While on visit as a guest of the Marmottan Museum, Gerard Fromanger stopped in front of a painting by Caillebote, Paris Street, a rainy day. In 1877, the impressionist had depicted two strollers in haussman’s Paris. They were at the intersection of the rue de Turin and the rue de Moscou and it comes as no surprise that Fromanger — widely known as a painter of the street –was struck by a work of art that celebrated his own favorite subject. The irresistible desire to paint “with four hands”, side by side with Caillebotte, to return to a subject that fascinated both of them was manifest. Fromanger made a proposition to the Museum, a proposition that innocently answered a project in gestation at rue Louis Boilly for a long time, to open the museum to the art of its own time.
The Marmatton is not just a museum, it is also a home, appropriated by collectors and descendants of the artists since it went public in 1934. It was home to Jules and Paul Marmatton who founded the institution and also home to Victorine Donop de Monchy who in 1940 gave the Marmatton Impression, soleil levant and ten other signed works by Monet, Renoir, Pissaro, Morisot and Guillaumin. The Monet and Morisot families also made the Marmatton their home, home to the first world-wide collections of these two impresionists. These benefactors were not simply satisfied to offer works of art, they also delegated collections of personal writings, diaries and family portraits. It seems natural therefore that today’s painters be able to open the doors of the institution, feel themselves at home and find their own place, a place passed from painter to painter as part of a cultural inheritance.
In this context, the Marmatton has decided to extend invitations to artists twice a year, asking them to do works that resonate with the museum’s permanent collections. This open invitation to an “unexpected dialogue” was scheduled to be initiated by Fromanger in 2017. With hindsight, we can see that the ensuing waiting period established the premises of such an encounter. At the end of 2017, while the context of the dialogues remained confidential, Fromanger completed a series of sixteen drawn portraits of yesterday’s and today’s painters, from Giotto to Bruce Naumann. With such hommage (a Fromanger habit since the 70’s) Fromanger drew together a community of artists that he called his circle of “Friends”, (Amis) the title which he gave to the collection. Caillebotte and Pissarro are not yet included (they will soon be). Monet, however is already part of the group.
Autumn 2018, work begins. Words come before their result is inscribed on a canvas. A first encounter takes place at the artist’s studio, rue de la Roquette in Paris. Discussion focuses on Fromanger’s ties to Rue de Paris, temps de pluie, by Caillebotte but also with Pissaro’s Boulevard exterieur, effet de neige. Pissaro is a master who Fromanger is determined to include in the project. What is immediately apparent: their shared interests, the subject above all; but their differences or rather each artist’s singularity is even more manifest and becomes the heart of the ensuing discussion. Depending on the era, the street is represented totally differently. The painter has to take the reality and specificity of his own era into account. In other words the theme is the same, but the language changes. It is the painter’s task to elaborate such distinctions. Is this art and manner?
To the question, how best to represent the hausmann Paris of the great boulevards painted by the impressionists in the 1870’s, Fromanger brings us an answer, one hundred years later. In 1970 he devoted his time to a series of works called Boulevard des Italiens. Since then, never stopping, year after year, he has renewed the series and his manner of depicting the Boulevard. What new insights and vision could the street specialist bring to his public?
This is when the unexpected surprises us, or rather when the atelier’s truths impose themselves. When Fromanger returns to Tuscany -returns to the chapel where he has been painting since 1980, he forgets Caillebotte and Pissarro, forgets the street. Why paint a work of art that exists already? Against all expectations, or rather, perhaps simply looking for his own renewal, the homage and the challenge come from Monet’s Impression, soleil levant. On a canvas some 200 by 300 cms, Fromanger tackles the queston head on: how to paint a rising sun in 2019? As a result, Fromanger’s dialogue at the Marmatton undertakes a confrontation with the master of this world, Monet himself, whose portrait Fromanger had done in 2017. For all of that, Caillebotte and Pissarro are not left behind. On the contrary, two works by Fromanger from 1970 (Salon de thé Boulevard des Italiens) and the other from 2003, Dos a dos, vert (from the series, Sens dessus, dessous) illustrate the continuity of the connection. This permanence reminds us, as Fromanger puts it so perfectly, that a canvas is never white, but is always already dark with all the work that has preceded it. It is the fruit of an uninterrupted succession and the expression of an unexpected dialogue.
From March 28 to September 29, 2019
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