Mar 24, 2015

It Was Inevitable: Tomme Blanche


I've been taking painting classes and painting a lot lately because, well, my inner painter was screaming to be let out. And if I'm going to paint, it seems like the kind of thing I should do in Paris, in a beautiful atelier at the end of an old, cobblestone courtyard in the Marais.

I am a better painter than I thought I would be, and a worse painter than I wish I could be. I've worked on portraits (off of paintings, and photos, in the left column, with my studies on the right),...

architecture and landscapes,...

(Above, watercolor of Ile Saint Louis by unknown artist; below, my miniature oil painting based on it, a Christmas present for Anthony.)
(Painting below based on my photo of Sénanque Abbey in Provence, above) 
(Painting, right, based on my photo of Fatehpuri Masjid mosque in New Delhi.)

and a couple of Edward Hoppers...

(Hopper's Chop Suey, above, and mine, below, though I don't really think I need to clarify that.)
(And Hopper's Lighthouse Hill, above, and mine, below.)

Working on the Hoppers really drives home the point of how talented he was. Painting in general gives me a new appreciation for the art I see around the city and makes we want to revisit some of my favorite paintings in Paris. Les Halles (1889) by Léon Lhermitte in the Petit Palais is still probably my favorite, and now that I know how long it would take me to paint just one tiny corner, and how hard it would be to do, I'm even more blown away.

Two other favorites are also at the Petit Palais: the Jan Van Beers painting Funérailles de Charles le Bon, comte de Flandre, célébrées a Bruges dans l'eglise Saint-Christophe, le 22 avril 1127 (painted in 1876), in which the title is nearly as long as the painting...

...and Livreurs de Farine ("Flour Deliverers") (1885) by Louis-Robert Carrier-Belleuse.

I think one of the reasons I love the Petit Palais is not only that it's got a handful of fabulous paintings, it's also free so you never feel guilty for popping in just for a quick look; it's a manageable size and collection; and it's generally not crowded, so you don't feel like you're doing the death slog behind a wall of tourists.

The Carnavalet Museum has the same advantages. Some of my other favorite Paris paintings (both displayed in Paris and painted of Paris) are in the permanent collection here: Une Soirée au Pré-Catalan (1909), by Henri Gervex, and Les Retardaires (meaning "The Latecomers") by Albert Guillaume.

And so, it was inevitable, really, that I should start painting cheese. Here's my first, a lovely Brûlon de Vigneron (I mean the cheese is lovely; I'm not trying to brag about the painting). As I paint it, I realize -- as always -- that it's much more difficult to paint than I expected. Lordy, it's hard to get the texture of the cheese skin! And, therefore, I go for a more impressionist, suggestive style. I don't think hyper-realism is my thing. That's what photography's for, n'est-ce pas?

THE CHEESE: Tomme Blanche

This Tomme Blanche (literally "White Cheese Wheel") is a pasteurized cows' milk cheese that I find at my Alsatian B&B breakfast buffet, certainly industrially made, judging by the uniformly thick, almost furry white mold crust. This is not to be confused with the Tomme Blanche that's a light, fresh, unaged Reblochon, eaten in Savoie.

This Tomme Blanche is aged for a minimum of 21 days and has a thick texture somewhere between creamy and rubbery. The taste is mild and marginally buttery -- nothing exceptional, but enjoyable enough on a piece of toast when one is breakfasting away from home.


To me, Tomme Blanche is not just a white cheese, it's a blank canvas. It's just such a plain, generic, blank name, and the cheese itself has such a thick, white, plain, canvas-like crust. I'm not sure it calls out to me to be my next painting subject, but I'm sure in the right hands, it could be a fine part of a still life (what they call, ironically, nature morte: "dead nature"), a genre of painting that does not particularly appeal to me as either viewer or painter, though I'd certainly be happy to eat the models.


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