Saturday, June 24, 2017

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec on the beach at Le Crotoy Picardie ...

En 1898 le galeriste Maurice Joyant a pris cette série de photos d’un ami déféquant sur la plage du Crotoy en Picardie, sauf que le nom de cet ami était Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. On ne sait pas trop pourquoi ils se sont amusés à prendre ces photos mais ils les ont ensuite publiés sous forme …

In 1898, the Parisian art gallery owner Maurice Joyant photographed his childhood friend defecating on the beach at Le Crotoy, Picardie. The series of photos would have been forgotten, had Joyant’s friend not been Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the acclaimed French painter. Their intention in taking these photos — and later allowing them to be published in postcard form — was unclear, but these photographs remain the earliest photographic testaments to celebrities behaving dubiously, a century before Internet made such indiscretions well-known and widespread.

By this time, Lautrec, who precociously displayed prodigious artistic talent earlier, was slowly going downhill. Earlier that year, Joyant arranged a one-man show for Lautrec in Goupil & Cie, the leading Parisian art dealership. The show was a total failure. Alcoholism and venereal diseases plagued Toulouse-Lautrec’s life, and he moved back in with his upper-class family, which disapproved risque subjects he depicted in his paintings. His uncle even set fire to some of his canvases. To humor Toulouse-Lautrec, Joyant would take him to the coast for yachting weekends and to England. They also regularly visited Le Crotoy, where a lot of French artists (including Jules Verne and Colette) vacationed. It was at Le Crotoy that the above photos were taken, a year before Toulouse-Lautrec was committed to an asylum, and three years before he finally succumbed to complications caused by alcoholism and syphilis in 1901.

Maurice Joyant would live for another thirty years and work harder than anyone to preserve his friend’s memory posthumously. He wrote extensively about his relationship with Toulouse-Lautrec and staged retrospectives to the painter in 1902, 1907 and 1914. Entrusted by Toulouse-Lautrec’s parents as executor of his paintings, he would also convince the painter’s mother, the Countess Adele de Toulouse-Lautrec to create a museum to the artist, where works rejected by the salons of Paris, were proudly displayed.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Jules Verne at Home in Le Crotoy ...

Jules Verne myths
Many myths about Jules Verne still exist, even among those who know quite a lot about Verne. On this page, I will try to debunk them.

This page does not address each and every stupid thing that has ever been said about Verne, but only the so-called “facts” that keep being repeated in many publications.

Jules Verne’s study was in the tower of his house at the Rue Charles-Dubois
The tower may look like a romantic place to write novels, but Verne’s study was in fact located in a room off the passage on the second floor.

And so, with Mme. Verne leading the way, we went once more through the light, airy hall, where a door opened straight on to the quaint winding staircase, which leads up and up till are reached the cosy set of rooms where M. Verne passes the greater part of his life, and from where have issued many of his most enchanting books. As we went along the passage, I noticed some large maps–dumb testimonies of their owner’s delight in geography and love of accurate information–hanging on the wall.

Jules Verne at Home, by Marie A. Belloc. Strand Magazine, February, 1895.

The winding staircase which leads to the upper stories is in this tower, and at the very top of staircase is M. Verne’s private domain. A passage carpeted with red stuff, like the staircase, leads past maps and charts to a little corner room, which is furnished with a plain camp bedstead. Against a bay window stands a small table, on which a manuscript paper very neatly cut may be seen. On the mantlepiece of the tiny fireplace stand two statuettes, one of Molière and the other of Shakespeare, and above them hangs a water-color painting representing a yacht steaming the Bay of Naples. It is in this room that Verne works. Adjoining it is a large room with well-filled bookcases reaching from ceiling to carpet.

Jules Verne at Home. His Own Account of His Life and Work, by R. H. Sherard. McClure’s Magazine, January, 1894.

Jules Verne was a coastguard in Le Crotoy during the Franco-Prussian war; his ship the Saint-Michel had been equipped with a cannon for this occasion.
A small fisherman’s cutter like the Saint-Michel would be utterly useless for the defence of the French coast. The cannon was used for distress signals if necessary. Verne was not a garde de côte, but a garde nationale, like every Frenchman who was too old to have to serve in the army.

