Throughout the month I come across a fair number of francophile-related articles, blogs, images, books, or videos that I’d like to share with readers. I’ve combined this potpourri of news items into a single post. Below are some of the gems from March. However, if you only have time for one or two paragraphs today, please scroll to the end to find out about a new book that features my brother-in-law, Dennis McCarthy.
Le Chat Sur les Champs Élysées
Le Chat is a much-loved comic-strip character, created by the Belgian cartoonist, Philippe Geluck. Geluck’s single-framed gags, feature Le Chat, an obese, anthropomorphic feline who typically wears a suit. If you’re not familiar with the series, the following cartoon will give you a feel for Le Chat’s charming personality.
Geluck recently created a series of bronze statues featuring Le Chat. Last Friday, the exhibit, called Le Chat Déambule, went on display to the public along the Champs Élysées in Paris. Geluck’s website offers an easy-to-follow 20-step summary with photos that show how he created the massive figures.
The Value of a van Gogh
Early in March, a van Gogh canvas was unveiled for the first time since it was painted in 1887. van Gogh composed it while living with his brother in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris where he developed much of his impressionist style. A native of the Netherlands, van Gogh took pleasure in painting the many wind-powered mills situated in that part of Paris, which was still semi-rural. Before heading to auction, Street scene in Montmartre, had been in the hands of the same family for more than 100 years.
Last Thursday, Sotheby’s sold the painting for more than 13 million euros. According to one popular Twitter account, van Gogh is believed to have only sold one of his paintings during his lifetime. A woman named Anna Boch purchased the painting, The Red Vineyard at Arles, for 400 francs.
A Real-Life Story of Redemption?
Last month I read a story about a restauranteur from Toulon, Philippe Lorentz, who was the victim of attempted theft. Lorentz’s actions reminded me of those of Bishop Myriel, the kindly priest from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables who gives the criminal Jean Valjean a chance for redemption. Lorentz attended the trial of the 20-year old repeat offender who broke into his restaurant just three days after he’d been released from prison. When the young man confessed to the judge that he committed the crime because he could see no other options, Lorentz offered him a job.
The young man received a sentence of 6 months in prison, but Lorentz told him that he should come to the restaurant when his sentence was over. Lorentz would not only give him a job but help him get through all the required paperwork that apparently must be filed when an ex-con finds employment. Before the culprit left the courtroom he approached Lorentz to apologize and said he would take him up on the offer. I’m hoping this promising story plays out at least half as well as Jean Valjean’s.
Thanks to the wonderful blog Travel Between the Pages, I learned about a cool exhibit space in Brussels called Maison de l’image. This non-profit institution organizes public exhibitions of some of the best examples of graphic art from around the world. The exhibits are free to the public and funded through private donations.
Last week, they opened a new and novel exposition featuring cover art designs for a fictitious magazine called The Brusseler. The idea was for graphic artists to submit cover art resembling that of The New Yorker, yet featuring the sites and citizens of Brussels.
In order to have your work displayed in the Maison de l’image, you must first be invited to participate. In this case, over 100 “big name illustrators” responded. A panel of volunteers judged the entries to arrive at a final number to appear in the exhibit which was unable to open due to the pandemic. However, thanks to the web, you can savor some of the finalists and link to the artists’ bios from here.
ABC Takes a Look at a Notorious Wine Counterfeiter
Last Wednesday, ABC’s docu-series, The Con, featured Rudy Kurniawan, a notorious fraudster in the wine industry who I’ve covered several times on cas d’intérêt. You can stream the episode, which is narrated by Whoopi Goldberg from here. Or, if you prefer to read, the following posts provide a summary of Kurniawan’s masterful high-brow hustle.
- Rudy Kurniawan, Extraordinary Forger of Fine Wine
- Recent News from the World of Wine Forgery
- Con-Man Kurniawan Exits Prison then Vanishes From the Public Eye
France Returns its Only Klimt to the Rightful Heirs
During World War II thousands of works of art were looted and wrongfully obtained by soldiers fighting throughout Europe. Hundreds of those pieces were returned to their countries of origin immediately after the war, but many still remain in the hands of private individuals or museums who may or may not know of their origins.
In mid-March, France announced that they will return their only painting by Gustav Klimt to the heirs of Nora Stiasny, a Jewish woman who sold it under duress after the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938. The Musée d’Orsay purchased “Rosebushes Under the Trees” in 1980 from a private dealer.
Centuries-Old Oaks Felled to Rebuild Notre Dame’s Roof
It’s been almost 2 years since flames engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The fire destroyed the ancient church’s 96-meter spire as well as most of its roof. According to CNN, the intricate framing of the roof consisted of lumber from more than 13,000 oaks. What’s more, those trees were hundreds of years old when they were felled, in the early part of the 13th century. After considering a number of possible reconstruction proposals, last year, President Macron announced that the cathedral would be restored rather than redesigned.
Apparently, architects and other experts have come up with a way to restore the roof without felling another 13,000 ancient trees. However, the project will still require timber from around 1,000 massive oaks.
In early March, the process of cutting down the centuries-old trees began. In order to obtain duplicates of the original massive beams, only the finest trees are selected. The trunks must be at least 1 meter in diameter and at least 20 meters long. However, some of the trunks must also have a slight curve to them in order to support the weight of the spire. The cost of a single trunk is around 15,000 euros.
After felling, the trunks must now wait for 12 to 18 months in order to dry thoroughly. As the wood dries, it will shrink, and only then can it be cut to dimensions that will remain relatively consistent. The French government hopes to complete the project some time in 2024. I’m eager to return to France for many reasons, one being that I’d like to see what the cathedral looks like long before and after the work is completed.
North by Shakespeare
It’s been an exciting week in the Seidl household. Today, March 31, 2021, marks the release of a new book by Michael Blanding that features my brother-in-law, Dennis McCarthy. If you’re not familiar with Blanding, you may recognize the name of his previous book, The Map Thief, a gripping account of a map dealer who made millions by stealing rare maps from library collections and reselling them. I read and loved this journalistic work of art a few years ago.
In his new book, North by Shakespeare, Blanding has turned his sites on Dennis, an incredible writer and researcher who has spent more than a decade trying to determine the inspiration and possible origins of many of William Shakespeare’s famous plays. One of the shocking aspects to Dennis’ story is the fact that he barely graduated from high school, yet he has managed to track down scads of evidence showing that Shakespeare plagiarized much of his work from Thomas North—evidence that centuries of Shakespearean scholars ignored.
The Boston Globe Magazine ran a feature story on Blanding’s book last week, How a college dropout in New Hampshire found a Shakespeare secret all the PhDs missed.
Our entire family has been waiting on this book for a few years and we are excited to finally be able to dive into Blanding’s account. I received my copy in the mail yesterday.
As you might imagine, it’s not easy to sell books in the middle of a pandemic. Authors can’t do a traditional book tour and readers can’t gather in bookstores to browse the hot new titles. So far, North by Shakespeare is getting great reviews but as you can imagine, some in the lofty halls of Shakespearean scholarship are flustered. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to consider North by Shakespeare and lend your support to a couple of underdogs by telling others about the book if you think they’d be interested and spreading the word on social media.
Merci d’avance, Carol