Chevalier and MoMA: The Art of Dreaming

On the early side for lunch at Chevalier, I cross over to MoMA intent upon revisiting a handful of long-standing friends, including one staggering beauty—'The Dream,' by the French painter Henri Rousseau (1844-1910). This was Rousseau’s last painting, a masterpiece exhibited at the Salon des Independents in the spring of 1910, a few months before his untimely death in September of that year.


The Dream

With a throng of visitors jostling to get close to the painting, taking photos is not easy. I do my best, but by way of full disclosure, there are a few details missing on the right side of the canvas, which in no way takes away from its intense beauty.

Being that Rousseau worked as a toll collector, he was given the disparaging nickname by other artists of 'Le Douanier', meaning the customs officer. A self-taught artistic genius, his paintings—naïve, primitive—were not held in great esteem during his lifetime. Indeed, critics were dismissive of his art, the one exception being the young Picasso who owned and treasured Rousseau’s 'Portrait of a Woman' (1895). Of that painting he would say it was the most psychologically truthful of all French portraits.

Art and the Brain

Watching the crowd at MoMA, I find myself wondering why viewing art is a favorite preoccupation of so many people. What are we looking for? what do we get out of it? why are we moved by one visual experience, unmoved by another? Researchers throughout the country are doing brain wave experiments seeking the answers to those very questions. What they've learned is that the brain as an art critic is quick to judge. Shown a landscape, a portrait or an abstract rendering, the brain makes a snap decision in seconds: Like It. Don’t Like It. There's no hesitancy, no middle ground. They've also learned that standards of beauty are remarkably similar around the world.

I’ve been in love with 'The Dream' since college, when I wrote a 20-page term paper discussing its virtues and beauties. In love with the combination of the exotic and commonplace—the loveseat sofa in the middle of a jungle, the voluptuous flowers that Rousseau taught himself to paint at the botanical garden in Paris, and the enigmatic figure playing the horn. And what's with the peaceable 'wild' animals? the mysterious black figure playing the horn? the naked woman seemingly in her element? So much to think about,  but right now I've got to get a wiggle on as I'm meeting a friend.

A Dream Brasserie

Chevalier, at 20 West 53rd Street, is a new French offering tucked inside the Hotel Baccarat. The restaurant is named after the long-time creative director of Baccarat, the French crystal firm that celebrated its 250th anniversary last year. This enchanting reinvention of the classic Parisian brasserie is the work of the interior designer Stephen Mills. The stunning interior of Chevalier is quite unlike that of any other 'brasserie.' Step away from the traffic on West 53rd Street and within all is luxe, calme et volupté. 

When the restaurant opened in April 2014, there had been a prix-fixe menu for lunch and dinner, but starting last September, they added à la carte, which is more to my liking. The Executive Chef, Shea Gallante, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and at his previous restaurant, Cru, he had been awarded a Michelin star and given a three star review by The New York Times. We're in good hands.

Surreptitiously taking a few photos, hoping the other guests won't notice, I catch sight of my friend who had been caught in traffic and is now gliding across the room. When the wines arrive, she who spent all of last summer sampling wines in Paris while studying at the Sorbonne, tasted the Viognier and was not thrilled, but the Sancerre—voila!—was 'pleasing' to the palette. What's not to like about a Sancerre? Its grape is the ever-popular sauvignon blanc, its home the fashionable Loire Valley studded with fairy-tale castles. Wines by the glass are pricey at Chevalier and for the most part well-chosen.

As for what we ate, the conversation flowed so effortlessly—you've heard of the film, 'My Dinner with André?' This could have been 'My Lunch with Andrea!'—that the food was secondary. That said, she enjoyed the rigatoni bolognese and I a superb creamy risotto. All too soon, the Uber driver was at the curb, which truly is the dream of this New Yorker.

Would you do me a favor? At the top of the post, do you see the Facebook icon, the little black circle? When you click on it, it brings you to my Facebook Author Page where you can Like or Share. Or better yet, both! With publication looming a few months down the road, they tell me that garnering sign ups, likes and shares is important. For the most part, I'm flying blind across an unfamiliar publishing landscape, fearful I'm going to crash and burn.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you next Sunday, when I'll have the coffee ready. Until then, may life be good to you mes amis.  Jusqu'à la semaine prochaine...