This century's cultural phenomenon is both a rose and a thorn in 1000+1 ways.
Engaging through Twitter, Facebook and all the rest sometimes
feels like being held hostage -- but then again, no one is holding
a gun to my head while I log on and (too often) waste time.
Try to imagine a completely different time and place when you had to
use actual wit and/or talent in order to get noticed.
On a day-long outing in the pretty Provencal village of Cagnes-sur-Mer,
I began to envy how the world "plugged in" back when a
community forum had a human element, one that offered collaboration
and innovation, shaping hearts & souls for years to come.
Art was often the glue; beauty and imagination
opened the door to a new world of communication.
Enviably situated between Antibes and Nice, Cagnes-sur-Mer offers more
than what you would expect, not the least of which is a reflection of how men and
women transformed their passion into something that lasted forever,
a body of work that stood out in a crowd.
Two of the town's notable celebrities -- though each were known for polar
opposite reasons -- discovered the secret to communication and identity politics.
"When I've painted a woman's bottom so that I want to touch it,
the painting is finished."
Pierre August Renoir, French Impressionist
Imagine this on Twitter..... 100k new followers!
I'll bet today's marketing gurus would flip for a trademark like that.
So how did the celebrated artist create such a fervor?
Pierre-August Renoir moved to Cagnes-sur-Mer in 1907,
his celebrity already well cemented in the art world.
With high hopes the sweet fresh air of Provence's countryside
would provide relief for his aggressive arthritis, he was soon
disappointed as he regressed from bad to worse in a decade's time.
But the news in Cagnes-sur-Mer was not all bad as the determined
painter flourished artistically, continuing to produce -- even
innovate -- until his demise in 1919.
Those were the years the accomplished artist out-dazzled even the
most fervent of his "followers" -- unexpectedly stepping out of his
comfort zone -- Impressionism -- by trying his hand at both
sculpture and classic portraiture.
Though soon confined to a wheel chair, his arthritic hands too misshapen
to hold a paint brush properly, he labored day and night.
Toward the end of his life, Renoir's magical hands were taped,
making it nearly impossible to grasp a paint brush properly.
Yet the determined old master refused to give up,
gifting the world with a magnificent body of work.
immediately see how nature inspired his work, helping him sustain a
creative expressiveness deep into his twilight years.
The property -- now a mansion-museum -- provokes the senses,
the studio/home surrounded by acres of centuries old olive trees
and glorious Provencal countryside.
Renoir's retreat was filled with family and friends, all relishing the chance
to watch their famous friend's mastery of the canvas.
Artists such as Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and Cézanne understood the importance
of color and light -- two elements abundantly on offer in Cagnes-sur-Mer.
Renoir adored being surrounded by friends & family and
enjoyed a special affinity with the sensual models
who posed on his artist's sofa.
His intimate portraits and nudes feel right at home here
alongside his luminous landscapes of the region.
Art provokes emotion -- no need for an audit or focus group to figure that out.
By its own nature, an appealing painting or sculpture builds interaction,
the fundamentals of good social media.
That's not what they called it then, certainly, but Renoir and his community of
art-lovers fine-tuned their market and overdelivered the goods.
to Renoir's country paradise for an eternity.
With views of the nearby Mediterranean as well as Haut-de-Cagnes*,
you'd have to be hard-hearted as hell not to be moved.
*Cagnes-sur-Mer is divided into two parts; Haut-de-Cagnes is the upper town dripping in old village charm.
Renoir's style of painting changed shape through the years.
Much like a force of nature, he was brilliant in adapting to and improving
his life work -- perhaps another reason his star power continues to shine.
The artist's portraits reflect a passion for being social.
His portraiture of women feels particularly emotional.
You can see this readily in paintings such as "The Theatre Box".
Renoir's gift for "life painting" reflects his capacity for socializing.
How else do you explain the beautiful images he created in some
of his most famous works such as "Luncheon of the Boating Party"
"The Swing" and "Dance at Bougival" -- all snapshots
of the era in which they lived, a slice of life on canvas.
No wonder he's an icon.
