A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Meli Clarke

A message from Madame Cézanne to her husband

We are in Aix en Provence enjoying all things Cézanne, including a portrait he did of his wife, Hortense (below), now hanging in Le Musée Granet .
Hortense was a frequent subject of her husband's paintings and there are 29 portraits of her in galleries and private collections around the world, but would she be happy that all are on pubic display? Or would she be like many wives today who insist on vetting the photos their husbands take of them before they are posted on Instagram?

Hortense was said to be 'high maintenance', and her portraits have been described as "surly", "remote" and "dismissive", so I reckon she'd have had something to say about her husband's portraits of her. If he was showing the world her pictures today I think her correspondence with her husband would go something like this:

To: Paul_the_peintre_Cézanne
The Portraits

Can you please not show anyone portraits of me until I see them first? As I am the only woman you seem comfortable painting it's the least you can do (BTW, I saw some of your recent nudes painted 'from memory"; honestly Paul, I think it's time we undressed with the lights on).

As for the portraits, what were you thinking? The first one looks like 'Ive fallen head first into a plate of spinach; in the second one my head looks like a giant potato wearing a toupee and I look like I've been pulled through a hedge backwards in the third one. Delete these shockers now; the last thing you want is for the neighbours to see them.
Horty x
1877.jpg 1888-1890.jpg Paul_Cezan..ame_Cezanne.jpg

Posted by Meli Clarke 05:12 Comments (2)

French affairs

Greetings Homebodies from your recalcitrant Blogeur, currently in France. Bare with me as I try to catch up, starting with Paris (travelling is all consuming and I admit I've been gorging on the experience and when I have down time I've been resting rather than writing). So, let's recap, one blog at a time.

As soon as we disembarked from the Eurostar in Paris and stumbled into the street to find a cab I had an urge to brush my hair and put on some lipstick. The train trip took only two hours but I felt shabby. Paris does that to you. I blame the architecture and the women. Around every corner you find a picture perfect building, reaching into the sky like a giddy gateau, dwarfing you into insignificance . And the women? Of course not all are beautiful but I suspect that the moment a tourist sets foot in Paris, a perfumed army of women on bikes and foot with straight backs, long legs and tousled hair are released from a warehouse to boost the beautiful Parisian women quota, and put lesser women in their place. Mission accomplished.

Parisian women may mesmerise tourists, but Paris is currently besotted by just one woman. This celebrated femme is the antithesis of the earthy, French beauty. She is a manufactured American hottie with sticky-out-bosoms and teeny-tiny-feet. She is Barbie, and her life and times are on show at Les Arts Decoratifs (March 10 – September 18)
Of course the French, being The French, want you to know that it's no small thing for Barbie to be given the honour of a solo exhibition in Paris i.e. "this is the first time that Barbie is the subject of an invitation to a French museum". And they do her proud. The exhibition is huge, covering two floors and exploring Barbie from her creation in 1959, through her declining years, and attempts to shrug off her impossibly pert image with the creation of curvy Barbie, disabled Barbie, Dr Barbie etc.

Of all the Barbie's it is the original, and her history that is most fascinating. Ruth Handler (wife of Elliott Handler, one of the founders of the Mattel toy company) wanted to create a 'grown up' doll for girls. On a visit to Germany she saw a doll called Lilli, a promotional toy aimed at the (mostly male) fans of a newspaper cartoon (below) featuring "an impertinent pinup who charmed men into getting her way".
It's uncanny how similar the original Barbie is to the Lilli doll (below) and no surprise that the predominately male folk at Mattel were uncomfortable about creating a doll that resembled an adult woman. Time however proved Ruth right. And although Barbie has lost currency over the years she still has what it takes to turn heads in Paris.

Posted by Meli Clarke 13:23 Comments (1)

Access all areas

To negotiate the steep cobbled streets of St Ives, on the west coast of Cornwall, you have to be steady on your pins, unlike me who is more flat than fleet of foot. Never was this more apparent than when we scaled the acute angled street leading to The Barbara Hepworth Gallery. There was no way I was going to miss seeing the gallery in the home where this amazing sculptor lived and worked. Even when we arrived to find steep steps into the foyer, and the prospect of a dozen more steps to the gallery, my determination never wavered.

