12 August 2011

Queues de Paon

In French  cobblestones are pavés ronds or round paving stones.  But they are also something more poetic.  The French also call them by another name, the more evocative queues de paon which  means literally, peacock feathers.

I like to think that it is no accident that it was the immigrant Brassai who looked for romance in the humble pavement of Parisian streets and the native Frenchman, Marcel; Bovis, who was blase about the stones of the city.

Albert Besnard's bravura watercolor/pastel of a nude woman trailing peacock feathers bridges the divide in its ambiguity.  From the placement of her hand you can infer that she is holding the feathers but, on closer inspection, maybe.  She may be a representative of an as yet uncatalogued species, a kind of human-peacock.

This gift for seeing beyond the prosaic in our surroundings  is longstanding, from the 17th century court artist Jacques Bailly whose peacock feathers become part of the foliage to contemporary artist Marie-Anne Hamaide.  Hamaide's peacock imagery is created in the Turkish tradition of ebru or cloud painting.  Often used to marbelize endpapers in books, the technique invites the imagination to wander, much as Brassai's deserted nighttime street does.

1. Brassai (pseudonym of Gyula Halász) - Le Rousseau serpent, 1932, Pompidou Center, Paris.
2. Marcel Bovis - Buvette O. Brisset, 1934,  Mediatheque, Paris.
3. Albert Besnard - Femme nu avec queue de paon, 1892, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
4. Jacques Bailly - Le Labyrinth de Versailles, 17th century, Musee du Petit Palais, Paris.
5 Marie-Anne Hamaide, motif peigne, 2009, Paros.


Timothy Cahill said...

Delicious post, Jane. The Brassai photograph is exquisite. Perhaps Besnard has given us the female equivalent of a satyr, half woman, half bird.

Jane said...

I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Besnard had done just that. I also wonder if Brassai had the expression "queues de paon"in mind when he took that photograph. Sometimes outsiders are acutely aware of the strangeness of an expression that the locals take for granted. For instance "mon petit chou". To call someone "my little cabbage" is an endearment that only works in French.