There is something so curious about seeing images of the early 1900s in color– it makes the era feel more tangible. When we initially saw these photographs of turn of the century Paris on Curious Eggs, we were struck by the fact that, somewhere in the back of our heads, we seemed to think that the people of the time moved through a hazy world of sepia. We don’t think that the addition of color necessarily detracts from my romantic illusions (or delusions), but it certainly makes the era feel more “real.” It’s almost like we could hop in a zeppelin and visit, which, to be honest, is all we’ve ever really wanted.
You might remember our article about Napoleon’s Penis in New Jersey, but did you know about the “enlightened” sex clubs in 18th century London, the Victorian “Secretums” housed in the world’s most famous museums, or the history of prostitution in France? During a recent talk at Obscura Society NYC, Historian Tony Perrottet was brilliantly able to demonstrate that we are not to be blamed for our lack of knowledge about the most titillating historical facts: we all suffer at the hands of an historical education that entirely omits the good bits. He is the author of several books, including Napoleon’s Privates — 2500 Years of History Unzipped, which happened to serve as both inspiration and source to our previous piece about the Emperor’s current whereabouts.
New Yorkers are no strangers to the art of celebrating. In the summertime, it seems as though streets are sectioned off weekly to celebrate various countries and cultures. Being the most diverse city in the world, it seems like no matter your origins, there is inevitably a festive day to celebrate your heritage, and with an estimated 70,000 French transplants residing in New York City, things are certainly no different for our local Francophone population.
The Bastille was a fortress and prison that famously held prisoners based on lettres de cachet, or arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed. Political prisoners that spoke against the monarchy were held on these grounds, and as a result, the Bastille quickly became a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy. The fortress was also known to house massive quantities of gunpowder and ammunition, which was seemingly being used against the French people, as opposed to being used for their defense.
In an effort to both liberate the captives and arm the general populace, the people of Paris took a stand and attacked the bastille on July 14th, 1789. As the crowd proved to be a fair match to the royal military and the defenders of the fort, the gates were opened. The French Revolution had officially begun, and a long and bloody struggle to deny the King’s absolute power and fight the oppression of the French people had begun.
Just as it is with our Fourth of July, the bloody history of this critical day and the surrounding tragedies is somewhat obscured by our contemporary methods of celebration. But as an optimist that likes to eat and appreciates a good firework, that may be alright.
FIAF, or the French Institute Alliance Francaise, is a non-profit organization whose mission is “to create and offer New Yorkers innovative and unique programs in education and the arts that explore the evolving diversity and richness of French cultures.” Just as one might expect, this cultural powerhouse has also been spearheading the “largest public celebration of the historic friendship between France and the United States commemorating France’s own Independence Day” for 15 years.
On Sunday, July 15th, 60th street between Fifth and Lexington Avenues will be shut down from 12-5 to allow for a multitude of French festivities. Just about anything that an ardent francophile might expect will be available throughout the day, from diverse musical offerings, affordable wine and cheese tastings, macarons, mimes and of course, the infamous and rowdy music hall dance, the can-can. (Be sure to check out our favorites, including Le Palais des ThÃ©s and FranÃ§ois Payard.) In addition to celebrating some of the outstanding facets of French culture, it is also an incredible opportunity for the public to familiarize itself with the Institute, as they will also be offering language workshops with friendly staff on hand to explain the variety of classes and diverse cultural programming that is offered throughout the year.
You can check out the official website here for more specific information, but until Sunday: VIVE LA FRANCE! And don’t forget, French Restaurant Week is ongoing until July 15. Highlights include a complimentary tasting by Saint Germain and Bastille 1789 Whiskey at Artisanal Bistro on Park Aveue at 12:30 on July 14, as well as special deals at our favorites such as Lyon and AOC. Brooklynites can check out the Skint’s Bastille Day Bash at DeKalb Market on July 14.
All photos courtesy of FIAF.
Get in touch with the author @MlleFauxFrench
Tucked away quietly in a beautiful yet unassuming block of the Upper East Side, delicate signage and a vibrant red door designate a vital, yet often overlooked, cultural institution. The building that houses the Society of Illustrators and the Museum of American Illustration blends in seamlessly with its surroundings, acting almost as a metaphor for the nature of the artworks inside. We encounter hundreds of wonderful (and, admittedly, some not-so-wonderful) images every day, yet the way they have been incorporated into our environments and the tools with which we run our lives makes them easy to overlook. Even within the art world, illustrators are often not regarded with the same respect as gallery or ‘fine’ artists, despite how perfectly executed or deeply inspired a piece may be.
But it is this quiet disposition that makes illustration so fascinating and relevant. Often narrative and always representational, illustration gives us a visual lexicon that is ever-changing and true to the times. Like all art, it reflects a culture and a moment, and when paired with good design, these pieces are able to become completely integrated into our daily lives. New York is very fortunate to have a space and wonderful team of people that is so dedicated to preserving and celebrating this history.
Founded on February 1st, 1901, the Society of Illustrators began with a very simple credo: “The object of the Society shall be to promote generally the art of illustration and to hold exhibitions from time to time.” This simple vision seems to have been beneficial, as the institution has remained true to itself for over a century.
In a modern context, the Society acts as a gathering place for industry folks and fans, celebrating the best in contemporary illustration through various gallery and award shows. Scholarships are given to students (they also hold an impressive show annually), there is a weekly sketch and jazz night, one can regularly attend lectures and screenings, and the bar and dining room upstairs, complete with an impressive original Rockwell, is surely one of the most elegant in the city.
