When you come back from your trip to Strasbourg, after the food and wine have receded from memory and the selfies have all been chugged by social media, the memorable images that will keep popping up in your mind may very well be the exceptional works of art. Let the city’s museums guide you by the hand through this shortlist of 10 awe-inspiring works of art.
The Modern and Contemporary Art Museum has gone all out to present the massive work of native Strasbourg artist Gustave Doré as it deserves to be seen. This large canvass measuring six meters in length by nine meters in width presides the 11-meter high room that was constructed with this work in mind. The overhead lighting projected onto the canvas and a sort of theater-box balcony to view it from above add to the effect. A selection of Doré’s most beautiful paintings in the collection completes the display inviting us to discover the painter’s jaw-dropping talent.
After three successive failures to enter the school of fine arts, Rodin became a hired hand in a masonry and decoration company. Later in 1880, Rodin received a commission from the state to make a big door. The Gates of Hell would never be installed as such, but it was the making of Rodin as a sculptor. One of the multiple figures in the project was The Thinker, which he enlarged to become its own thing. In 1906, through an early form of crowdfunding, he presented a bronze Thinker to City Hall. In 1907, the city of Strasbourg bought the preliminary work in plaster – now shown at the MAMCS – which Rodin himself came to present in the Palais Rohan.
A true master in this field, Amsterdam native Pieter de Hooch plays with different light sources. Possibly painted early in his career between 1663 and 1665, this work lets us see first two spots on the couple below the shoulders, then the right pillar spilling into a pool of light, then a second diffused source from the window in the background. At the entrance of the building, there is still a clear black silhouette that can be made out, like a ghost caught in the image, which originally appeared to be a man wearing a cape and a hat. This figure was probably added at the beginning of the 20th century by an amateur who was dissatisfied with the original composition.
It was probably the oddity of the getup that prompted this painting. A famous portraitist of the Parisian high bourgeoisie, Largillière trained in Flanders, where he acquired a great mastery of colour and a penchant for sumptuous textiles. The costume worn by this young woman is that of Strasbourg patricians between 1688 and 1730, reaching the height of flourish during the reign of Louis XIV. A red skirt is covered with a large black apron, with wide sleeves, pleated ribbons and lace cuffs, a lace bust, a white lace shawl and an unmissable hat trimmed with black lace. The identity of the model remains a mystery. It could be a true resident of Strasbourg, a Parisian wearing the costume, or, according to one theory, the sister of the painter sitting for the portrait to help him out.
Nicolaus van Leyden, a 15th-century sculptor, is possibly the best artist you have never heard of. He is considered to be one of the most important and innovating sculptors of his time. He was widely known for the modernity of his works — they could pass as a contemporary piece today — and particularly for his skill in rendering faces. His career is shrouded in mystery but it included a notable period spent in Strasbourg between 1462 and 1467 where he produced several substantial works.
Did you know that the French national anthem didn’t originate in Marseille but actually was created in Strasbourg? Rouget de l’Isle was a young officer garrisoned in Strasbourg. In the winter of 1792 he composed and first sang the patriotic song in the living room of a Strasbourg nobleman following the declaration of war between France and Austria. After the Revolution broke out, Pil’s painting capturing that moment became an icon of the French Republic. The song became known as La Marseillaise after the melody was sung in the streets by marching volunteers from Marseille arriving in Paris.
The study of human anatomy was basic training for an artist, but the Mannerists refined the study of the body not just to show their skill but also for the purpose of expression. Maarten van Heemskerck was the most Italianist painter in Holland. During his study trip to Italy he drew from the antiques and became a Mannerist in the wake of Michelangelo, but unlike the Italian artists influenced by antiquity, in northern European puritanical sensibilities, the naked body was the object of shame.
Once upon a time there were three ugly brigands whose life changed completely the day they met a little orphan. The little girl proceeded to turn the evildoers into benefactors of humanity. In the Villa Greiner we step into the creative universe of draftsman and illustrator Tomi Ungerer. Born in 1931, he donated more than 11,000 works to his native city of Strasbourg. The museum includes a thematic itinerary of nearly 300 originals including drawings for children’s books, satirical and advertising drawings and erotica.
Put the man in the painting rather than in front of it. Such was the spirit of avant-gardism, advocating total art in service of beautiful living. Theo Van Doesburg, Hans Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp created the décor for the leisure complex of the Aubette in 1928. It was such a breakthrough that it is now considered to be a whole work of art. The first floor, part of a historical building in the Place Kléber in the heart of Strasbourg, has been entirely restored and is now accessible to the public, where visitors can climb the geometrically designed staircase to plunge into the roaring 20s cine-dancing with its Elementarist décor… where one could sip a thoroughly civilised drink in the foyer during a screening.
Here’s yet another room that has been elevated to the status of an ensemble work of art: the King’s Chamber in the Musée d’Arts Décoratifs at the Palais Rohan. The carved and gilded woodwork, stucco ceiling and the four pillars in perspective all add to the regal effect of the space. The royal alcove opens at the end of the room, facing the three windows facing the River Ill. Three tapestries, part of the set of eight tapestries of the 18th century devoted to the history of Constantine and acquired by the cardinal near his niece, the Duchess of Mazarin, are stretched in the alcove. Robert de Séry is the creator of the top-of-the-door paintings made after the Lodges of Raphael in the Vatican, while the paintings of the inter-window piers are originals of P.I.Parrocel.