Monday, January 9, 2017

The Terrace of the Glacier Café (1882)

Léon Joseph Voirin: The Terrace of the Glacier Café, Stanislas Place at Nancy

Describing the city of Nancy at the turn of the nineteenth century, prolific travelogue author Mathilda Betham-Edwards, wrote in her East of Paris "why so few… travelers visit this dainty and attractive little capital is not easy to explain." Despite the conveniences of a newly built canal and train travel, the northeastern city was often overlooked by both tourists and fellow French. Emerging from the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1, Nancy, located so near the German border, had difficulty rising above its reputation as embattled military outpost. Yet, as Betham-Edwards assured, while "the ancient capital of Lorraine is one of the largest garrisons on the eastern frontier…the military aspect is not too obtrusive…. in order to enjoy Nancy thoroughly, a day or two, should be devoted to it and creature comforts are to be had."  Indeed, in addition to its large population of soldiers, the city also boasted many industrialists and prominent bourgeois businessmen who supported a rich social and cultural city life of museums, restaurants, grand hotels and cafés. The very center of the city's pleasures is captured in Voirin's view of the popular Café du Glacier just off the Place Stanislas. Completed in 1756 by Emmanuel Héré, and named for its sponsor, Stanislas Lesznski, the exiled King of Poland (who found a home in Nancy and was later Duke of Lorraine), the Place joined the medieval section of the city with modern developments. Voirin’s painting perfectly replicates the interior of the Place as bordered by the neat facades of Jean Lamour's wrought-iron gilded gates, which linked the Vaudémont and Haussonville bastions. Barthélémy Guibal's rocaille Amphrite fountain marked the entrance to the Café's courtyard where, just as in Paris, well-dressed people gathered to sip coffee, quaff aperitifs, enjoy the city's renowned pastries (the baba au rhum being a particular favorite) and good conversation. Voirin maintains an important distinction between the café society of his native city from the paintings of Parisian artists. Flanking Café du Glacier's courtyards is a one-story military garrison, reminding the viewer of the constant need for defense.  This is further emphasized by other elements: the pull toy of a horse and soldier in the center of the composition and a young boy in a military costume who plays with his dog as a more sedate soldier, sword near at hand, sits in the background. [Sotheby’s]

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