Little known gems, though not what you think …

Many years ago, March 11, 2006 to be precise, I was so excited/incensed by an exhibit at SFMOMA (“1906 Earthquake: A Disaster in Pictures”) that I bought a notebook in their gift shop to write down my thoughts. I started bringing that notebook with me when I went to other museums, jotting down notes. My writing evolved over time from mostly exhibit commentary to brief notes about the pieces that struck me. Eventually, I got a smartphone and started taking pictures (where allowed) of the pieces and their labels. While that gave me a visual record, those photos are not as easily tracked as the pages of my notebook, which is a shame.

The other day, I came across that “museum book”, and I flipped through some of it. One of the things I was looking for was our trips to the Venice Biennale, which we found very stimulating the first couple times we went, but less so the past couple times. BTW, if you ever go to the Biennale and are there in Venice for more than a day, here’s Lee’s brilliant idea: get a season pass. It costs about the same as a couple entries, and you can come and go as you please — no standing in line with everyone else. It makes it easy just to pop in for a short time, or even to see just one thing (which we have done, going back to refresh our memories of something we had seen and were discussing later). It makes a huge difference, much more relaxing.

One fun thing about looking through the museum book was finding things that were interesting that I had completely and unjustly forgotten about. With lots of collections online these days, it’s easier to find the works than it used to be. In fact, I think I should probably revert to taking notes in my museum book (although it’s slower to write than to take a couple photos). Not everything has held up to my first impression, but many have.  Here’s one example, not from the Venice Biennale but from the Pompidou in Paris, that I find just as impressive as when I first saw it on September 6, 2014.


Symphonie verte (= Green symphony)

Henry Valensi, 1935

Original at the Pompidou

© Adagp, Paris
Photo credits : © Bertrand Prévost – Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI /Dist. RMN-GP
Image reference : 4N64136
Image presentation : l’Agence Photo de la RMN


In looking up that work, I discovered much more about the artist Henry Valensi. He was part of various art movements in the early 20th century, including Cubism and Futurism (whose influence you can see in that painting) before co-founding the Musicalism movement, which aimed, roughly, to use colors as composers use notes.

The only Wikipedia page about Musicalism is in French, as is the only page about Valensi. However, there is a whole Musicalism site with pages in English, including a bio of Valensi and many works by him, which I highly encourage you to take a look at. The site’s menus are a little awkward to navigate, so below are direct links to the groupings of his works. On each of these pages, scroll to the bottom of the page, hover over one of the pictures, then click on the little magnifying glass to get a larger version. Once you have larger version of one of them, you can press the left and right arrow keys to see other pictures in the grouping. There are lots of fantastic paintings! Also, for some paintings they have studies for them that Valensi did in watercolors. It’s interesting to see what his preliminary ideas were and how they were or were not incorporated into the final oil version.

One major lifework of Valensi’s was his Cinepainting, a thirty minute film for which he hand painted every one of the the 64,000 frames! Apparently, his ideas were one of the influences on Disney’s Fantasia. Aside from that, it seems that Musicalism didn’t catch on much outside of France, and even in France neither it nor Valensi seems to be well known. That’s a real pity, since I think Valensi deserves more recognition.

Now who knows what other hidden gems I’ll find in that museum book of mine …

Posted in Art