Issue #163  8/3/2009
Bièvres and "See Italy and Die"

By Alex Novak

I took the train from Mulhouse to Strasbourg and picked up a high-speed TGV train from there to Paris, and got back in time to meet my friend Stacy Waldman, who had flown into Paris to go with me to the Bièvres photo fair, the largest open air market for cameras and photography in the world. I've been going for about the last decade.

The fair, basically a huge flea market devoted to photography, is about 25 kilometers southwest of Paris, or about a half hour by car or taxi. You can also get there by train via the RER C or B, but consult the maps carefully. You may have to transfer and on Sunday the trains don't run quite so frequently. The fair is usually held the first full weekend in June, but this year was postponed by a week due to the European elections.

The next morning we took the metro and then went by taxi with Serge Plantureux and group. At Bièvres we all split up agreeing to meet up later for lunch. I got to visit with lots of my European dealer friends from Belgium, Germany, France and the U.K.

Finally around 1:30 p.m., our lunch group all met at the roundabout at the front entrance to the park. After a five minute walk, we took our lunch break at Auberge Le Bretois, which is the only decent restaurant that I have ever found in this little town. It is off a quiet side street, rue de l'Eglise, and its sunny terrace overlooks the entire valley floor below. The food is excellent and a far cry from the normal Bièvres' fare of burnt sausage on a roll with a bottle of water. It's also calm and quiet and has nice, friendly service--something you do not find on Bièvres' main thoroughfare that fronts the edge of the park where the fair is held.

Later in the afternoon, we grabbed a ride back to the Champs-Élysées area with dealer Bruno Tartarin.

On Sunday we did it all over again, but this time Stacy and I went directly by taxi and only stayed through the morning, and returned again with Bruno. Getting back from Bièvres, we decided to go on to the Musée d'Orsay.

The d'Orsay, for those of you not familiar with this wonderful museum, was originally a turn-of-the-century train station built along the Seine opposite the Louvre. The train station had been abandoned by 1961, when it was saved from demolition by the French president Georges Pompidou. In 1978 French president Giscard d'Estaing decided to use the Gare d'Orsay as a museum for 19th- and 20th-century art. Restoration started in 1979 and at the end of 1986 it was finally inaugurated by the French president, François Mitterrand. The museum has on exhibit 2,300 paintings, 1,500 sculptures and over a thousand other objects in its huge, light-filled space. The art here covers a period from mid-19th until mid-20th century.

While we sampled a good portion of that art, I particularly wanted to see an exhibit entitled, "See Italy and Die. Photography and Painting in 19th-Century Italy", which unfortunately ended on July 17th.

The exhibition included a stunning group of early Italian photographs and a lot of mediocre--for the most part--paintings. The photographs were drawn from several important international collections--both private and institutional; and many of the images were very familiar to me. From Ken and Jenny Jacobson's group of John Ruskin Venetian daguerreotypes to Paula and Robert Hershkowitz's calotypes to collectors Thomas Walther's, Robert J. Hennessey's and Bruce Lundberg's many stunning prints to the d'Orsay's and Westlicht Museum's own gems, this photographic collection was a rare, educational and charming experience.

My friend Dietmar Siegert had also consulted on the show and the d'Orsay's curators had drawn many excellent images from his collection as well, although several appeared to be incorrectly identified by process and attribution. I am not sure where the misinformation derived. Otherwise, I can highly recommend the catalogue from the show.

We ran around Paris for the last couple of days trying to tie up deals, preview auctions and see friends before leaving finally for Charles de Gaulle airport and home.