SCENTS AND SENSIBILITY: A new exhibition at the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent in Paris showcases the paintings of French artist Jacques-Émile Blanche, who documented the key artistic figures of the Belle Époque.


A pillar of high society himself, Blanche painted some 1,500 portraits in his lifetime of friends and acquaintances ranging from Marcel Proust and Jean Cocteau to Auguste Rodin and Vaslav Nijinksy.


The exhibition, which runs until Jan. 27, is the first dedicated to the painter to be held in Paris since 1943, the year after his death. His work featured most recently in an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Rouen in 1997.


The foundation’s exhibition space has been redesigned for the occasion by Nathalie Crinière to resemble a turn-of-the-century Paris salon. It features an interior design by Jacques Grange, who also decorated Bergé and Saint Laurent’s former weekend home in Normandy, Château Gabriel. Wafting through the space is a scent especially designed by Francis Kurkdjian. The perfumer said he forced himself to work only with ingredients that would have been available in 1912 to compose the floral oriental fragrance.

“All I can say is that it’s a relief I’m not working in 1912, because 100 years ago, there was not much available. All the natural ingredients were there, but there were practically no synthetics. You had maybe 20, whereas nowadays I have around 1,000 synthetic notes to play with,” he said.

Kurkdjian said he conceived the perfume as a scent trail left by an elegant woman in a high society salon of that period. The scent is released in the venue through two diffusers and unlit scented candles, which can be purchased in the foundation’s gift shop for 25 euros, or $32.50 at current exchange, for a set of three.

“The idea was not to be overpowering, and there was also a technical issue. These paintings were created 100 years ago, and the varnish is not yet sufficiently dry, so it is permeable,” Kurkdjian noted. “We had to be excessively careful regarding the formulation of the perfume and the quantity scattered through the air, so that it did not degrade the canvases.”

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