GETTING A PHOTO FINISH

How do you change the way people see a museum? The Petit Palais decided to ask an artist. Although their building itself is a vintage treasure, its collection varies. Many of the works are masterful but others are more obscure.

If you visit now however, you will see them all anew.

This is thanks to photographer Valérie Jouve, who has created a personal “counterpoint” to the art. Jouve’s great interest is how people interact with their environment. When it comes to instilling fresh energy, she’s a wonder.

Whether it’s the sweeping grand salons and their history paintings or a room of period portraits, her photos render all of them more vivid, more arresting … and simply more alive.

Sometimes, says Jouve, the key was just a colour. Other times it was a look or a common theme. “I didn’t want anything to be evident,” says the artist. “I was looking for a rhythm, a musicality, of rapport.”

She has certainly breathed new life into the art. You can easily see yourself; here,
only temporary exhibits have a fee.

Valérie Jouve at the Petit Palais runs through 13 January 2018

• While you’re visiting, check out Fernand Pelez’s La Parade des humbles.  Also on show until January and as quirky as it is massive, it’s an example of what this museum can show you. A masterwork by a now-forgotten painter – one of Montmartre’s characters and a story in himself.

ART ALL NIGHT

Institut de France & Bibliothèque Mazarine; pic Steve Sampson

Contemporary art, all night, for free. Every October, that’s what the Nuit Blanche (“all-nighter”) offers. It links together ephemeral art – videos, projections, installations and happenings – with the chance to visit all kinds of places.

Grand Palais & Pont Alexandre III; pic J.B. Gurliat/Mairie de Paris

This year, there was roller derby on the Alexandre III bridge and the giant “Geode” at La Villette turned into a Tesla sphere.

Géode de La Villette; pic David Pauget/Rfi

Eglise Saint-Merry, a church that figured in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, also hosted a great installation.

Inside, only yards away from the Pompidou Centre, artist Daniel Van de Velde hung hollowed out fallen trees. They turned the beautiful building into a “forest” in the midst of which you could hear all-night concert.

Eglise Saint-Merry; pic Steve Sampson

Eglise Saint-Merry; pic Steve Sampson

Eglise Saint-Merry; pic Steve Sampson

It’s a great idea that any town can do.

La Monnaie; pic Cynthia Rose

• The Paris Nuit Blanche takes place every year on the first Saturday in October

Gibert Jeune bookstore; pic Cynthia Rose

THE SELF-MADE MASTER

Life as a grocer won’t make you into a genius. But in at least one case it proved invaluable. He worked 300 years ago but Itô Jakuchû (1716-1800) remains one of Japan’s most audacious artists. Part of his secret was an intimate knowledge of fruits, flowers and vegetables.

Between the ages of 23 and 40, Jakuchû was a greengrocer. He loved painting – but the family business needed him. So Jakuchû’s subjects became the things he knew. He drew and painted chickens, plants, produce and the patterns on the fine brocades sold by his colleagues.

Both a self-starter and deeply religious Jakuchû, was also friends with some exiled Chinese monks. Through them, he learned about Chinese art and thinking. Soon, he was ordering ordered silk canvases and Chinese pigments. He did this via Nagasaki – the only port in Japan open to foreign trade.

Art was Jakuchû’s obsession and the grocer poured his earnings into it.

He experimented with every style: ink washes, woodblock prints, paintings on silk, prints made with rubbings, prints done in black and then color-stenciled. He built a personal studio and called it Dokurakura (“solitary pleasure nest”). Curiosity and unceasing work turned into innovation.

When Jakuchû wanted to study chickens, he bought a flock – then let them run riot in his garden for weeks. To get more colours, he bought a smuggled Prussian blue. He also taught himself to make his own pigments.

For these, Jakuchû crushed oyster shells and minerals into pastes. He used these to experiment in urazaishiki. Urazaishiki was a form of silk painting in which colour is also applied to the fabric’s reverse.

One result was The Colourful Realm of Living Beings, the artist’s masterpiece from between 1757 and 1766. It’s on show for a month at the Petit Palais – the first-ever appearance by Jakuchû in Europe.

The Colorful Realm consists of thirty painted silk scrolls. They feature birds, flowers, seashells, fish and insects which are unlike anything else you’ll ever see. Presided over by a triptych of painted Buddhas, all the scrolls are almost six feet tall and three feet wide. They have amazing vivacity but they also have range – some quiver with vigor, some are achingly delicate.

No photo can render his work; its colours are far too varied and unique. But every leaf and feather quivers with reality. Jakuchû shows the glittering scales on a swimming fish as fully as the springtime bloom of a peach. In his winter scenes, the snow seems to actually be falling.

Yet his pieces have incredible sophistication. A scroll like “Lotus Pond and Fish” combines separate types of perspective. One like “Chickens”, a composition in perfect balance, is actually juggling a dozen roosters and one hen. From pine needles to leaves, all his stylized elements seem eerily modern.

When Jakuchu was seventy-two, a fire reduced Kyoto to ashes. In the blink of an eye, he lost both home and studio – he started living in monasteries or in the homes of friends. Two years of this made him gravely ill. The artist survived by trading his paintings for rice .

But Jakuchû never lost his love of life. When he died, at 84, he was painting every day.

• Part of the festival Japonsimes 2018, which celebrates 160 years of diplomatic relations between France and Japan, Jakuchû, The Colourful Realm of Living Beings can be seen until 14 October