Even as a child, I didn’t have much patience for sand castles. ‘What’s the point?’ I wondered, ‘in spending painstaking hours building crenellations, filling moats and adorning walls with shells, when all the effort would only be destroyed by (a) someone’s careless foot, (b) a galumphing dog off its lead or (c) the incoming tide?’ I was far happier torturing hermit crabs or sea anemones in rock pools.
Even so, there are some talented folk out there who both possess the patience for sculpting sand and artistic skill. Two such folk create masterpieces of sand far from any beach in Giverny, the village where pilgrims paying homage to the late, great Claude Monet flock in their hundreds of thousands each year. They are Chris Avril and Jean-Pierre Porchez, whose compositions exhibit talent, perseverance and poise. To stumble upon their sculptures is a pleasant surprise in a place like Giverny, where there are altogether too many mediocre art works hanging in galleries designed to lure the tourist.
Here are the artistes:
And this is their new take on The Last Supper:
A close up of Christ and friends:
I think the bulbous items on the ‘table’ may be a carafe of wine and a bread roll, but can’t be certain. In any case, it’s hardly enough to sustain a group of thirteen.
Across the way we spot some more bearded chaps – this time, artistic heroes.
This man with palette in hand is Renoir.
And this is Monsieur Monet, the reason we were all in Giverny that late September day. To the left is Gustave Caillebotte, a great friend and contemporary of Monet, and to the right is the poor, tortured Vincent Van Gogh.
From left to right we have Renoir, Pissaro, Berthe Morisot ( a female impressionist cleverly breaking up all that maleness exuding from the sand), Sisley and Caillebotte again.
The exhibition of sand sculptures was free to view and no one seemed to be guarding the fragile creations, yet thankfully there were no galumphing dogs in sight, and all who stepped in to visit left their careless feet at the gate. In fact, when Monsieur and I were there, all were speechless with awe at the hours of painstaking work on display. The question that nobody dared ask, however, was ‘what’ll happen when it rains?’ and this is Normandy, so rain it will. My guess is that Chris and Jean-Pierre will wait for the storm to pass before quietly fetching their buckets and spades and starting from scratch. Admirable, really, to be that patient, not to mention ingenious to create a gallery of sand in a painter’s village.
When I was a child, we always had prints of famous paintings on various of the walls at home. It’s little wonder I grew up with a taste for things French (including a certain man), because most of these prints were of works by French painters – from Chardin to Lautrec.
One of my favourites was the depiction of a nineteenth century couple walking along a Paris street in the rain. The man holds up a large black umbrella to shield the pair against the downpour and the streets are cobbled in that tell-tale European way, evoking daydreams of times of yore. I always loved looking at a particular building in the background, which is shaped like a piece of pie, the point of which is aimed directly at the viewer. “Why would an architect make a building that shape?” I’d ask, “To fit the parcel of land, I suppose, but it’s not very practical. How on earth would you furnish the triangular rooms in the point?” No one ever had an answer for me, but it didn’t matter one jot. I loved that painting regardless of the fact that I didn’t understand the reasoning behind triangular buildings, or why the beautiful woman wears black. Had she and her husband been to a funeral? Or perhaps were they in mourning? Regardless, as an artistic device their sombre clothes match well the drizzle of the day. Yes, it was likely that they were sad about something and that gave me yet another mystery to ponder.
Gustave Caillebotte was the artist responsible for this work, named ‘Rue de Paris; temps de pluie’, or ‘Rainy Day in Paris’, the original of which now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. Those In The Know refer to Caillebotte as an impressionist, yet there’s a realism in his work that the Seurats and Monets lack. Caillebotte’s paintings are like snapshots of the époque in which he lived. You could almost walk into them, they’re so lifelike.
Given my interest in Caillebotte you can imagine my excitement when Monsieur’s Maman suggested lunch at the Parc Caillebotte in Yerres. Caillebotte had been born into a well-to-do Parisian family that spent many of their summers at the family property in Yerres, a small town on the Yerres River, to the south of Paris. This property has been named Parc Caillebotte for its former owners and appears in various of Caillebotte’s paintings, such as Les Oragers (The Orange Trees).
Le Casin at Parc Caillebotte
The ‘Mairie’, or Mayor’s office, for Yerres has invested much time and effort in restoring the Parc to create a leisure destination which successfully blends culture, relaxation, and natural beauty, whilst celebrating the work of its famous son. Sadly, it was a grey February day when we made our visit to the Parc, but that didn’t detract from its interest. The large, white Caillebotte family house known as ‘le Casin’ stands proud at the entrance to the Parc. It is home to two permanent exhibitions, but was closed when we visited. Outside, there are various buildings of different styles and purposes dotted around the grounds, like the funny little pagoda atop a rockery with grotto beneath. This was also closed but in the summer months it serves as a refreshments kiosk. On a day like this, there was little need for a bottle of something refreshing. The weather was fresh enough.
Down by the river, there’s a long, white orangery with outdoor seats, where a couple of local dames sat and gossiped, quite oblivious to the chill in the air. Monsieur’s Maman told us that further afield lay a chapel and vegetable garden, but we all agreed that, on this occasion, it was too cold to hang about and explore. Warm interiors beckoned.
“It’s true, I swear. Marie-Claude buys the Chinese escargots. Quelle horreur!”
At the Parc I did, however, talk to the animals again. There are hens of all descriptions and a pair of flopsy white rabbits in a large chicken coop behind the Parc’s restaurant, Chalet du Parc, so I clucked at them and they clucked back and Monsieur’s Maman must then have realised that her son is marrying a madwoman. As for Monsieur, well, he’s just used to it. His ears are now deaf to my clucking sounds.
I loved these cotton wool hens with their little blue faces. And so did the four year-old next to me!
One day, when the sun shines and the arctic air has gone, I hope we will all return to the Parc Caillebotte. There are the exhibitions to see, naturally, but on the Halcyon day that I imagine, we won’t want to linger indoors. We’ll buy cold drinks at the Pagoda kiosk, picnic on the broad lawn and then perhaps rent a couple of canoes to paddle up and down the river, just like the man in Caillebotte’s painting, ‘Les Périssoires sur l’Yerres’ (‘Oarsmen on the Yerres). To that day I do look forward, very much indeed, but first I should really tell you all about LUNCH.