The New York Public Library’s historic Rose Main Reading Room and Bill Blass Public Catalog Room recently completed a major ceiling restoration that went on for two years, since May 2014, when a rosette fell overnight and prompted a full inspection of the ceilings. And while it was agreed that they were in an – otherwise – excellent condition, the Library decided to take advantage of the already set up scaffolding to do some restoration work. The rooms reopened on October 5th, 2016 and I couldn’t wait to see them for myself.
The sheer size of the rooms, the epic beauty of these 105-year-old ceilings, the rows upon rows of accumulated knowledge can hardly be described in words. Capturing its essence on camera is an impossible task. It requires physical presence; slow steps, long pauses, quiet respectful gestures; as all temples do.
Looking at those little wonders of skill and craftsmanship that are the works of Henri-Charles Guérard, on show at the New York Public Library, is a pure pleasure and an excellent introduction to the artist. But the fact that felines (and other animals) were featured prominently in his work, warmed me up to the person too.
Here are the three stages of a Cat on a Newspaper:
A Cat’s head sealing an announcement by the Black-and-White Society:
And a mouse:
Accompanying caption: [Although Westerners generally have an aversion to rats, the creatures play an important role in Japanese culture, for the rat, or nazumi, is thought to be the messenger of the god Daikoku. It is said, moreover, that if rats eat the New Year cakes, there will be a good harvest. Guérard’s endearing treatment of this rodent climbing out of a vase decorated with Japanese motifs seems more closely aligned with Japanese than Western sentiments.]
A small consolation to weary New Yorkers, little impressed at the thought of having to share their homes, parks and subway with millions of them creatures…
A Curious Hand: The Prints of Henri-Charles Guérard (1846-1897)
Don’t go in a rush, the exhibition is more extensive than one might expect; although this was supposed to be an added bonus to my visit, it quickly became apparent that it merits a lot more attention than a mere skimming through.
[Beginning in the 1870s, Guérard assisted Édouard Manet with biting and pulling his prints, and their working relationship eventually blossomed into a friendship. In 1879, Guérard married Eva Gonzalès, Manet’s favourite pupil, who died in childbirth in 1883 shortly after Manet’s own death. Manet was not only a friend and colleague of Guérard’s but also an important source of inspiration.]
[The image, which shows a troop of tiny Japanese men climbing energetically over a woman’s shoe of Western style, captures the droll and occasionally baffling behaviour of the figures in Hokusai manga. Women’s feet and, especially, their shoes have long been fetishized in both the West and the East, and the conduct of the ”assailants”, which includes a figure clambering on the slipper’s ruffled pompom, is suggestive. The impression shown here reveal Guérard experimenting with jaunty colours, one hot pink, the other bright yellow.]
[Guérard designed these multipurpose sheets for menus or notecards. They exhibit a whimsical mashup of Western and Japanese art and include a number of his favourite motifs, including the monkey spilling ink, the marionette, Japanese masks, and even his dog, Azor. References to cooking, including the buffoonish figure in an apron and the men wearing chef’s hats, make the connection to menus.]
All notes are from the accompanying captions and brochure (available also on-line).