Oh, I’m depressed now – today my brief period of freedom in Paris comes to an end, and the worst of it is that I haven’t done a single thing to take advantage of it. It’s been over five years since I last had a chance like this, and I didn’t use it at all, other than to watch a lot of porn. Not even that much porn, to be honest.
I also went to the Splendeurs et Misères exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay – an exhibition of images of prostitution from 1850 to 1910. Like many people, I’m sure, I have always been fascinated by prostitution (and all kinds of depravity), and, being also an lover of the Belle Epoque, I decided to brave the mind-boggling crowds at the totally pushchair-unfriendly musée d’Orsay. I arrived 45 minutes before it opened and there was already a long queue. I quickly visited my old favourites from the permanent collection (Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe and Esclave d’Amour) before venturing into the special exhibition, my heart racing with excitement. However, almost as soon as I had entered, a stern-faced old woman came up to me and remarked, “Votre bébé est quand même assez dérangeant, madame!” “Merci,” I answered sarcastically, but that’s where my defiance came to an end, and after her next comment insisting on the baby’s disruptive behaviour, I turned and left the museum, in disgrace! I had vague thoughts of returning later in the day, but when I saw the hordes of people in the queue, now winding all the way down the rue de Lille, I knew there was no way I could get back in to this fortress, and there were tears of frustration in my eyes as I thought about how these horrible babies have curtailed my life – now not only have I had to give up my career, any aspirations of a normal love-life, dreams of travelling the world, nights of drunken revelry etc, but I can’t even visit a museum!! I was so upset, I felt like letting the push-chair roll out into the bus lane.
However, after traipsing around for half an hour I eventually regained composure, noticed that the baby had fallen asleep, and returned to the museum. And just as I was trying to figure out where to rejoin the queue, a security guard came up to me and ushered me in, along with another family. I remembered then that the museum often gives small children priority in the queue. So, after getting me kicked out, she had gotten me back in!
The exhibition itself was – oh, everything I had hoped for, and more! It began with, more or less, what one would expect – Louis Valtat’s Sur le Boulevard and Jean Béraud’s L’Attente, and La Proposition. There were these two rightly celebrated works, which surely need no introduction:
There was a whole section devoted to Degas’ secret glimpses of brothel life (well, he kept them hidden during his lifetime, but they are of course no secret to our modern titillation-seeking society). There were also several photography sections, curtained-off from younger viewers (but thankfully not my sleeping infant). Interestingly, the early daguerrotypes seemed to be more provocative, with nude subjects in all kinds of audacious positions (including an MMF spit-roast, as well as a variant of 69 which I had never seen before!), but they had actually all been posed and taken in the photographers’ studios. Whereas the later photographs, blurry and sometimes indistinct, had been taken within the maisons closes, as souvenirs of actual intimate encounters. (19th century #aftersex selfies??) There was also, in this same curtained-off area, a screening of what I suppose must have been the world’s first ever pornographic movie. From what I saw of it, it looked just like any modern-day xvideo, but to tell the truth, I didn’t really watch much of it, as the idea of standing there with a bunch of scandalised American seniors and tittering Irish teenagers watching a porn movie was kind of… well, embarrassing.
Another thing everyone was gaping and gawking at was the Fauteuil d’Amour (Love Seat), commissioned by Dirty Bertie, the Prince of Wales, supposedly to “allow easy access for oral and other forms of sex for two or three people”, though I’m still trying to figure out exactly how.
This is not to say that there was nothing which I found personally titillating:
Remind you of anything…?
And how about this:
Too much of a stretch?
One last thing I found interesting: the exhibition’s name comes from this painting, by Ernest-Ange Duez:
The painting, one of a pair entitled Splendeur et Misère, portrayed: “la lorette jeune, insolente, insouciante et tapageuse, une reine de la tribu des chignons rouges qui croit à l’éternité de ses vingt-deux printemps” (“the young lorette, insolent, carefree and showy, a queen of the tribe of red chignons, who believes she will be twenty-two forever”) on the right, and, on the left, presumably, the same woman, transformed by the passage of time into a decrepit beggar. The funny thing, though, is that the second painting, Misère, did not itself survive the passage of time, and is now lost to posterity, so, in a way, the unknown subject of Duez’s proselytism will, in fact, be twenty-two and beautiful forever.