Each time I'm in Paris, something different catches my eye and I learn something. Most everthing in France has an historical reference as does the Montparnasse frame. I first saw a frame like this in the smaller flea market called the Puces de Vanves. The seller tossed out the name "Montparnasse" like we were sure to know what it was. I had never heard of this frame and was instantly interested in its history. While I didn't learn much that day about it, I noted that while it was ornate in its carving, it lacked the gold gild of most of the French frames we are used to seeing. I needed to find out more!
Today I went to the larger flea market the Puces de St. Ouen (Cligancourt) and to Lucien Pineau's stand in the Marché Serpette. He specializes in the Montparnasse frame and we had a wonderful conversation about their history and how difficult they are becoming to find. First of all, the interior part of the frame that is the moulding is called the Marie-Louise. Marie-Louise was the 2nd wife of Napoleon and I am still trying to discover why it is named after her. When the moulding is made of wood and is fabric covered, it is referred to as the Marie-Louise. If it is cardboard, it is called the passe-partout (something that passes everywhere). Evidently, Marie-Louise was not someone who was passed about! These frames are from the 20th century and were supposedly designed by the many Russian painters who had begun to congregate in the Montparnasse area between 1908-1914. Since they were artists with very little means, they carved the frames themselves from modest pine and left them ungilded. The Patinas are all different and quite beautiful with the traditional frames being creme or grey. The carving itself is ornate and in the style of Louis XIV and Louis XV. They are all beautiful!
Many of the painters from the Ecole de Montparnasse ( Marie Vassillieff's painting above) and the Ecole de Paris, framed their Post-Impressionist and cubist paintings with the Montparnasse frame. While I wish I could see their paintings in the Montparnasse Museum, it was closed down this year for reasons unknown. What I can do since our apartment is so close by, is walk to the Montparnasse area and dine in one of the many legendary cafés that are still fabulous today such as: Le Dôme, La Closerie de Lilas, La Rotunde, Le Select and La Coupole. Painters such as Picasso, Matisse, and Modigliani chose these spots as their hang out and paid with their paintings when they had no money for food. I can only imagine the colorful conversations that must have gone on amongst them daily.
I have always been fascinated by beautiful frames.. they are the jewel that enhances the work of art!