One of the things I most looked forward to doing in Paris was to visit the Sennelier store and see mountains of pastels. So I do my research and take the Metro down there. Unfortunately the last station on my journey is closed. It’s actually a stop at the D’Orsay, which I think is closed on Monday, so they must close the station that day, too. I think I’m going to skip the RER wherever possible. It’s always confusing and a bitch to connect, plus there’s a much longer wait for trains than the Metro proper.
The non-English speaking “information” people at Invalides station tell me to follow little footprints to a bus stop. I don’t want to figure out the bus today, so I decide to walk along the Seine until I find the Sennelier store, which is close to the D’Orsay. It couldn’t be far, right? Wrong.
I wander away from Invalides toward what I thought was the D’Orsay. Problem here is, there are tons of buildings that look like the D’Orsay from a distance. So after a half hour walking that way, I circle back along the Seine in the opposite direction. I can now see the Tower, which I walk away from. It is really hot and humid. I spot the Louvre in the distance and head that way.
Finally, I find 3 Quai Voltaire and am so excited that I snap this picture. I am hot and nasty and frizzy, but I don’t care. I pop into the Sennelier store, all smiles and expectations. It is tiny, and on about 4 levels. I wander around but don’t see the oodles of pastels I was looking for, so I ask if I can go upstairs. I see lots of papers and a limited assortment of easels. I’m glad I ignored the advice of other artists and bought my pochade box before coming to Paris. Selection of those here is quite limited.
I discover the pastels are back on the first floor in a giant wooden chest that goes to the floor, where I have to kneel in front of the store entrance door to look at them. Not exactly ideal. I’m disappointed to see that the stock of Sennelier pastels is quite low. I’d expected the Holy Grail, and unlike the internet, where color is a crap shoot, it would be good to see the colors for myself. So I get on my knees and examine the supply of Great American Artworks pastels, and select a few to augment the ones I came with.
I’d heard an NPR story on the store, and I thought the service would be stellar, but I’d rate it as average. Nobody spoke much English, and they acted like it was a pain to try to communicate with me. As you might guess, art supplies require rather specific lingo, not your everyday Rosetta-Stone-kind of French. The great granddaughter of the original Mr. Sennelier waits on me. She is polite and tolerates me, but not friendly at all. I see their book on display and say that I have it at home; they couldn’t care less. They don’t seem to know what odorless turpentine is here, but eventually we find something similar. It says “Sans Odor” but it still has a significant smell. I couldn’t bring turp on the plane because it is flammable and banned. They seem to know nothing about color washing in pastels, perhaps because the Sennelier paper, La Carte, can’t handle a wash without losing its tooth. I miss my friendly, helpful people at the local Utrecht store. I had hoped to ask if the Sennelier people could recommend a local pastel class or instructor, but I don’t bother. Between the spotty English and the lack of enthusiasm, it seems pointless. I will add that I was super polite, not an ugly American at all. The staff is much more interested in oils than in pastels. And truly, the other customers in store don’t seem into pastels either.
I purchase a few pastels and the turp, then leave, disappointed. They do have a good stock of unusual papers and lots of supplies for oil painters, at least as best as I could tell from reading labels in French. But as a pastel painter, not so much. Perhaps if I’d fixed my hair and used a facial blotter first, it would have gone better, but the store was so tiny, it was difficult to even reach inside my purse. I need to stop taking closeup pictures of myself with the iPhone. That wide angle lens closeup does nasty things to my features.