I have no idea of which work of art could possibly turn out to be my very favorite but I’ve always really liked Edouard Manet’s “Music In the Tuileries Gardens”. The original is in the National Gallery in London. One day recently I happened to have been walking past a copy of it and something awfully seriously odd happened.
It’s an Impressionist painting set in 1862, about a decade before the beginning of La Belle Epoque, in the French Tuileries Gardens, between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. Concerts were performed there twice each week and were frequented by the fashionable elite of the Second Empire.
As I passed it by, my attention was quite struck by how unusually real it suddenly seemed. I walked a little closer and was instantaneously a part of it. Somehow I understood the people even though all spoke only French and no English. Manet and his slightly younger brother Eugene introduced themselves. Then I met Charles Beaudelaire. Along with Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, he wrote some of nineteenth century France’s most intense poetry. Novelist and poet Theophile Gautier, along with flower-painter Ignace Fantine-Latour and composer Jacques Offenbach were also there as well as several other Frenchmen who were then prominent in the world of the arts.
Although I’ve read several of Rimbaud’s poems, I’ve never been significantly familiar with his work. I’m only vaguely knowledgeable about some of Manet’s paintings too. Besides that I’ve never known anything whatsoever about any of the others. This was quite a chance for me to expand significantly my literary and artistic horizons.
They explained to me that The Tuileries Gardens had been created for Catherine de Medici who, after the death of France’s King Henry II, wanted to move her home to the Louvre Palace. The Gardens were opened to the public in 1667 and became a public park after the French Revolution. As everyone knows I’ve always been quite a bookworm. Since I’ve always been quite been interested in history and the arts, I couldn’t help being entirely mesmerized, though equally stunned, by my experience. Throughout it all, though, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat uncomfortable. It occurred to me that someone might ask a few questions about the outsider. This wasn’t exactly New York in 2014 and I couldn’t expect to blend in.
I made sure I gave them my absolutely undivided attention in order to ensure that I could get as much out of the experience as possible. There were people there of all age ranges and both sexes. I learned a lot that day about all the styles, habits and mannerisms that characterized that segment of French society in the early 1860’s. Unfortunately I didn’t have my video camera with me. Imagine how interesting that would have been.