Verne sold his ship the Saint-Michel III, because he couldn’t travel anymore after the attack by his nephew Gaston.
Verne probably sold his ship because he was in financial trouble. He sold it already in 1885. The attack took place on 9 March, 1886.

When he was a boy, Verne bought a place as a mousse on the three-mast Coralie, so he could go to the Indies and get his cousin Caroline, with whom he was in love, a coral necklace.
Nice story, but all the details that Marguerite Allotte de la Fuÿe gives are impossible. Worse, she gives two contradictory versions of the story. There may, however, be some truth in this legend: Volker Dehs quotes a source from 1909, Paul Eudel, who told that at the age of 11, young Jules once took a small boat and tried to catch up with the Octavie, en route for the Indies.

Jules Verne’s works have been translated to almost 200 languages.
I can’t prove this statement wrong, but until now, I have only found evidence for less than 100 languages. There are certainly more than that, but I doubt there are 200.

Verne had an audience with Pope Leo XIII in 1884.
True or false???

Gustave Doré illustrated (some of) Jules Verne’s novels.
He didn’t. More detail on Verne’s illustrators can be found in an interesting article by Art Evans.

Jules Verne quit his law studies to devote himself entirely to literature.
He finished his studies, although he never worked as a lawyer.

Jules Verne visited country X, where he found inspiration for novel Y.
In Slovakia, it is often said that Verne visited that country in 1893, and was inspired to write Le Château des Carpathes. Similar stories are told about Turkey, Switzerland and other countries.

In fact, Jules Verne only visited the following countries: Algeria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

These myths are probably caused by the very vivid descriptions Jules Verne gives of so many places on earth.

Verne never travelled, he wrote all his novels from his imagination.
See above.

Verne visited Scotland, Ireland and Norway in 1880.
In J.-Y. Paumier’s Jules Verne. Voyageur Extraordinaire, Glénat, 2005, we find on page 23 a reproduction of a fiche in Verne’s handwriting, listing his voyages in the St. Michel III. This states explicitly for the year 1880 … “pas navigué” … as in fact stated by J.-M. Margot over 20 years previously (la Nouvelle Revue Maritime, May–June 1984).

Amongst the several voyages made in 1879 is that to Scotland in July and from Verne’s letters to Hetzel (O. Dumas, P. Gondolo della Riva, V. Dehs, 2002), we know that this Scottish journey lasted for most of the second half of that month … ample time given the improved transport by rail and steamer to visit the Hebrides, as suggested by Weissenberg, Jules Verne. Un univers fabuleux, Favre, 2004. Further evidence is provided by the reference to the Sound of Mull in Verne’s letter to Louis-Jules Hetzel (O. Dumas et al, letter no. 460).

We can conclude that Verne did not sail to Scotland (or Ireland or Norway) in 1880 and that it was his 1879 Scottish journey that provided the background to Le Rayon vert, just as his 1859 journey had provided the information for Les Indes noires.

(Information provided by Ian Thompson.)

On Jules Verne’s tomb there is an inscription that reads “Vers l’immortalité et l’éternelle jeunesse”.
This is the title of the sculpture on the tomb, not the inscription.

“Tout ce qu’un homme est capable d’imaginer, d’autres hommes seront capables de le réaliser.” — Jules Verne
This is a fake quotation. Its source is a necrology by Félix Duquesnel, who “quoted” Jules Verne as follows:

Quoi que j’invente, quoi que je fasse, je serai toujours au-dessous de la vérité. Il viendra toujours un moment où les créations de la science dépasseront celles de l’imagination.

This phrase was copied by Charles Lemire in his 1908 biography. In 1928, Marguerite Allotte de la Fuÿe cited it in her biography in a slightly different form, pretending it was a quote from a letter Jules Verne wrote to Lemire:

Tout ce que j’invente, tout ce que j’imagine restera toujours au-dessous de la vérité, parce qu’il viendra un moment où les créations de la science dépasseront celles de l’imagination !

Marguerite Allotte de la Fuÿe went as far as inventing a letter from Jules Verne to his father, in which the following remark occurs:

Tout ce qu’un homme est capable d’imaginer, d’autres hommes seront capables de le réaliser.

This fake letter and the fake citation were omitted from the 1953 reedition of the biography, possibly after protestations from Jean H. Guermonprez, president of the Société Jules Verne. But the myth had been launched, and the citation remains popular to this day.