In addition to being the most important institution for the industry of Illustration, it is also an educational powerhouse with a collection that boasts 1,800 original works. All the greats are here, from N.C. Wyeth to Maxfield Parish, and the imagery is vast. Fashion, editorial, science fiction, children’s books–whatever the genre or market, it has a home here, and staff members are diligent about rotating displayed works frequently.
Newell Convers Wyeth, 1882-1945. “The Black Arrow,” illustration for the cover of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Black Arrow,” published by Charles Scribner’s & Sons, Doubleday, 1926. Oil paint on canvas.
After years of taking in and enjoying the public galleries at the Society, I became increasingly curious about the 1,700 other pieces that I was not seeing at any given time. The building, a stunning 5-story townhouse, only opens 3 of its floors to the public, concealing a library, office, and veritable ‘warehouse’ of some of the most beautiful works that have been created in the United States. I had to get up there.
Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of this institution is recognizing how small it ultimately is. It is humbling to be inside a smaller space while being surrounded by such a wealth of awe-inspiring and valuable work. The walls are loaded with framed originals, and you feel practically dwarfed by the pieces as they tower over you.
Again, I can’t articulate the quality and diversity of work here. Every piece that was pulled down for me to view was a bona fide showstopper.
Saul Tepper (1899-1987), “Baggage Section ‘B.'” Painted for Liggett & Meyers Corporation, used as an advertisement for Chesterfield Cigarettes. Also appeared in “Cosmopolitan”, “Good Housekeeping”, “Collier’s”, “Liberty”, “The Pictorial Review“. July 1928, oil paint on canvas.
The office itself is an admirable space, clean and bright. A lot of amazing work happens here – from archiving the pieces in an ever-expanding database (including scans and photographs of the illustrations in their original context), to establishing which pieces will be displayed for the public. Not to mention all of the administrative tasks…
Of course, not all of the originals are able to have a home in a frame, as the volume would be monstrous. Many pieces are carefully wrapped and preserved in flat files throughout the office.
There is also a wonderful library, which houses an extensive collection of art books.
And is also home to these wonderful illustrated tiles, made by dozens of artists.
Of course, this post would be incomplete without paying homage to the various nooks and crannies filled with impeccable work.
More tiles! Society of Illustrators, 2nd floor
Society of Illustrators, 2 1/2 floor
Society of Illustrators, 2nd floor
Society of Illustrators, 1st floor
Aside from being awed after an evening spent surrounded by so many stunning originals, the most meaningful experience was getting a glimpse into how much these people care about the museum, the industry, the history and the art of illustration itself. It is no small task spearheading a movement to obtain recognition that is long-overdue for this art form, and to say that it is a labor of love would be an understatement. I would like to say a huge thank you to Richard Berenson and Eric Fowler for taking the time to speak with me, and especially to Katie Blocher for orchestrating my visit. I cannot applaud this place enough and strongly recommend taking a moment to appreciate this tremendous museum.
The Society has a long and fascinating history both as a building and an institution. Learn more on their website, or stop by and say hello from 10am-8pm Tuesday, 10 am-5pm Wednesday-Friday, and 12pm-4pm Sunday.
Get in touch with the author @mllefauxfrench.
France is home to arguably some of the greatest foods in the world. Immediately one is likely to conjure images of croissants, cheese, charcuterie”¦yet it is time that we acknowledge an unheralded and unassuming champion. It is time that we acknowledge the Cavaillon Melon.
Nestled in the bucolic landscape of Provence, the charming town of Cavaillon resembles a postcard with a jagged landscape hinting quietly at the sea nearby.
So much of the identity of Cavaillon seems to be tied up in its melons. Thought to be brought to the region from Italy during the 14th century when the papacy relocated to France, the seeds flourished in their new climate. Sweet and aromatic, the melons fragrance the air of the region throughout its peak months, becoming enticingly omnipotent as the summer drags on. Tourists flock to the town, eager to find the perfect specimen. It will smell rich and sweet, and feel surprisingly heavy for its size. The Cavaillon Melon is also an aesthetic treat, donning a rich green color with vibrant blue/green stripes — 10 of them. Nine or eleven stripes, it has been argued, may indicate that it is under ripe or past its prime.
Melon, bottom right — NINE STRIPES.
Cavaillon’s most famous resident and avid melon fan was the author of several celebrated novels, including “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Muskateers.” In 1864, Alexandre Dumas received a letter from the town asking if he might consider donating some of his works to the public library. Ever a gentleman, he responded:
“Have the kindness to inform Monsieur Tourel, your honourable Mayor, that I agree on one condition: if the town and the Cavaillon authorities think highly of my books, I also love their melons and I would like, in exchange for my 300 or 400 volumes, that a bylaw be passed awarding me a life annuity of 12 Cavaillon melons a year.”
The town agreed, and sadly, the great author only ever enjoyed 72 melons.
The beloved Cavaillon Melon has been celebrated for centuries in various incarnations, be it in a cucumber soup, wrapped in ham or simply as is. And being such a simple yet integral facet of the local culture, one might be hard pressed to find a more quaint or delightful reason to visit any place.
To learn a bit more about the region and how to plan a stay, particularly during the popular melon festival, please take a look here.