Thursday 17 May 2007

Le Banlieue

Yesterday I got my copy of The Photobook: A History: v. 1 by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger and there’s treasure to be found on almost every page. What really caught my eye was the inclusion of La Banlieue de Paris, photos by Robert Doisneau, text by Blaise Cendrars. A highly covetable book. Cendrars was an amazingly productive writer who had a flair for collaborating with all the right people and he shared the modernist fascination with les banlieues.

Van Gogh and Signac also had a taste for the marginal territories where the structures of the city subside into the surrounding countryside in a maze of workshops, scrapyards and rubbish dumps populated by scavengers and feral creatures. It’s easy to see how Van Gogh would be attracted but Signac’s paintings suggest a rather more fastidious personality. However, as disclosed in Wendy Baron’s blockbuster book on Sickert, Signac purchased a Camden Town Murder painting from Bernheim-Jeune which would seem to confirm his appetite for le demi-monde. Sickert and Signac, alphabetically close but seldom found in the same sentence. As for “Les fréres Bernheim-Jeune”, they are the subject of a stunning outsize double portrait by Bonnard which illuminates the wall on which it’s displayed in a blaze of colour at the musée d’Orsay. Signac was a great admirer of Bonnard who returned the compliment with a spectacular painting of Signac sailing his yacht.

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