See Eric Weissenberg, Jules Verne. Un univers fabuleux, pp. 24–33.
Zu Hause bei Jules Vernes in Le Crotoy
 (1869 bis 1871)

Crotoy Chateau
Im März 1869 verließ Jules Verne mit seiner Familie Paris und zog nach Le Crotoy. Der Umzug zu diesem malerischen Fischerort am Bai du Somme kam nicht von ungefähr. Denn er kannte diese kleine Hafenstadt an der Mündung der Somme und die Gegend an der Kanalküste schon von früheren Ausflügen und Sommeraufenthalten. Hier wollte er einen Ausgleich zum hektischen Paris finden. Vielleicht war es aber auch das maritime Flair welches ihn faszinierte, ein Interesse, welches ihm schon mit der Prägung durch seine Geburtstadt Nantes sozusagen mit in die Wiege gelegt wurde..
Erst vor einigen Jahren konnte Klarheit  zu den frühen Aufenthalten Jules Vernes in Crotoy gewonnen werden. Erste Besuche Vernes sollen noch vor 1865 statt gefunden haben. In der Quelle /5/ wird dazu ausgeführt, dass ein Louis Serry darüber Informationen von Jaqueline Millevoye erhalten hat. Sie ist eine Nachfahrin der Familie Millevoye, die seit Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts im Chateau de Millevoye, in der damaligen Rue de Chateau wohnte. Wie kam es zur Einmietung von Jules Verne? Er soll Kenntnis davon erhalten haben, dass der damals aktuellen Besitzer des Hauses eine Gästewohnung zu vermieten hatte. Bekannt wurde das Haus durch die Familie Millevoye, deren Vorfahre der Dichters der Picardie, Charles-Hubert Millevoye (1782 bis 1816) war. Der schon mit 33 Jahren sehr jung verstorbene Schriftsteller war im 19. Jahrhundert populär. Er war einer der Vorläufer der französischen Romantik.

Das Chateau heute
Was war das für ein Gebäude? Auf den Ruinen des alten Schlosses wurde 1820 ein neues prachtvolles Herrenhaus für M. Desgardins, dem früheren Bürgermeister, errichtet. Es war traditionell aus rotem Backstein mit Kalkstein-Füllung gebaut worden und es hatte ein regionaltypisches Schieferdach. In der ersten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts wurde noch ein größerer Seitenflügel angebaut. 1860 wurde das Haus von der Familie Millevoye übernommen. Hier soll Verne mehrfach EInzelaufenthalte gehabt haben und im Jahre 1866 soll er den ganzen Sommer hier verbracht haben.

Die Nachfahren der Familie Millevoye leben noch heute hier (Aussage aus /5/ 2009).  Links oben eine Postkarte um 1900 mit der Aufschrift Chateau du Crotoy, Propriete de M. Jacques Millevoye, offenbar dem damaligen Besitzer /6/. Heute liegt das Gebäude am Quai Léonard. Siehe dazu rechts eine Aufnahme aus dem Jahre 2005 /4/ die mir freundlicherweise von Peter Lanczak zur Verfügung gestellt wurde. Als er mir ein paar Monate davor das Haus zeigte, war es leider durch Bauarbeiten eingerüstet, so dass ich es nicht selbst fotografieren konnte. Danke Peter..

Als Jules Verne seine ersten Besuche in Le Crotoy abhielt, stand der kleine Fischerort schon im Ruf, die aufkommende Sommerfrische von Paris zu sein. Noch stärker wurde der Touristen- und Besucherstrom als 1872 die günstige Bahnverbindung von Paris zur Côte Picardie fertig gestellt wurde. Aber da war die Familie Verne bereits nach Amiens umgezogen.


Der Marktplatz; 

Die Rue de la Croix

Vernes Haus in Crotoy
Der endgültige Umzug der Familie Verne nach Le Crotoy ist im Jahre 1869 vollzogen worden. Nur für geschäftliche Dinge reiste Verne noch nach Paris. /1/ Die Familie zog in eine kleine zwei-etagige Villa mit einem kleinen Garten dahinter. Dieses Haus lag in der damaligen rue Lefèvre, später als Straße Chemin de grande Communication - die heutzutage Rue Jules Verne heißt (Bild siehe links /3/). In diesem Haus mit der Nummer 9 mit dem Namen La Solitude (Einsamkeit) lebte die Familie bis 1871. Bis um das Jahr 2000 wurde es noch privat vermietet, dann sollte es zu einer Stätte der Erinnerung an den großen Sohn Frankreichs umgestaltet werden. Als ich es im Jahre 2005 aufsuchte, war das Projekt noch nicht abgeschlossen.

