a train station, a painting, a perfume

On my weekend wanderings through Paris along with my fun, new camera, I went off to the Gare de l’Est (the East Train Station) to catch a picture of this absolutely fantastic painting. For the moment in my blog, I agree, this painting has nothing really to do with perfume – but in my personal universe it does. I’ll get there.

To share the strength within this creation, here’s a bit of history and background:
Albert Herter, the painter, included himself in the painting at the far right – the man holding a bouquet of flowers in his left hand with his right hand, it could be thought, grasping his chest in pain. His wife is portrayed at the complete left of the painting her hands folded in what could be thought of a position of prayer or reminiscent thought as she beholds a younger woman with her husband, the soldier, holding their infant child. Everit, Herter’s son, can be seen in the middle with a rifle full of flowers in one hand and his kepi (standard French hat) in the other looking with a smile to the sky.
Herter made this portrait in commemoration of his son who never returned from World War I. The painting is called : “Le Départ des Poilus, Le 2 août 1914” (The departure of the Furry Ones – 2nd August 1914). To shed some light on the ‘furry ones’, French soldiers of WWI have the nick name of ‘poilu’ (=furry) as once on the front they stopped shaving in order to better protect their faces from the very harsh weather conditions. These ‘poilus’ wore very distinctive blue uniforms, and fondly enough the painting is made up predominantly of varying shades of blue.
Two years earlier in 1912 Jacques Guerlain took over the running of this great perfume house and created l’Heure Bleue… The bottle in which l’Heure Bleue comes is called the ‘reversed heart bottle’ one of my favorite collectors- take a very good look at the stopper of the pure perfume and you’ll understand.
WWI history has it that women would scent a handkerchief with their perfume and send it off to their loved one on the front. However many letters went off full of endearing terms, it is quite significant to think that a perfume was spontaneously used as a means to remember a gentle kiss on the cheek where a fleeting scent came to bond the senses of a feeling, a touch, a moment, a fluttering heart, a deeper lust…
At a time when I regularly spent weekends in the east of France, my dog and I chose to wait for our train in the Alsace hall -the wing where the painting is located-and ponder this marvelous work. The sadness of loss comes through however only yesterday did the colors jump to my attention. All these shades of the color blue that reminded Jacques Guerlain of the moment between day and night when light becomes blue, and all is calm. The same feeling I sincerely hope Ambert Herter had once he had completed this work.

2 thoughts on “a train station, a painting, a perfume

  1. You draw a lovely comparison between the perfume and the painting. I like thinking of colours when I smell something.

    I’d like to sit at a train station, gazing at art. Unfortunately we’re not as cultured here as we try to be!

  2. Unfortunately, the smell of some train stations these day is far from inspiring perfume … the famous “chatelet scent” is in fact probably one of the worst smell in the world 🙂
    Very beautfil article and very interesting parallel I would never drew between paintings and perfumes. Thanks 🙂

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