An Unexpected Lesson in Color

There is an amazing collection on special exhibit at l’Orangerie here in Paris right now. That museum was not on my list to visit on this trip, but after hearing my friends wax eloquently about it, I decided to go. It is a collection of works from the Bridgestone Museum of Art in Tokyo on loan in Paris. The man who founded the Bridgestone Group (tires) in the very early 1920’s, Shojiro Ishibashi, became a major art collector, started a museum in 1952 in Tokyo and subsequently set up a foundation to ensure the sustainability of his museum and art collection. It is currently managed by his son and grandson who have vastly expanded the type of art that is in the collection.

Mr. Ishibashi was certainly prescient about which Western artists would come into their own as time passed…his collection includes many impressionist paintings, post impressionist works, modern art, and currently has expanded to include well known abstract artists including Jackson Pollock.

My absolute favorite from his collection was a self-portrait by Paul Cézanne called Cézanne Wearing a Soft Hat (1894). I was particularly touched by this painting because Cézanne’s father was a wealthy haberdasher of some note in the Provençal city of Aix en Provence, a man of influence in the city. He disavowed his son’s work throughout his life…so Paul was never to know the pleasure of acceptance or even cordiality from his father. In part because of his father’s influence in that city, Aix en Provence never acquired a Cézanne painting until the 100th anniversary celebration of Cezanne’s death in 2006. The Musée Granet had on exhibit the first Cézanne painting acquired in 2006 by his hometown. My family was all in Provence that year and attended the expo. That he did his own self-portrait wearing a chapeau spoke to my heart.  I had never viewed this painting.  You may have already surmised that Cézanne’s paintings are some of my favorites and you would be correct.

But my experience in the museum today had a bonus attraction. As I rounded a corner into the salon that holds four huge panels of Monet’s Water Lilies, I came upon a class of maybe kindergarten students, perhaps pre-schoolers with their adorable teacher. She gave the most wonderful interactive lesson to the dozen small children who listened attentively, responded enthusiastically…all of which totally mesmerized me. She called upon children to stand according to the color of something they were wearing…a little boy with a yellow t-shirt, a young girl whose blouse was blue, another girl who wore a burgundy sweater and a young child whose cornrows were fastened with violet clips. She touched the yellow shirt and mimed putting a dab of yellow paint in the palm of her hand, touched the blue shirt, mimed again and mixed them together. Then she asked the children “What color did I make with yellow and blue?” To which they responded “vert!” She turned to the panel on the wall and asked them to find “green” places on the painting. Every child standing was involved in the creation of some new color based on the clothes they wore. This must have gone on for fifteen minutes. I sat and observed, laughed with a couple of parents who were also watching this art lesson unfold, took photos and strained to understand all the words and phrases the instructor was using with the children. It was truly a magical fifteen minutes. Two parents thanked me for observing and enjoying the lesson. Cezanne, Degas, Renoir, Matisse, Monet….all the artists those little French children were learning about before they can even read a book.

Below is the “classroom” scene that I came upon that truly made my day today.



One of the water lily panels that is not as well-known as others…stunning colors.


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