Die Lage des Verne-Hauses
Die Zimmer des Hauses zeigen in Richtung Hafen und der Blick aus den Fenstern war damals noch nicht von anderen Gebäuden versperrt. Nur eine kleine, flachgebaute Werft, mehr ein Schiffsbauplatz, befand sich zwischen Vernes Haus und dem Kai. Um die Dimensionen zu erkennen, bitte ich das Bild weiter unten rechts zu betrachten. Dort habe ich die Lage des Hauses eingezeichnet. Aus Richtung Wasser konnte ich das Haus Vernes nur zur Hälfte erkennen. Der Legende nach soll der Blick frei bis zum Hafen gewesen sein. Gerade der damalige Ausblick zum Wasser soll seine Liebe zum Meer verstärkt haben, wobei nach meiner Einschätzung dieses Gefühl schon seit seiner Jugend bei ihm verankert war. Siehe dazu meine Ausführungen im Beitrag:  Nantes maritim - Die Vaterstadt Jules Vernes als Tor zur Welt.  Den Schiffsbauer vor der Haustür beauftragte Verne dann mit dem Umbau seiner ersten Bootes, der SAINT MICHEL (in der Literatur später St. Michel I genannt). Denn er hatte bereits 1867 ein Fischerboot erworben, welches er durch die Umbauten seetüchtiger machen wollte. 1868 nahm der kleine Michel Verne die Schiffstaufe vor. Man darf an dieser Stelle nicht an eine richtige Werft denken. Es war mehr ein Reparaturplatz für Fischerboote. Die Aufnahme auf der alten Postkarte (siehe weiter unten) mit der Reparatur einer Fischerbarke unterstreicht diese Beschreibung. Der Schiffsbauer hatte sein Domizil an der Stelle, wo später ein Kino errichtet wurde. Heute steht dort das Restaurant La Potinière.

Eine Barke zur Reparatur auf "Trockendock" am Strand des Fischereihafens um 1900 /7/. - 

Der Blick vom Hafen, dort wo links der Schiffsbauplatz war (heute: Restaurant La Potinière). Am Ende der Straße ist Vernes Haus Solitude in der ehemaligen Straße Chemin de grande Communication Nr. 9 zu sehen. /3/. 

Ausschnitt aus einer handcolorierten Postkarte um 1900, der die Gesamtansicht des Hafens mit den Reparaturplätzen gut zeigt. /8/

Crotoy der Hafen
Le Crotoy und fest damit verbunden    sein Boot St. Michel (auf dieser Seite von mir sind weiteren Details zu den Booten Jules Vernes zu finden.), inspirierten Verne nachhaltig. So schrieb Verne seinen Roman 20.000 Meilen unter den Meeren an Bord seines Bootes. Aber während er sich auf den Wellen der Somme oder des Kanals wiegte, langweilte sich seine Frau Honorine fast zu Tode.
Im Jahre 1871 zog die Familie nach Amiens um. Diese Stadt befindet sich nur 60 Kilometer süd-östlich von Le Crotoy.
Nachbemerkung: Romane und Kurzgeschichten in denen Le Crotoy vorkommt konnte ich nicht finden.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

And then Somme Greetings from Le Crotoy ...

And then Somme
In an area better known for its battlefields, John Brunton enjoys wonderful walks, simple bistros and quirky B&Bs

Shipping news ... Saint-Valery port. Photograph: John Brunton

John Brunton

Saturday 16 July 2005 12.52 BST First published on Saturday 16 July 2005 12.52 BST

The Somme usually conjures up sombre images of first world war battles and memorial graveyards, but there is another side to this little-known corner of northern France. The narrow road from the grand cathedral town of Abbeville accompanies the meandering river towards the Channel, passing through a sleepy countryside of vegetable allotments, orchards and meadows. But as the sea suddenly comes into view and the river dramatically widens out, there is a spectacular change. This is what the French call La Baie de Somme, one of the most beautiful and well-preserved bays in France.

