Delacroix Archives - St. Stephen's University

Géricault, Bonheur, and Cod Liver Oil

By 2016, Europe 2 Comments

My primary struggle on this journey has been, for me, an unexpected one. Periodically, and as early on in our itinerary as London, I have been nearly paralyzed by homesickness. I’m not isolated. I’m surrounded by friends. I adore the cities that have welcomed me. But, in a truly horrific throwback to middle school, I have felt shapeless and ungrounded.  I crave a context to recognize myself in, an identity formed by participating in a familiar environment, and not just looking on. I have grown sick to my stomach of “hanging out”.

This feeling struck me especially hard in Paris, on the day we visited the Louvre. I remember walking through golden rooms filled with masterpieces from the Romantic Era. The passionate images surrounding me seemed to mirror my feelings. No matter their stories, the characters seemed dreadfully homesick to me. The Gypsies in Leopold Robert’s “L’Arrivée des Moissonneurs dans les marais Pontins” ceased to be wayfarers- I was certain that they had loaded their carts and harnessed their determined looking oxen with an ocean voyage in mind- New Brunswick bound!!  Girodet’s “The Entombment of Atala” was not bereaving the death of his lover, but the loss of a family farm. Gericault’s gaunt survivors on the Raft of the Medusa stared longingly for home, imagining in the distance the poplar trees that line the driveway of my parents’ home. What incredible strength of feeling these artists transcribed with their brushes and oils! The wretched faces surrounding me were not comforting, though. Our shared misery did not relieve our suffering at all.

What was incredible about the torture of the Romantic paintings, was that we fell short of communion. Atala and I suffered in relative silence, validating each others’ pain without subduing or healing it. This is not a critique of the art. The expressions and emotions on the canvases were exquisite. But it is a common human pitfall that in recognizing our pain, we all too often venerate it, and give it a home in us. I have nothing against feeling strong feelings, but it is important for home sicknesses,  heartbreak and weariness to remember where they belong on the food chain. The priest at the hostel in Paris knew this, and spoke in his homily of how we should not always pray, “God, I have such a big problem,” but “Problem, I have such a big God!” I can’t spend my whole life commiserating with Delacroix.

Praying that prayer, I moved on from the Louvre to the Musée d’Orsay- where there hangs the most realistic portrayal of a cow in the known universe- by Rosa Bonheur. And that was home. Cows are not great sympathizers. But there is something about rural living, and livestock, that can snap you out of a reverie as if to say “Get back to work!” I walked out of Musée d’Orsay feeling ready to really live, to engage with the city, and ended up spending the afternoon making a new friend. I made a temporary little home in Paris.

So, I would like to thank the Romantics for helping me to feel and process, and the Realists for giving me courage and for kicking me in the butt. As far as art is concerned, I am gaining a valuable lesson in the importance of its movements. One perspective is never enough. Just as the needs, desires, and responsibilities of people change, our art needs to change as well. Try not to brush off a period in art as “too sentimental”, “to rigid”, “too absract”. Enjoy your favourites, of course, but art can be like cod liver oil. You might need what you don’t enjoy.

Paris: c’est magnifique, c’est fou, yet I still love you.

By 2010, Europe 2 Comments

7 July 2010. 22:30. Eiffel Tower, Paris.

In retrospect, we should have taken heed of the red flares as they released clouds of amber apprehension into the air. But as twilight encroached on that balmy summer evening, impending peril was the last thing on our minds. The day started out innocently enough. My intrepid partner Sophie and I, Robert Langdon, had just caught our breath after a surprise run-in with the French gendarmes after we tried to burn down the Louvre to see if the charred embers would settle into a treasure map showing where the Knights of the Round Table hid the real James ossuary—no, not James the brother of Jesus, James and the Giant Peach, obviously. Oh shoot, I just blew my cover of using that Dan Brown pseudonym…

Back to the Dan Snyder adventure:

So Tira and I appraised Delacroix and mimicked Michelangelo’s models at the Louvre, gazed at the grandeur of the Parisian skyline from the top of a Ferris wheel, and window shopped the showcases along the Champs Élysées. So far it was your pretty average, mundane day as university students. But, as the evening wore on, our stomachs begged for nourishment and we yearned for sustenance. We then made the fateful decision to turn left and leave the lovely lane of luxury, questing after more thrifty fare. Apparently, our meanderings were not meant to come to fruition. Perhaps the change in the air was provided as a premonition, but we were presently only perceptive towards any potential purveyors of provisions.

After finding no such establishments (in what we later realized was the business district) we stumbled upon the Eiffel Tower. There, a throng of thousands of Parisian youth were passively filing into a motivational talk entitled, “Geriatrics and Geraniums: Rediscovering the Joys of Gardening with Grandma”. Some of the more uncouth jeunes were calling it by its more commonplace soubriquet, “World Cup Semi-Final between Spain and Germany”. So after we all had our interest piqued in getting botanical with Grandma (many in the crowd seemed to read a nationalistic subplot into the speaker’s message and were either really excited for or mad at Spain) nevertheless we all tried to calmly exit the venue amidst controlled explosions of fireworks, limited jubilation, and a hushed murmur that only added to the tranquility of the evening.

It was a good thing that Parisians are renowned for being so orderly and courteous, otherwise Tira and I might have been clutching each other’s hand, dodging unruly gangs of rabble-rousers who may have been inciting senseless violence, and running to safety away from a frenzied mob back to our group on the other side of the Eiffel. But instead I say, kudos to you Paris for making Public Courtesy courses mandatory for all secondary students—worth every euro cent!

All in all, a gloriously unforgettable day, which finished with swing dancing beside the Eiffel. And to paraphrase the Bible: swing dancing covers a multitude of sins. So Paris, your slate is clean, no hard feelings. Well, maybe a few for only getting chips and a muffin for supper…

Lesson learned? Europeans are to the World Cup as Canadians are to the Stanley Cup playoffs; different sports, same crazy fans. Some things really are the same after all!

Dan S.

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