Toronto–based Cree artist Kent Monkman visits Paris every year, and he always makes sure he stays within walking distance of the Louvre. (Read his guide to his go–to neighbourhood, Saint–Germain–des–Prés, here.) The Paris institution not only inspires his own provocative paintings, which explore themes of Indigenous identity, colonialism and sexuality, but also influences how he runs his studio in Toronto. Between a busy schedule of gallery installations or exhibition research during these trips, he carves out time to stop in at the Louvre every day, spending an hour or so viewing his favourite works and rooms – and he recommends other visitors take a similar approach. “Don’t try to see everything in one visit. Go explore some of the quieter wings, like Richelieu and Sully, and take your time,” he says. “People tend to trickle off once they get their picture taken with the Mona Lisa.”
The Canadian artist shares his favourite works and rooms at the world’s largest art museum.
The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault —“The scale and composition of this work was a huge inspiration for [my painting] Miss Chief’s Wet Dream. I love the turbulence in the sky and sea, and the way the figures are painted. It’s a monumental painting at around 16 feet tall. If you want to see huge history paintings in all their glory, then the Louvre is the place to go.”
The Sleep of Endymion by Anne–Louis Girodet de Roussy–Trioson —“People often talk about the male gaze on the female body in art history. I like the reversal of that gaze in this painting, [which depicts] the goddess Diana gazing upon the male body. I also like the painting’s sensuality and the quality of the light: The sleeping figure seems to be glowing in the moonlight. I took inspiration for Miss Chief’s Wet Dream from this as well. Miss Chief is asleep in the boat and she’s having an erotic dream. There’s a parallel between those two figures.”
Rubens: The Galerie Médicis —“When I visited this room 10 years ago, it struck me how prolific Rubens was. I checked the dates on the 24 paintings in the room, which were a commission for [the French queen] Marie de Médicis, and they were all made within a three–year period. When I saw the scale of the paintings and the amount of work involved, I thought, ‘How does any artist accomplish this in such a short period of time?’ I learned Rubens had his own atelier of artists, and that inspired me to think about how I could reproduce the atelier model in my own practice.”
The Intervention of the Sabine Women by Jacques–Louis David —“This subject has been painted by many artists, including Nicolas Poussin and Rubens. The version by David is a masterpiece. I love the combinations of the male and female figurations, and they’ve inspired how I depict the human body in some of my own paintings.”
The Rape of the Sabine Women by Nicolas Poussin —“There’s energy and liveliness to this painting. The figures are not static – there’s so much movement in the fabric of the clothing. [It contains] portraits of many important personages of that time.”
Riderless Horse Races by Théodore Géricault —“This is a small painting in a more obscure, less–travelled part of the Louvre that I love because of the energy of the human figure as well as the wild horses. That energy inspired my recent painting, Poundmaker Intercedes. I’ve loved drawing and painting horses since I was a kid, so I have always admired this work.”