The Paris Museum of Modern Art (Musee d’Art Moderne) is located in the Palais of Tokyo (which was) built in 1937 for the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology. It is one of the biggest museums of modern and contemporary art in France with over 13,000 works of art. Although the museum was awkwardly organized (with numbered galleries often not aligned with the time periods or artistic styles that they represent), is still a gem. It generally offers significant numbers of 20th-century pieces that represent key styles and important artists.
We started our visit by exploring its very small, but very symbolic display of African masks and art. This work was an inspiration for many of the early 20th-century artists and less directly, for those that came thereafter. We only wished that the galleries were consistently labeled in chronological around schools of art.
The Cubist galleries focus largely on Picasso and Braque and included (after seeing his death portrait of his close friend Carlos Casagemas at the Picasso Museum), this museum had a picture of his burial (which, unlike the portrait, actually is in the shades that predominate in the artist’s subsequent Blue Period but also includes some very Chagall-like images). The museum also has a number of cubist pictures from other contemporary artists who experimented but did not commit as deeply as Picasso and Braque to the Cubist style. These included Legar, Roussault, Lipshitz, and even Chagall.
Cubism and Fauvism Influence
Then came galleries focused on contemporaneous artists and those who were influenced by varying combinations of Cubism and Matisse’s Fauvism. These include:
- A broad range of artists from the so-called School of Paris. The only commonality of some of these artists was that they were foreign-born, worked in Paris, and some felt diverted attention and patronage from native French artists. These included Chagall, Modigliani, Dongen, and a number of others)
- Those influenced largely by Matisse such as Dufy (who was generally a Fauvist), and Roussault (whose color-centric works combined Fauvist and Expressionist influences);
- Nabists, especially Bonnard and Vuillard, who combined Japanese techniques with contrasting color palettes in their depictions of contemporary scenes;
Surrealism and Subsequent Periods
Subsequent schools include, in greatly airing depth, profiles of schools including Surrealism (academic and illusionist) from the late 1920s to the 40s and Abstractionism (some geometric, primarily spontaneous) in the late 1940s through the 50s.
Smaller sections of galleries are, as in the larger Pompidou Center, devoted to a number of less influential subsequent periods. These include Dada (about 1916 through the 20s), New Realism (mid-1950s), and Fluxus.
Giorgio de Chirico
Other galleries are dedicated to individual artists of whom the museum have particularly strong collections. They provide good opportunities to trace the evolution of these artists’ work. One of the most interesting for us was one dedicated to Giorgio de Chirico. His work over his long career ranged from realist to surreal, to metaphysical—often blurring temporal and spatial boundaries.
The museum also had several galleries devoted to Paris-modern-style decorative arts and furniture designs of the 1920s and 30s. A number of other galleries are devoted to various subsequent French arts.
The most massive, and one of the most engaging of all pieces in the exhibit was an entire convex-shaped room devoted to a 60×10-meter mural created by Fauvist-inspired Raoul Dufy in 1937 under commission by an electricity consortium for the Palais de la Lumière et de l’Electricité. This beautiful piece, named “The Electricity Fairy”, celebrates electricity. It portrays the history of electricity, the scientists and inventors who made it possible, the wonders it had created to date, and what it may hold for the future. It is almost worth making a trip to the museum for this painting alone.