A peek at the DAM's Passport to Paris: Part one

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Yesterday, the Indy attended the Denver Art Museum's media tour for its upcoming exhibit Passport to Paris, which is actually a trio of shows representing France from the 1600s through the early 20th century: Court to Café, Drawing Room and Nature as Muse. Since they do overlap in some senses, I'll cover the first two here, with more on Muse to come later.

Court
is very much a linear, historical show that demonstrates the way art mirrored a changing French society. It begins with the lush world of Louis XIV in a maroon room with large, grand artworks and stately chandeliers. Next comes the era of the growing aristocracy, which put its wealth into Rococo stylings, scaled down for home use. Artwork lingered on the courtly subjects of religion and mythology, but soon gravitated toward the happy-go-lucky scenes of daily life (for the elite, that is.)

A portrait of a noblewoman by Louise Élisabeth Vegée Le Brun, a close friend of Marie Antoinette. - DENVER ART MUSEUM
  • Denver Art Museum
  • A portrait of a noblewoman by Louise Élisabeth Vegée Le Brun, a close friend of Marie Antoinette.

Upon the dawn of the French Revolution, however, that all changed. Artwork followed the common man and the noble beliefs of the Classical era, from empire waistlines; to simple, clean lines; to the earliest forms of democracy.

Lastly, with the advent of several revolutions, including the Industrial, you arrive at the Café portion of the exhibit. This is where Paris started to look as we know it today: Streets were widened, grand boulevards, fountains and public parks built. The city started to look more welcoming, and less medieval. As technology allowed for such improvements in civic life, it also fueled a change in French artwork. Now, oil paint was manufactured in tubes, making studios more mobile. Artists started to go outside. That, in the broadest possible brushstroke, is the beginning of Impressionism.

A woman's empire-style dress, on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. - DENVER ART MUSEUM
  • Denver Art Museum
  • A woman's empire-style dress, on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

In the next hall is a small, dark room devoted to works on paper by artists who lived and worked in France during this 300-year period. It has the feel of a gentleman connoisseur's art library, says Angelica Daneo, who curated both exhibits.

True to the delicate nature of works on paper, the dim atmosphere is contemplative and somewhat freeform. Unlike the narrative pushed in Court, Drawing Room, Daneo says, invites visitors to follow their own lead, and view the drawings in any order.

The collection is gorgeous. Drawings, whether accented with gouache, watercolor or chalk, are immediate and intimate, Daneo says. Here, you see the raw skill of artists like Watteau, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec and those who worked in France, like Picasso. Their lines are confident — it's amazing the way a simple gesture of the hand can convey so much information.

"Reclining Lion" by Pierre Andrieu - DENVER ART MUSEUM
  • Denver Art Museum
  • "Reclining Lion" by Pierre Andrieu

The show opens Oct. 27 and runs through Feb. 9 and is a fantastically beautiful affair. The art is colorful and delicate; the accompanying period clothing, music and furniture similarly exquisite.

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