Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe

May 27, 2007

A luncheon on the grass isn’t what it used to be.

Legend has it that in the mid-1800s, while watching bathers in the Seine, Edouard Manet was reminded of a painting he’d seen in the Louvre, Giorgione’s Concert Champêtre (Pastoral Symphony). He was inspired to reinterpret Giorgione’s work, which showed nude females serving clothed men a luncheon under the trees, and to give it a contemporary twist.

At the time, there was only one way young artist could achieve success: by participating in official, government-sanctioned exhibitions at the Académie des beaux-arts. At these shows, known as the Salons de Paris, conservative juries favored classical painting styles depicting biblical and mythological themes.

In 1863, when Manet submitted Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) — the painting Giorgione’s work had inspired — to the Salon’s selection committee, they refused to include it in the show. In fact, that year the committee turned away nearly every work that employed modern subjects or techniques.

The rejected artists’ protests and their claims of bias resulted in French Emperor Napoleon III deciding to allow their works — including Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe — to be shown in a separate exhibition called the Salon des Refusés.

When the Salon opened, Manet’s painting caused a public outcry. The critics were not offended by the nudity, but by the fact that the nudes had no supernatural or religious connotations; rather, they were shown as real people, modern, recognizable Parisians enjoying what appeared to be a bawdy, drunken picnic on the grass.

Of course, then as now, notoriety has its rewards. The rejection, outrage and resulting scandal not only helped cement Manet’s reputation and make him a hero to the avant-garde, it also brought together the group of young painters who created the Impressionist movement. 

Today I saw a group in Central Park enjoying a birthday luncheon on the grass. Unlike the women Manet’s painting, all of these New Yorkers remained fully dressed. But, just as their Parisian antecedents did, they lounged in the sunlight, nibbled on sweet treats and raised their goblets.

And, they had one thing that surely would have inspired jealousy among Giorgione and Manet’s models: a large, deluxe, insulated fiberglass cooler. After all, on a sunny afternoon, the only thing better than a luncheon on the grass is a luncheon that includes a properly chilled wine.

Fête Champêtre by Giorgione
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Le Djeuner sur l’Herbe by Monet
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Luncheon on the Grass in Central Park
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Picnics in Paintings
Artcyclopedia: Forbidden Visions
National Gallery of Australia: History of the Paris Salons
Musée du Louvre
Rossetti Archive: Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s For a Venetian Pastoral
Musee d’Orsay: Le déjeuner sur l’herbe
The Web Museum: Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe
Wikipedia: The Luncheon on the Grass

Times Square Spring Block Party

May 27, 2007

In New York City, most street fairs, block parties and festivals are a mixture of greasy food, shoddy merchandise and bewildered tourists. 

Visitors go to these events expecting to get a taste of local color, and instead find themselves surrounded by vendors hawking plastic jewelry, counterfeit designer purses, funnel cakes, bedsheets, flimsy t-shirts and tube socks. In other words, an assortment of items they could find at their local carnival, dollar store and Wal-Mart.

If you go to a dozen street fairs in a dozen different neighborhoods, chances are you’ll run into the same vendors with the same merchandise over and over again.

The reason for the tawdry mediocrity? Most street fairs, festivals and block parties held here (there are hundreds every year) are run by three large production companies: Mardi Gras Festival Productions, Clearview Festival Productions and Mort and Ray.

According to librarian Marcus Banks, the companies make it “easier both for the sponsoring organizations and for the vendors, by navigating what turns out to be a formidable permit process … [and help the sponsors and vendors] … obtain the necessary individual state and city permits they need. [They] also sell the vendors booths in the fairs … and, if vendors buy a booth at more than one fair, they get a discount, which is why the same vendors appear in festival after festival.”

Cutting through governmental red tape and bureaucracy isn’t a bad thing. However, these firms lack any incentive to include local merchants and craftsmen or diversify the types of vendors at the fairs. The result is aggravating to New Yorkers and confusing to tourists who show up at something called a “Harvest Festival” anticipating displays of fresh baked goods and ripe produce, not knockoff Dora the Explorer backpacks and tube socks.

There are, of course, exceptions to the bland homogeneity. The city still hosts fairs and festivals put on by community and cultural groups that want to celebrate their neighborhood’s individuality, character and, of course, cuisine. Those events, while harder to find each year, are always worth a special trip.

Summer is the prime time for street fairs and festivals, and today I stumbled across the first of the season. And so, since this is the only Mardi Gras/Clearview/Mort and Ray event I plan to attend this year, here is the Times Square Spring Block Party (including a picture of my favorite vendor).   

Barrier across 47th Street
Originally uploaded by annulla.

New York City Souvenirs – Unbelievable Low Prices!!
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Underwear Vendor
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Jewelry Any Item $2 & Up
Originally uploaded by annulla.

T-shirt vendor
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Toys & Knockoff Purses
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Shish-Ka-Bobs & Corn Dogs
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Times Square Psychic
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Sausage & Corn Dogs
Originally uploaded by annulla.

iPod Accessory Sale!
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Tube sock vendors
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Knock-off purses
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Tourists with shopping bags
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Mom & dad’s assistant vendor
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Gothamist: NYC Street Fairs are “Generic”
Gotham Gazette: Block Parties, Street Fairs, Street Festivals
Center for an Urban Future: Rethinking New York’s Street Fairs
Mardi Gras Festival Productions
Clearview Festival Productions
Mort and Ray

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