When I finally reached base camp one, frost bitten, hallucinating with provisions low, I was met by an art gallery sherpa. A middle aged woman wearing interesting jewellery, smiled and beckoned me forward.

"There is another way," she whispered. "Follow me; this passage has no steps, it is a place no others are allowed to pass."

And so we followed, along a side street and through side doors, into Ms Hepworth's studio, untouched since the day she died in 1975. Here we met sherpa, Ben, who pointed out unfinished works by the artist, tools, fragments of discarded stone and chisels. It is hard to explain the feeling that washes over you when you pause to contemplate a 'still life' redolent with the artist's energy.

Sadly Ben ushered us on through another door into the garden and gallery. "You are lucky to have seen that up close," he said. And so we were.

Posted by Meli Clarke 01:53 Comments (1)

Bed hopping

We're sleeping around. A different bed every two or three nights. Sometimes it's a one night stand. And to date we still respect ourselves in the morning, except perhaps for our brief encounter with the Mecure, Exeter, a once high class hotel now showing its age and in need of a paint job.

Booking accommodation online is a bit like online dating* – you begin the dialogue with high hopes, trust the photos are an accurate likeness and make a commitment to connect. It's a lucky dip; you never really know what you'll get on the day. As you follow the Sat Nav directions you hope that your hotel isn't one of the homely sorts you're passing as the clock ticks down – "3 minutes, two minutes...you have arrived".


We are currently staying at The Artist's Residence, Penzance (pictures above). It's friendly and funky, and ticks all the boxes for cool staff and inviting communal areas. Other highlights include the Lord Duchy, Falmouth a reimagined ageing beauty and The Hoxton London, the hippest hotel in the land. Most of the hotel rooms we've stayed in to date have appealing features but none so far have all that I need (sorry, Princess Picky is back, but we are staying in 28 hotels on this journey and I am becoming an expert on matters of international importance.)

So take note Hotel Gods, for guests living out of a suitcase for three months a habitable hotel room requires – a bedside table with a drawer and lamp with ample reading wattage; a desk, worthy of the title 'desk' and chair that doesn't do part time work as a stool; bottles of shampoo, conditioner and bath gel able to wash more than a baby budgerigar and room to swing a cat (most European cities have stray cats with which to measure the floor to cat ratio).

Yours truly,
Princess Picky

  • The last time I used a dating agency I attached my likeness etched on a pebble to the leg of a pigeon, thrown off the bow of a clipper heading to the New World, in the hope that love would come back to me, but I have 20-something daughters, so I know stuff.

Posted by Meli Clarke 01:58 Comments (3)

Art for art's sake

Today we tackled the Tate Modern, no mean feat given the renovations the gallery and surrounding area are currently undergoing. So far we've taken shelter in galleries to escape the cold as much as soak up some kulcha, but such is the cavernous concrete and steel interior of the Tate Modern that little warmth was to be had. The current exhibition, Performing for the Camera (Feb 18 - June 12), a collection of 50 black and white photos exploring the relationship between photography and performance also did little to warm the cockles. It made me think that living in the 21st Century we are rarely shocked or awed by art any more.

"The latter is also a record that there was once a time, long, long ago, when women had hair down there."

What was once considered cutting edge is now retro, even quaint, such as photos documenting an "Anti-war naked happening and flag burning at Brooklyn Bridge" and naked women decorating a giant canvas with their paint smeared bodies overseen by a dapper chappy in a suit. The latter is also a record that there was once a time, long, long ago, when women had hair down there. These things need to be remembered.

When you're gorging on art, and you take the time to read the gallery descriptions of artworks, you understand why some think art lovers are making it up as they go along – it's extrapolation on steroids. For example, the permanent exhibition's description of Picasso's Bust of a Woman 1944, a portrait of photographer Dora Maar, says " Her reconfigured features may reflect the complex atmosphere in the final weeks of the Nazi Occupation of Paris". Well yes, 1944 was a messy time in history, but maybe her "reconfigured features" were a) The work of a cubist; b) Painted after a two-bottles-of-red-lunch or c) It was wear a Funny Hat to Pablo's Day. We'll never know, which is true of many paintings. So, as a service to humanity, when next on my journey I'm viewing a work of art in need of context I'll fill in the gaps for you. You're welcome.

Posted by Meli Clarke 05:57 Comments (1)

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