“More than anything, I would stress the diversity of this event,” says French May chief executive Julien-Loïc Garin. Garin says Hong Kong has never seen an exhibition quite like it. “You can see pieces from Egypt and Greece through to a 19th-century Delacroix – and all in Hong Kong, at the same time. I think that, for me, is what’s really great about it.”
Wonder at the artistry in a two-millennium-old sculpture, finely decorated with precious stones and gold, which was recovered from the catacombs in Rome – an example of the artefacts collected by French rulers from King Philip II in the 13th century to the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in the 19th century. Wonder, too, at the history in the carpet laid before the throne of Napoleon at his coronation, which separated the monarch from and his subjects.
Many have visited the Louvre and many more know of it. But few are aware that it is the first museum in the world, established in the 12th century. The antiquity of many of the pieces in its collection limited the freedom of action of the curators of the Hong Kong exhibition. “The challenges were big because we had to be able to transport pieces outside of the museum,” Garin says. “You can’t, for example, move a Leonardo da Vinci or transport masterpieces which are national treasures.”
Yet Garin and his colleagues in Hong Kong and France wished the exhibition in Sha Tin to explain the history of the Louvre. “The idea was not just to showcase French collections and their wealth,” Garin says, “but to explain to people how it started from just kings, from the king ordering from different countries to showcase their powers and to showcase their taste, and how it became the first museum.”
They also wished to show the breadth of the collection housed in the Louvre. “So we see Egyptian, Roman and of course, Islamic art, as well, illustrating where the Louvre is now,” Garin says. The Louvre is now in more than one place. One branch museum, in the French town of Lens, is open already and another, in Abu Dhabi, is due to open soon.
A highlight of the French May this month is an exhibition called Paris, Toits Emois: The Roofs of Paris, which runs until July 23 at the City University of Hong Kong. The exhibition shows how the cityscape of Paris has been a source of inspiration for artists and writers, French and foreign, since the 15th century. The rooftops of Paris are no less inspiring than the imposing buildings they cap. The works of writers such as Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Charles Baudelaire, and of painters such as Manet, Pissarro and Van Gogh, are tapped to illustrate the vista of the City of Light as seen from an artist’s garret.
For striking French photography, see the show entitled Return to Beauty – Jacques Henri Lartigue and his World, at the F11 Foto Museum in Happy Valley, which is on until July 31. Lartigue spent a lifetime photographing icons of contemporary France such as pioneering aviators Gabriel Voisin and Roland Garros, and tennis player Suzanne Lenglen. The photographer was friends with playwright Sacha Guitry, with painters Kees van Dongen and Pablo Picasso, and with writer, playwright, artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau.
Across the Pearl estuary, in the MGM Art Space in Macau, a show called A Golden Way of Life – Très’Ors is displaying until September 3 an assortment of more than 150 exhibits threaded together by the theme of gold. The exhibits include clocks and watches made in the 18th and 19th centuries, Boucheron jewellery, a Van Cleef & Arpels clutch, examples of embroidery produced by Yves Saint Laurent and Schiaparelli, and vintage perfume bottles.
Each year French May turns its spotlight on a different region of France, and on the food and wine the region produces. This year a series of promotions, tastings, workshops, forums and master classes is enlightening enthusiasts about the glories of the Champagne region. For details, see frenchgourmay.com
Garin has an explanation of how France has been at the forefront of European culture since the Middle Ages. “The French are very good at being inspired and doing it their way,” he says. “They take codes, architecture, fashion, and make it the best. Look at the Renaissance, and people like da Vinci in Italy. Francis I, the French king, sought out the best architects in Italy and asked them to train his own school of French artists, and then had the French architects and artists do better. That’s the secret.” After a quarter of a century of showing off French cultural savoir-faire in Hong Kong, the French May festival now reveals that secret. See it unveiled in Sha Tin.
For more information on Le French May, see their website; and for more information on the exhibit, see the Hong Kong Heritage Museum website.
This article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of #legend magazine