I began the second day in the metro, eyeing the advertisements strategically placed above the heads of others, followed by a tour of the hôtel de ville. In the main stair, my attention was drawn to impressive brushwork centering on the Roman-era burning of Lugdunum. To one side, the German language guide points out a mural whose figures were burned away by the unfortunate placing of a gas lamp. All that remains is the head of an arrow off to the left side and a black and ochre blur.
The group passes the various antechambers, sitting rooms, conference chambers and spaces bearing the names of the numerous Louis but the touch of Napoléon III. Numerous medallions dot the ceilings, themselves thick with moldings and gilding. In the so-called Red Room, four grisaille medallions show the process of making silk, on which Lyon made its name. The first of these held my attention the longest for it recalled Sebald’s presentation of silkworms in one work; two young boys armed with a ladder collected husks from a tree. I was curious whether the medallion’s greyscale children were aware in their own way of being caught in the web of another, his fictions. As we marched in time back to the entrance, the guide commented on the great disadvantage of the rooms’ being strung together like pearls on a strand, in the way of many 17th century palaces. Or the glass spheres clustered like so many grapes beneath an overripe chandelier under which we passed.
At the musée des beaux-arts, my attention was held not by the masterworks but by the marginalia, by those exquisite footnotes to the history of art. Among these I counted an elemental cycle by Bruegel. The Fire allegory drew me in with its endless activity, craftsmen pulling from kiln and forge artifice with which to people the ruins where they had made their workshops. Indeed, the whole was strangely empty save the piling up of the manmade and the collision of disparate parts in the foreground. Perhaps, onlookers are to see not fire itself but as a tool that dominates and refines
Similarly, figures do not dominate certain Fleury Richard works but rather the interiors in which they are set. The happenings in Entrée de couvent and Scène dans une chapelle ruinée play out from the same perspectives, through a broad door into convent or chapel with prominent landscapes seen through a rear window or door. Likewise, both interiors are home to a pair of figures at once there and elsewhere, a young boy and nun bodyless, a young woman solid and a man obscured, scraped or burned away.
Although the online audio guide attributes this ephemeral character to their being self-documentation of Richard’s work process, I was more inclined to see something else in it. My reasons were twofold. The first, suggested by the carefully considered and polished interiors yet incomplete figures, led me to think that Richard attributed more solidity to the buildings than the humans peopling them. The second, perhaps the product of mere whim, stemmed from my own fascination with people as wisp, as that which eludes the touch and is never wholly there.