At high tide, dozens of colourful sauterelles - toy-like shrimpers - navigate tricky channels to sail out to sea, while kayaks and canoes head in the other direction to explore the farthest corners of these pristine wetlands. When the tide goes out, the bay looks at first like an endless desert. Yet on closer view, it is alive with movement. Fishermen dig in the sand for clams, duck hunters trek out to their hides, shepherds lead their herds to graze on the salty grass exposed at every low tide, and thousands of migrating birds flit back and forth. This was where William the Conqueror hid his fleet before sailing over to England in 1066, and today it remains unspoilt, undeveloped and still undiscovered.

The Somme's bay stretches round for 14km, and each side is markedly different. Saint-Valery-sur-Somme is very much a picture-postcard village, with fishing and sailing boats bobbing in the port, medieval ramparts, a gothic church, and a long waterside boardwalk lined with 19th-century villas, artistic retreats for the likes of Victor Hugo, Jules Verne, Sisley and Degas. Until recently, the obvious place to stay was the Guillaume de Normandy Hotel, a Victorian folly with great views over the bay built by an Englishman. But Saint-Valery now has some brilliant B&Bs. The Deloison family are well-known local antique dealers who not only offer stylish, elegantly decorated rooms above their boutique, but have also transformed an ancient wooden boat-house into a cool space that has featured in French design magazines. Anne Mancaux, an art curator, has opened her B&B, L'Usage du Monde, in a sumptuous mansion, which also doubles as an art gallery with artists-in-residence.

Saint-Valery is not great for eating out - all the best restaurants are over on the Le Crotoy side of the bay - but there are plenty of simple brasseries on the waterfront serving locally caught prawns and crabs, turbot,sole and the local speciality, mussels.

Saint-Valery is the best base for exploring the bay. From here, you can kayak, horse ride, follow the narrow road that hugs the perimeter by car or bike, take an ancient steam train or go up in a hot-air balloon. But once a day, at low tide, the most unforgettable experience is to join a nature walk that takes you right across to Le Crotoy.

Although the bay looks deceptively flat, be prepared for a strenuous three-hour trek. The guides kit everyone out in wellingtons, and these are very necessary as you start clambering through gulleys and up steep grassy mini-cliffs, known as "micro falaises", often sinking into thick mud. Arriving at Le Crotoy, the view is dominated by a huge, 19th-century hotel looking out over the bay. Called Les Tourelles because of its tall towers, this is a wonderfully stylish place to stay, looking more like a fashionable holiday retreat in the Hamptons on Long Island. Its terrace has the ultimate view over the bay and is perfect for sunset cocktails or a romantic dinner.

Eating out is one of big attractions around here, especially if you reserve at La Marinière. The place looks like a simple bistro, but the genial owner-chef, Marie Ange, creates delicious dishes in her tiny kitchen like a rack of "pre-sale" lamb that has grazed for a minimum of 120 days on the bay's salty grass, tiny lisette mackerel marinated in vinegar and onions, or queudière d'pichons, a Picardy fish stew served with tiny rattes potatoes from Le Touquet.

Alternatively, a jolly Scotswoman, Pippa Derbyshire, has opened up Le Relais de la Baie, a cafe-cum-art gallery serving bio salads and sandwiches, while La Clé des Champs is a serious gourmet restaurant with an outstanding wine cellar specialising in Burgundy and Bordeaux vintages at incredibly low prices.

Anyone interested in wildlife will not be able to leave before visiting Le Marquenterre, a 220-hectare protected park of windswept dunes that begins just as the bay peters out past Le Crotoy. This is a temporary home for more than 300 species of migratory birds that stop off when flying between Russia, Africa and the Arctic. Those up for another nature trek can take a fascinating 7km marked walk through the park. A tempting alternative for bargain hunters looking for a more relaxed afternoon is to ask at the tourism office for details about the location of each weekend's rederie. This is the local term for a boot sale, where hundreds of stands filled with antiques and bric-a-brac are set up in a village field for the day; it is impossible to go home without buying something.

