The historic Beaux-Art building known as the Grand Palais (Grand Palace) on the Champs Elysee (8th arrondissement) marked the first stop on yesterday’s tour of the City of Lights.

The Grand Palais is currently playing host to a family reunion of sorts. Art collected by writer Gertrude Stein and her brothers Leo and Michael (and sister-in-law Sarah) is on display through January 22. The exhibition brings together works by Picasso, Matisse and other art stars of the era for the first time in nearly a century.

Back in the day (the early 1900s), the Stein’s digs at 27  Rue de Fleurus (in the 6th arrondissement, quartiers Notre-Dame-Champs and Odeon) was chock full of history-making works stacked floor to ceiling, which the family bought like dime store candy straight out of the studios of young avant-garde artists of the period. Regular Saturday night salons afforded artists, collectors, dealers and groupies the unique opportunity to to meet the artists and view the revolutionary paintings and sculptures.

At the Grand Palais, family photos and videos set the context for images such as “Woman with a Hat,” the very first Matisse purchased by Leo Stein and a prime example by its kingpin –  with her green, yellow and and pink face, orange ear and technicolor chapeau –  of the Fauve (Wild Beast) genre of painting.  “Woman in Japanese Robe By the Water” is another revelation by the artist: dots, dashes and splotches of color, unprimed canvas poking through, the merging of figure with ground, woman and nature, foretold the history of modern art. In “Woman,” the whole Color Field painting school and De Kooning’s women came to life. Taken as a whole, works in the Stein collection became the seeds that flowered throughout Europe and America into modern art

For lunch we headed to Montmartre, (in the north of Paris in the 18th) where, in the era of the Steins, impoverished artists such as Matisse and Picasso lived and worked. (As did Modigliani, Van Gogh, Degas, Utrillo, and Toulouse- Lautrec.)  Our specific destination: “Amelie’s” cafe, Des Deux Moulins (“Two Windmills), located at the junction of Rue Lepic and Rue Cauchois.

Remember the winsome “Amelie?” The romantic comedy about a shy waitress who decides to change the lives of those around her for the better had its North American premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in 2001.

A quiet dinner that night at a local Thai restaurant, La Coloniale, (25 Ru Mazarine) continued our art immersion. My memorable meal of cabbage soup followed by calamari was presented like a beautiful still life..

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