There’s nothing quite like Parisian architecture. The sloping, lavender-blue rooftops, the intricate iron balcony railings, the cobblestone courtyards, the monumental, ceiling-high front doors bedecked with carved brass knockers.
Quite often, Parisian streets are a jumble of vastly different architectural styles: the quintessential Haussmannien apartment buildings pressed up against medieval stone structures or crisp, Lecorbusier-inspired C20th blocks. Disparate centuries stand side-by-side throughout Paris, and yet the conflicting styles of Parisian architecture just seem to work. Perhaps it is because, with the exception of the skyscraping monstrosity of the Tour Montparnasse (curse thee, heinous monolith!), it’s all so pretty.
I’m endlessly admiring of Paris architecture, but it’s not often that I’m surprised by it. Yet surprised I was when I ventured down a calm, private lane in the prim sixth arrondissement, on the quiet side of the Luxembourg Gardens, to visit the musée Zadkine.
Nestled amongst the standard six-storey buildings lay a modest one-storey creation, all natural wood, white spaces and glass. At first I couldn’t put my finger on what the lovely little building reminded me of. Then I realised: it was like my home. My beloved, modern family home in the outer-Melbourne eucalypts, my favourite house in the world, all lofty beams, giant windows and open spaces. A little slice of my Australian world lay hidden down this centuries-old Parisian laneway.
The museum’s collection, which was entirely new to me, combined beautifully with these relaxed, modern surrounds. Ossip Zadkine, a Belarusian sculptor active in Paris from 1910, a member of the Cubist movement, favoured the same natural materials as the architecture that now surrounds his work. His robust, earthy depictions of nude forms, at once gentle and powerful, are hewn from gnarled wood, clay and smooth stone.
Ossip Zadkine, ‘Jeune fille’, 1967
Ossip Zadkine, ‘Nu accoudé’, 1955
Zadkine’s sculpted portraiture, so human and yet verging so closely on the geometrical, are a celebratory blend of humanity and nature, a blending which struck me most in the sleek, towering figures scattered throughout the surprisingly wild museum garden.
Part of what I love most about my family home is how close it feels to nature. To my surprise, the musée Zadkine and its hulking Cubist sculptures, in the heart of a bustling world city, made me feel the exact same way.