Thursday, December 8, 2016

1930s American Art at the Musée de l'Orangerie

I saw America after the Fall: Paintings from the 1930s at the Musée de l'Orangerie last Sunday. As I explained in a recent blog post, this show is one of three that displays the works of African-American masters in Paris this winter.

America after the Fall
Title Panel

Taking photographs was strictly forbidden inside the exhibition, so I am unable to show you images of the crowd that gathered well before noon to see this show. Though abstract art is represented, the majority of the works are figurative; themes range from farm life to the anxieties that preceded the U.S.'s involvement in World War II. Styles run the gamut - you'll see Social realism, Regionalism, Surrealism, and other schools of art here.

A couple of video loops provided contrasting perspectives on 1930s America - one featured clips from newsreels about soup kitchens, the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and worker protest marches and the other focused on the burgeoning film industry that brought us Gone with the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Wizard of Oz.

The online photos of William H. Johnson's Street Life, Harlem do not do the painting justice. It is richly textured, so much so that I had a strong impulse to reach out and rub my fingers over the cheeks of the man and woman who are front and center in the painting as well as trace the sills of the windows and the edges of the moon.

Street Life, Harlem (detail)
William H. Johnson
ca. 1939-1940 Oil on plywood
Smithsonian American Art Museum

You'll find it in the section called La ville spectacle (City Life).

Aspiration by Aaron Douglas can be found in the section called L’histoire revisitée (History Revisited). It is large enough to warrant being displayed on a wall of its own.

Other works in the exhibition portray people of African descent in a variety of settings. (The following list is not all-inclusive.)

Thomas Hart Benton's Cotton Pickers presents a rural scene where black sharecroppers are harvesting cotton. It is the last of series of paintings and drawings that he did on this topic.

Cotton Pickers (detail)
Thomas Hart Benton
1945 Oil on canvas
Art Institute of Chicago

Joe Jones' Roustabouts depicts dockworkers hauling loads as a white man - presumably their boss - surveys the scene.

Roustabouts (detail)
Joe Jones
1934 Oil on canvas
Worcester Art Museum

Both are hung in the section called Contrastes américains : puissance industrielle et retour à la terre (American Contrasts: Industrial Power and Return to the Earth).

Jones' painting, American Justice, places lynching front and center for viewers to contemplate. A woman is the victim of a Klan mob in this work.

American Justice (detail)
Joe Jones
1933 Oil on canvas
Art Institute of Chicago

This is hung in the section called Cauchemars et réalité (Nightmares and Reality).

Several of the artists whose works are displayed in America after the Fall, including Aaron Douglas and William H. Johnson, studied in Paris.

AMERICA AFTER THE FALL: PAINTINGS FROM THE 1930s (October 12, 2016 to January 30, 2017)
Musée de l'Orangerie
Jardin des Tuileries
Place de la Concorde
Hours: Wednesday through Monday - 9 AM to 6 PM. Closed Tuesdays.
Entry fee: 9€
Reduced fee: 6,50€
Free entry on the first Sunday of the month
Free entry for persons less than 26 years of age


Entrée to Black Paris™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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