TINY THEATRES

They’re hidden near the back of the Musée d’Orsay. But this set of tiny, backlit windows shows you just what the elegant theatre-goers in the museum’s paintings saw. If you like Bonnard, Dégas, Renoir, Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot & company, you should check them out.

The windows house maquettes by theatrical designer Amable (1846-1916), made for all the biggest hits of Paris’ Belle Epoque. Amable – his full name was Amable Dauphin Petit – rose to the top of his glittering profession.

But he began life on the “Boulevard du Crime”, the street of working-class theatres re-created in the film Les Enfants du Paradis (The Children of Paradise). Amable knew all the (real) characters in that classic movie.

He was born into the theatre. Dauphin-Petit’s actor father, also called Amable, worked as a mime. But not just any mime. He was the partner and foil of Baptiste Deburau – that Paris legend at the heart of Carné’s movie. At age six, Amable Junior followed him onto the boards. His childhood appearances won the boy a following at Paris’ National Institute for Deaf Children.

But, by fourteen, he was keen on painting scenery. Over the next three decades, at a time when all of Paris worshipped theatre, Amable worked everywhere. Conserved at the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville, his detailed models are literal windows on the past. These epic, romantic scenes have the panache of a box by Joseph Cornell.

STUDIO CONFIDENTIAL

It’s the perfect studio, an image of the old, bohemian Montparnasse. Nothing here has changed since 1885. The high glass windows are still full of light, the mezzanine still lets you see a sculpture from any side … the floor, walls and stove are all just the same.

This was the atelier of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle. Bourdelle was Rodin’s pal and, for fifteen years, his deputy. But these premises belonged to his own work and team – and they lived one of Paris art’s great eras. The current show, Masters & Students, plunges you into that day-to-day world.

Bourdelle knew sculpture training was essential. So, around 1900, he, Rodin and Jules Desbois brought Montparnasse a free sculpture school.

It didn’t really work. But Bourdelle went on to teach – for over two decades – at the quartier‘s Académie de la Grande Chaumière. It’s still there today and still hosts students.

It’s hard to imagine a moment with more diversity (or one that doubted the concept less). Montparnasse was filled with artists, most of whom were young, ambitious emigrants of little means. No art scene anywhere has been more international.

Bourdelle’s own troops hailed from forty-two countries. They were French, Russian, American, Chinese, Portuguese, Brazilian, Japanese, Portuguese, Greek, Swiss, Russian, Czech and Romanian – and included names like Alberto Giacometti.

But he also pioneered the teaching and employment of women. Women, Bourdelle felt, had a special gift for sculpture.

It’s fascinating to read his students’ letters, see their sketchbooks and, of course, view their work. Many took part in the studio’s professional life – which Bourdelle preserved via sculptures of them.

These trainees ate in the same cafés and sat on the same terrasses as Picasso, Modigliani, Cocteau, Brâncusi, Chagall, Soutine and Duchamp. But Antoine Bourdelle taught them that all artists were equals.

“I’m not your schoolmaster,” he told his students, “nor am I your professor. I’m just another artist, one who is working beside you”.

Masters & Students: Transmission & Transgression runs through 3 February at Musée Bourdelle

FACING THE PEOPLE

Parisians are used to the politics of street art. Especially those of 35-year-old JR (the nom-de-graff of Jean René). JR started his artistic life as a tagger. But when he found a camera someone lost, that soon changed. Photography replaced graffiti and he now works in size XXL – all over the world.

JR is best known for outsize portraits and for filling big spaces with unusual faces. Right now, his work is on show at Paris’ Maison Européene de la Photographie. Under the title Momentum, it’s breaking attendance records.

Visitors can goggle at his initial camera. But you can also study two decades of JR’s work. Most breathtaking for me are two installations – each one a photo-collage as big as a room.

Eaxch is backed by an equally large lightbox. The earlier installation dates from 2006 and it features the residents of Clichy-Montfermeil. This was one of the Paris suburbs which, one year before, saw serious rioting. It’s a beautiful piece, one that captures human ties in a way that almost breathes.

The second is even bigger. Inspired by the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, it’s JR’s meditation on guns and America. One whole side shows pro-gun partisans. But, as the eye moves left to right, the emphasis shifts to their opponents.

The faces and bodies are seamlessly collaged and yet the piece is far from unified. It’s exactly the opposite: there’s a wave of movement that constantly ripples from side to side.

The gestures run a gamut, from sighs and gesticulations to weeping and threats. Some people hoist signs and others bang gavels – while some gesture for calm.

All JR’s photos are striking. But his collage works reinstate our ties and marry the smallest of daily actions with explosions. All those little acts, as he shows, add up.

Momentum, featuring JR’s “The Gun Chronicles”, can be seen at the Maison Européene de la Photographie through 10 February 2019