Way to go

Getting there: SpeedFerries (0870 2200570, sails Dover-Boulogne from £50 return for a car and five passengers. Eurostar (08705 186186, costs £55pp Waterloo-Lille. (0845 2250845) offers a week's car hire from £114 with pickup at Lille station.

Where to stay: L'Usage du Monde, 15 rue du Puits Sale, 80230 Saint-Valery-sur-Somme (+3 2260 9482,; doubles from €75 B&B. Chambres d'Hôtes Deloison, 1 quai du Romerel Saint-Valery-sur-Somme (+3 2226 9217, picardie; doubles from €55 B&B. Les Tourelles, 2-4 rue Pierre Guerlain, Le Crotoy (+3 2227 1633,; doubles from €60.

Where to eat: La Marinière, 27 rue de la Porte du Pont, Le Crotoy (+3 2227 0536). La Clé des Champs, Favières (+3 2227 8800). Le Relais de la Baie, 1 rue du Crotoy, Noyelles sur Mer (+3 2223 5020).

What to do: Rando-Nature en Somme, Mairie de Saint-Valery(+3 2226 9230) €8pp to cross the bay at low tide. Club Kayak de la Baie des Phoques, 22 rue de la Ferte, Saint-Valery (+3 2260 0844, Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme (+3 2226 9696,

Further information: Maison de la France (09068 244123, Comité du Tourisme 21, rue Ernest Cauvin, Amiens (+3 2271 2271, There are local tourist information offices in Saint-Valery and Le Crotoy.

Country code: 00 33.

Train time Waterloo-Lille: 2hrs. Drive time Lille-Somme: 2hrs. Ferry time Dover-Boulogne: 50mins. Drive time Boulogne-Somme: 1hr+.

Time difference: +1hr.

£1= 1.41 euros.

Since you’re here …

Patti Smith & Georges Seurat’s View of Le Crotoy from Upstream ...

Musician-artist Patti Smith unleashes her imagination on a museum tour
Detroit Free Press (MCT)
8 June 2012

DETROIT — “Here’s my favorite painting in the museum,” says Patti Smith, bringing a hand up to her chest, as if the sight of her old friend caused her heart to skip a beat. She stands in a second-floor gallery at the Detroit Institute of Arts in front of Georges Seurat’s “View of Le Crotoy from Upstream,” an 1889 oil landscape in the French post-impressionist’s signature pointillist style.

Modest in size, the picture is a symphony of luminous color applied in rapid dots. It’s considered a landmark, one of less than a dozen paintings by Seurat believed to still be in the original frame painted by the artist. Smith admires what she calls Seurat’s “photographic sense” and she loves the sea, but what really makes her knees weak is the frame. The dark palette of reds, blues, greens and yellows sings like a sumptuously voiced chord.

“It’s just magnificent,” she says. “If one only had a little portion of this frame, it would be beautiful enough, but the fact that he did that and it remains intact is a miracle. I just find it so inspiring that he kept going. He wasn’t confined to the canvas. I can imagine that if Seurat had lived long enough he would have done the painting, the frame and then the wall.”

The painting. The frame. The wall. The sense of an ever-expanding universe of possibility captures something important about Smith’s peripatetic life and the trajectory of her iconic career as a poet, musician and visual artist. She has willed herself into greatness, finding a personal voice in a dizzying array of pursuits, pushing formal boundaries and creating work that even when it fails does so in interesting fashion.

In recent years, she has been taking photographs with a vintage Polaroid camera. About 70 of these intimate black-and-white snapshots are collected in “Patti Smith: Solo Camera,” which opened last Friday at the DIA. Organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn., it’s the first American exhibition to focus on Smith’s photography.

On this Thursday, she allows a photographer and me to shadow her as she explores the museum she first visited in 1973, arriving with a friend from New York to worship at the shrine of the great Diego Rivera “Detroit Industry” murals. Smith grew close to the collection during the 16 years in which she retreated from public life in the 1980s and 1990s, settling in St. Clair Shores, Mich. She and her late husband, Fred (Sonic) Smith, were museum regulars until he died in 1994, and the couple would bring along their two young children.

During Thursday’s tour, Smith makes ports of call at a few works she has always loved, but much of the time she simply strolls in search of beauty, surprise and revelations, letting her eyes improvise the path. It is a peek behind the curtain of her imagination and her passionate affair with art and the people who make it. Mostly, it is an opportunity to see the museum through the eyes of an artist who cherishes the poetry in all things, from the profundity of Seurat to the quotidian pleasure of every child’s favorite at the DIA, the humble bronze donkey you are allowed to touch.

