EXHIBITION: NATURE HIS MUSE

Published June 9, 2024
Sunday at the Meudon Forest
Sunday at the Meudon Forest

Issy-les-Moulineaux is a charming little suburb by the river Seine in the south-west of Paris that not many tourists know about and is even largely ignored by Parisians themselves. Nevertheless, it is always a pleasure to walk through its curved, hilly streets, surrounded by houses built more than a century ago, against the backdrop of a beautiful rural background and the flowing river.

Currently, an art establishment in Issy-les-Moulineaux, called the Playing Card Museum (Carte à Jouer Museum), is having an exhibition of the works of Constant Pape — an artist who has been, unfortunately, totally forgotten by today’s art world.

As one of the organisers puts it, “By going through his works attentively, we finally came to the conclusion that Pape certainly is a forgotten genius who deserves to be rediscovered by today’s enthusiasts as well as experts of art.”

The exhibition devoted to Pape is a charming but also stunning surprise, revealing an enthusiastic painter who had enjoyed spectacular success during his own relatively brief lifetime at the beginning of the 20th century. His chefs d’oeuvres are a number of astoundingly sincere and delicate artworks, devoted exclusively to the landscapes that were an initial part of his life and his artistic infatuation.

‘Forgotten genius’ Constant Pape’s artwork paid homage to the idyllic suburban landscapes that surrounded him

Most of the paintings brought together in the current exhibition had never been presented to the public before, many of them belonging to private collections and a few from museums or town halls of a number of communities that adjoin Issy les Moulineaux.

This Parisian suburb’s municipality permanently houses three of Pape’s wall-sized canvases, two of them devoted to the river Seine and a third showing a vast scene of the nearby Meudon Forest, a painting that earned Constant Pape a gold medal in 1913.

The Brilliant Meudon
The Brilliant Meudon

Born in 1865 in a modest family, Pape, while still a teenager, began an enthusiastic artistic career, often winning prizes and regularly being able to sell his creations to art enthusiasts at comfortable prices — much to the delightful surprise of his parents. During his relatively short lifetime (he died in 1920 at 55) Pape was admired by other respected painters of the era, such as Louis Français, Camille Corot and Antoine Guillemet, as well as by the legendary French novelist Émile Zola.

His creations remain concentrated on countryside scenes that include forests, ponds and the hills between Issy-les-Moulineaux, Clamart and Meudon, where he had lived as a child. Though he also often painted in Auvers-sur-Oise, well-known as Vincent Van Gogh’s favourite city and finally his resting place, Pape remained attached to the three above-named towns, concentrating on their picturesque landscapes under a sunlit blue sky, and their magical reflections over lakes and rivers.

In the words of the art historian and critic Catherine Niverny: “Constant Pape never attempted to become an avant-garde figure, and kept his distance from all the revolutionary movements of his era that were shaking up the traditional painting styles at the beginning of the 20th century.

“He remained faithful as well to a certain number of artistic traditions, only painting landscapes with the rhythms of the changing seasons. His compositions, soft and soothing, have something timeless and eternal in them.”

‘Constant Pape: The Post-Impressionist Wonder’ is on display at the Carte à Jouer Museum in Issy-les-Moulineaux, Paris from February 14-July 13, 2024

The writer is an art critic based in Paris. He can be reached at zafmasud@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 9th, 2024

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