If you’re like me, sometimes you just want to escape from everyday life and fly to Paris. But if you can’t spare more than even a day, you’ll be happy to know that you can always find a bit of Paris in Venaria Reale. In barely half-an-hour from Turin by the Venaria Express, you will find yourself lost in the beautiful eighteenth-century, French-style gardens. A long central alley occupied by a canal with a series of cascading weirs, each 60cm lower than the previous, flows from the Hall of Diana, the fulcrum of the seventeenth-century residence, up to what was once the Temple of Diana, with the Alps in the background. Walking up to the Alti gardens in front of the Galleria Grande (Great Gallery) and looking up to the sky, you will see the towers and the sloping roofs the palace’s attics, in perfect French style. Strolling along the Royal Alley, admiring the wonders of the garden and letting your gaze get lost in the infinity of the adjacent Mandria Park, you will feel like ladies and gentlemen of the court at a royal residence in Paris.
If the ambience of eighteenth-century Paris is not enough for you, and you want to relive the evolution of the City of Light and its best period, then until the 26th January 2020, in the Sale dei Paggi (Halls of the Pages) of the Venaria Palace, there is the beautiful exhibition “Art Nouveau – the Triumph of Beauty.” Curated by the Englishwoman, Katy Spurrell, this exhibition is really a great way to completely detach from everyday life and find yourself in the Paris of the late nineteenth century. At that time, the birth of the great nation states in Europe led to a period of relative peace and impressive development. The cities grew and the pace of life was rapidly increasing. However, the industrial production of commonly used goods had taken away their taste and elegance. Thus, the lower and middle bourgeoisie, excluded from the over-expensive, high-end craft market, required products at low costs but still artistic and less ordinary than those produced industrially.
In this climate of rapid development and progress, the artists refused to look to the past and to academicism. They felt the need to create an art that was in step with the times. A new art. Or more precisely in French, “Art Nouveau.” During this period, Paris was the undisputed art capital in Europe and it was therefore inevitable that this new artistic trend, even if it first emerged in Belgium and England, would develop and reach spectacular levels in Paris and France, becoming the style par excellence of modern city life.
Through furniture, decorations, furnishing accessories, paintings and lithographs, the curator shows us the various facets of this artistic movement which was the only one to massively permeate all aspects of everyday life, starting with the applied arts. The path is divided by thematic areas, so one starts with the great protagonist of “Art Nouveau”: nature. Following the discoveries of science, the natural form was placed at the same level as the human form, as man is part of nature. And in the cities, the use of natural forms and decorations in furnishings and objects was driven by the need for the artist to create artificial oases within the urban fabric and in the homes and bring man back to nature.
Within nature and in the representation of Art Nouveau, the woman was the undisputed protagonist of this period. The liberation of the woman, which came to us from the United States through the dress reform movement – the abolition of lacing and corsets – finally allowed us to have stronger, independent women who played sports and who could become dangerous to men. And it is just like that you will see the woman portrayed in the display by an artist (male of course!): as a femme fatale, who handles acid and morphine.
And how is it possible to talk about women and Art Nouveau, and not mention Sarah Bernhardt. The next section is dedicated to the very famous and beloved French actress, where she is exhibited in a rich collection of portraits of the “divine“, made by all the leading artists of the time who dealt with her and the public representation of her image.
The next part of the exhibit shows the original furniture and furnishings of the period and how they were advertised. In fact, this was also the golden period of the advertising poster. These works of art, made accessible to all, were created by artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec and Mucha. But they were not original and unique pieces as they were produced in numerous copies, thanks to the new technologies used at the time in the production of colour lithographs. In this section, rich in specimens, the posters for the Salon des Cent and for the theatrical performances are very interesting, some of which betray the influences of the Japanese prints that were popular at the beginning of the century.
The final section of our ideal journey is the return flight from Paris to Turin. In Italy, the new art movement took the name of Liberty and occurred slightly later and so is a continuation of Art Nouveau. On display is a desk and chair by Enrico Monti that were exhibited at the International Exhibition of Decorative and Modern Art held in Turin in 1902. As you can see, the line of the Italian Liberty style is cleaner, with no decorations of plants and flowers. And so, the Art Nouveau movement would end around 1905 and the design trend would continue with cleaner lines.
Our trip to Paris is over, but it’s nice to know that it’s always here, only half an hour away by bus, and we can come back as often as we want!
The Reggia of Venaria Reale
Address: Piazza della Repubblica, 4, 10078 Venaria Reale TO
– Monday: closed (except public holidays – closed on Christmas Day)
– Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: from 10 to 17
– Friday and Saturday: from 10 to 19 and from 19 to 23.30 with Summer Nights ticket
– Sunday and holidays: from 10 to 19.30
Full price – 25€ (This ticket includes admission to the Reggia, the Gardens and the current exhibitions)
Art Nouveau Exhibition – 14€
Guided Tours: You can book your guided visit here.
Where to Stay – Hotels in Turin
Whenever we travel in Italy, we always try to stay at an NH Hotel. They are simply the best! The rooms are comfortable and well-appointed. The staff are always very friendly and helpful. And they have the most delicious breakfast! In Turin, we are fortunate to have several NH Hotels but there are definitely two centrally located that we can highly recommend: the NH Collection Torino Piazza Carlina and the NH Torino Santo Stefano. Both are beautiful hotels in the city centre, walking distance from all the main tourist attractions.
If you are looking for something a little more economical, we can also highly recommend the Le Petit Hotel, a sweet little hotel in the heart of Turin, just next to Piazza Solferino and walking distance to all the main attractions and museums.