Most artists keep sketchbooks. And they do it in an orderly fashion, dating and numbering them. Then guarding them like the crown jewels, lined up in their studios like soldiers. Some other artists (please raise your hands if you're out there) prefer to sketch on the odd scrap of paper...whatever comes to hand. But really I can see it's not the best way to go.
Monday I decided at last to hop over to the Louvre (not my favorite museum for the crowds) to find out how the procedure to gain access to the Department de Graphiques where facsimiles of Delacroix's Moroccan sketchbooks reside. The Louvre owns three books and chateau Chantilly owns one. The rest were lost when his studio was auctioned off. Louvre information desk told me I must go outside to Porte de Lion, apply in advance and then wait.
In fact I didn't have to wait at all. After filling out some forms, showing a picture ID and writing an incoherent letter of intent in my rotten French I got in immediately! The receptionist giggled at my attempts to spell 'mes salutations distingue' and scribbled the correct spelling on a piece of paper. Quelle wreck! Still the librarian saw fit to let me in. But first you must wash your hands bien sur!
And lock away all your belongings except for pencils/crayons. Papers and iPad are allowed.
The library is tres grand!
The library ceiling is even grander.
Enfin they brought out the boxed set of 3 facsimiles and 2 books explaining the collection. I had just 30 minutes before closing time to look.
The woman assisting said,
"It's OK to cry on the pages."
Actually it isn't. This is a Very expensive and rare edition published in 1992 and can only be found at auction for thousands of €€€. I used m little business card to help turn the pages to keep my fingers off them(there's natural oils on the pads of your fingers).
Ta Da! The first book of the collection, all of 10 cm wide x 16 cm high.
After seeing so many excerpts of sketchbook pages to actually page through them (very gently) is a wonder.
The mix of writing, watercolor, ink or pencil sketches just flow rhythmically from page to page.
Quite a few pages have no color yet are just as beautifully designed.
The use of space, the repeated images..it takes your breath away.
I attempted at first to record briefly what was on each page but after a while just decided to look. It made me think I too should be working in a sketchbook and not endless bits of paper. They have a tendency to get lost and it drives me nuts looking for them. Plus there is no sequential flow like looking at a book and turning the pages for the next visual surprise.
British artist and friend Ian Sidaway has kept travel journals for decades. Every trip is recorded. Do take a look at his blog Fine Line for his recent Paris sketches.
Thirty minutes of communing with Delacroix and I was walking on air as I left the building in the Tuileries gardens...
It was dark outside...
Looking up the top floor is where the library is...
Suddenly the Louvre likes like my newest best friend. I can't wait to go back and visit with Delacroix again. This time I'll take a sketchbook.