as a painter of her time. She was part of the backbone of the Impressionist movement from the outset of the group in 1874 and continued to support the group through its final exhibition in 1886.