Renoir would have been aces at this social networking game,
though it would be much more fun to hobnob with friends
at a boating party than on LinkedIn....
who made us sit up and take notice.
Suzy Solidor was the self proclaimed Queen of Self-Promotion.
Had she lived today, she may have had as many "likes" on
her fan pages as internet status queens Shakira and Rhianna.
The illegitimate daughter of a baron and his maid, Suzy S.
became a star in her own right.
Born in Brittany, she moved to Paris to make find her oeuvre
in the bright lights of the big city.
Before long, Suzy was both a performer and a nightclub owner.
Her smoky voice and sultry countenance made her a standout;
but it was her gift as a marketer that made her a star.
Above all else, she resolved to become
THE MOST PAINTED WOMAN IN THE WORLD.
If that sounds like a quirky objective, think again.
She lived in a time when the height of power -- particularly for the
female sex -- was to be admired for beauty and glamour.
Much like celebrities today use social media, Suzy set in motion
a plan that would set her apart from all others.
Her club, La Vie Parisienne, was a popular hangout for the best artists of the day -- Picasso, Raoul Dufy, Tamara de Lempicka to name a few.
And that's exactly why you see many of her portraits today.
Jean Cocteau, Modigliani and a host of popular artists
"competed" to create their own version of Suzy.
There are literally HUNDREDS of renderings of Suzy Solidor --
each with its own unique interpretation.
Instagram would have a meltdown.
She had a foolproof game plan.
Nothing blasé about this campaign, Suzy Solidor's face will live forevermore.
She knew her audience; recruited brilliantly; provoked emotion,
the quintessential element to any successful marketing strategy.
It was a stroke a brilliance really.
Portrayed by some of the most revered artists of the day is exactly what gave
her star status -- not to mention a new "look" with each passing display.
What girl doesn't want to change her face from time to time?
Suzy's life was a raw mix nightclub life, lesbian affairs, drug use -- even
collaboration with some of the Nazi officers who frequented her club
during the war years -- but still she survived.
And of course, she used her celebrity to great advantage.
Maurice Chevalier and Marlene Dietrich are just a few of the "names"
who played hard and fast at her famous nightclub.
She even has a few film credits to her name including La Garconne, a
1936 black & white classic that starred Arletty and Edith Piaf.
In later years, she pretty much self-destructed but somehow kept
paying the bills by opening a small club in Cagnes-sur-Mer.
You can see dozens of these portraits from her collection
in the Chateau-Musée Grimaldi in Haut-de-Cagnes.
of the upper town and noticed a cemetery.
Realizing the odds were against us, I wondered out loud if we could find
Suzy's burial marker and sure enough, we spotted it and paid our respects.
It was the perfect ending to her story.
Suzy's almost fictionalized star power read much like a novel
and we felt the need to "read" until the very end.
Suzy Solidor was a character and an icon in her own right.
If you're a music lover, check out her nostalgic vintage songs on YouTube.
even if Renoir and Suzy weren't in "residence".
At the top of the hill -- Haut-de-Cagnes -- stands a typical must-see village square. Naturally, you'll find a 17th century castle, several charming cafes,
an arcaded passageway amid narrow little streets perched more in
fantasy than reality -- the stuff great impressionist paintings are made of....
Don't miss the sweet little church and its
affectionate display of local santons.
This is the perfect spot to enjoy lunch en plein air,
admire the old stones of the village
and engage in some serious people-watching.
Is there an app for that?
Whether your name is Pierre August Renoir, Suzy Solidor or
Michelle Moggio @ The Paris Effect, the need for communication is essential.
Engaging people face-to-face, building a presence and figuring out where and how
to fit in maintains the same importance whether it's circa 1900, 1950 or the 2ks.
In our own way, we all hope to be unforgettable.
If you study the lives of Renoir and Suzy Solidor, you'll soon realize
talent procures the battle but persistence wins the war.
Sure, "going viral" has its power -- but the real muscle is
in the patience and doggedness to move forward.
Persist in whatever it is that you love.
And keep on traveling and loving our beautiful & fascinating France.