Musée du Louvre, Aile Sully 2e étage: French Painting 17th-19th Centuries

The last of the Renaissance, the Ancien Régime, Napoleon, Revolution and Empire, colonialism, North Africa, Orientalism, Chassériau and Delacroix, I’m in the Sully Wing.

Like the Rubens Galerie Médicis Salle in the Richelieu Wing, things difficult to photograph, which also means difficult to view. Possibly due to an aversion to grubby fingers, many works in the Louvre are glass-covered. The overhead lighting—natural or artificial—is harsher, less diffuse than say, the Gemäldegalerie, and that latter I’ve already had plenty of frustration with. The Rubens Salle I couldn’t photograph at all; the Sully wing, especially for the Delacroix, was sort of brute-force photography, sometimes assembling a painting from several shots, other times so much Photoshop it felt like the resulting image was more a fantasy than an actual document.

A veer into photography here: I’m using a Panasonic LX7, kind of a larger sensor compact with full manual control, a beautiful f/1.4 ultra wide-angle lens, and no filters. A polarising filter would help with some of the light, at the expense of trashing the metallics and golds in mediæval art. A larger camera would also do a better job in low light, but the macro on the LX7 lets me do very detailed closeups for which I’d otherwise need two lenses. Also huge cameras and lenses rubs improperly against my desire to be unobtrusive. Being wide-angle, there’s always perspective and barrel distortion which needs to be fixed, and usually colour, tone, contrast differences between upper and lower halves (caused by overhead lighting reflection), as well as glare, specular highlights, veiling, colour freakout when the camera simply doesn’t want to or can’t understand what it’s seeing. So for all of that: Yay! Photoshop!

And for all that, whatever I’ve blogged from all the museums I’ve seen is firstly a subset of what was acceptable enough to even attempt cleaning up. And either I’m getting increasingly picky, or the Louvre was one of the most difficult I’ve been through. Excepting one or two, I was iffy about every photo here for one reason or another.

I start with some book burning: Eustache le Sueur’s La Prédication de saint Paul à Éphèse, before jumping forward 150-ish years to Jean Lair’s Rue du Mellah à Mogador. I’m broadly placing this one and others under the rubric of Orientalism, though it’s equally at the rowdy end of impressionism. Compared to the photorealistic simplicity of Bernado Bellotto’s Le Pont du Rialto vu du nord and L’Entrée du grand Canal et l’église de la Salute—whose work I have a thing for—it’s continents away in sensibility and execution, yet not so different, so I don’t want to go blabbing “Orientalism!” at any work by a European just because of the location, while also acknowledging it was and is absolutely a thing.

Of which, Eugène Fromentin’s Enterrement maure from Algeria is high on my list of “Will Steal”. I love the detail and care in the funeral portrait, especially the woman clustered in the side corners in blue and white haïk. Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps’s Sortie de l’école turque is similarly documentary. Adrien Dauzats’ Le couvent de Sainte-Catherine au Mont Sinaï as well, a beautiful depiction of the Greek Orthodox monastery and figures arriving by foot and camel.

Exterior to interior. Eugène Delacroix’ Noce juive au Maroc (Jewish wedding in Morocco), the musicians, the women dancing, the man leaning in the corner … Delacroix is far better known for his vast canvases, but I’d take this one any day. And I’ll mention the red woodwork of the balcony is substantially photoshopped as the lighting and bubbling of the paint surface turned it into a bluish glarey mess. It was hideous, and its hideousness only relented because there was no way I wasn’t going to blog this one.

For some reason I photographed many of Théodore Chassériau’s works. Probably because there’s a whole room just for him. Definitely Orientalism going on in Cavaliers arabes emportant leurs morts, après une affaire contre des spahis, Interieur de Harem, Juives d’Alger au balcon, Esther se parant pour être présentée au roi Assuérus, Danseuses marocaines. La danse aux mouchoirs, Un bain au sérail, and all are exquisite. And yup, I’m photographing the chicks here. An earlier one by Chassériau, before he went all Impressionist under the charms of Delacroix is Portrait d’Adèle et Aline Chassériau, sœurs de l’artiste, dit aussi Les deux sœurs, it’s one of the most luminous in the Sully Wing, with shades of crimson and teal, a symmetry of the two sisters wearing identical dresses and shawls.

Ending the Sully Wing and the 2nd floor of the Louvre with Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ famous La baigneuse, all cracked and splitting. So many great works in this wing alone, so few visitors, unlike where I headed next: down the stairs to the Denon Wing, Italian and French painting from the 13th to 19th centuries, large-format monsters, even larger-format beasts, and that one, the one everyone knows.