The darkly burnished original finish of the 1927 sculpture by the German artist Renee Sintenis has been discolored after decades of being petted, the damage resulting from skin oil and dirt. The museum uses it as an object lesson to explain why you can’t touch anything else. Smith stops in midsentence when she stumbles upon the equine and breaks into a big grin. She starts caressing his nose.

“I love the donkey because I love donkeys,” she says, laughing. “But also the fact that you can touch it because I think sculpture should be touched. I’ve been almost thrown out of museums for touching Brancusis. I just can’t resist touching sculpture. It’s worth getting thrown out for — I shouldn’t say that, but …” Her voice trails off.

“One of the advantages of buying art is that you can touch it at home without anyone wagging a finger at you,” I offer.

“I like to take it a step further,” she responds. “I like to create a work of art. Then I can touch it all I want.”

At 65, Smith is about 5-foot-8, slender with a narrow face whose androgyny has coarsened some with age. But everything about her softens when she smiles, which is often. She’s wearing her hair in braids, and her clothes on this day are pretty much what you would expect: blue jeans, white T-shirt, black jacket, black boots open at the tongue with two different color socks showing. Around her neck are chains adorned with medallions and charms, including a 200-year-old Ethiopian cross. A world-class chatterbox, she turns conspicuously taciturn only when asked about a ring attached to her necklace.

“This is a ring from a friend of mine,” she says.

It can be hard to wrap your arms around Smith’s many gifts, her sweeping Walt Whitman-like field of vision and her unique role as a seer-philosopher for her generation. She is, famously, a major influence in rock history.

The spiritual godmother of punk rock, she crossed her Roman-candle poetry inspired by the French symbolist Arthur Rimbaud with scruffy and improvisatory rock ‘n’ roll and a visceral, no-safety net singing and performing style. It all consolidated on her landmark album “Horses,” which streaked across the sky like a comet in 1975.

But Smith’s creative life began years earlier as a poet and visual artist. Her early drawings have a wild energy, sketchy and wiry. The bohemian life she led in the late ‘60s, when she and the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe were inseparable, was saturated with art. She and Mapplethorpe were each other’s muses and, for a time, lovers. Even later, when they grew in different directions and his homosexuality became more central to his identity, they remained the other half of each other’s heartbeat.

In “Just Kids,” Smith’s best-selling memoir that documents her early years in New York, she writes that the couple had so little money that they could afford only one ticket to museums. One would go in to see the exhibits and report back to the other; the next time, they’d reverse roles. Art books were among their most prized possessions, and she was partial to those devoted to Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Diego Rivera and William Blake, the English romantic poet, artist and mystic.

Museums hold a special place in Smith’s cosmology. Raised in suburban Philadelphia, she went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the first time on a family outing when she was 12. She swooned over languorous Modiglianis and the elegant figures by Thomas Eakins and John Singer Sargent. But the big bang was the brutal confidence of Picasso. The experience changed her life. Artists, she now understood, see what others cannot.

At the DIA, Smith looks deeply. While she notices the formal qualities of color, line, texture, space and composition, her commentary usually centers on how the work makes her feel. She is drawn to certain subjects — St. Jerome, for example, because depictions invariably remind her of her father no matter when or where they were created — and she favors intuitive understanding over heady analysis. “As Robert used to say, it’s good or it isn’t,” Smith says as she walks down a corridor.

“Artists aren’t always real articulate about their art. I look at a Brice Marden and I understand it perfectly. I don’t need to discuss it. I know Brice as a friend. But I bought a book on Brice and I was reading it and didn’t understand a word. The language was so dense and on such a level — and I’m not saying that critically — that I couldn’t follow it.”

She comes to a large-scale painting of St. Jerome attributed to the workshop of the 17th-century Spanish artist Jusepe de Ribera. It was the first of three or four versions of the fourth-century translator of the Bible that Smith stopped to inspect. Here, he is pictured as older man with a bald pate and beard, sitting half-clothed in the wilderness, writing in a book with an additional scroll unfurled across his lap.

“Jerome is usually studying or writing or contemplating, and that was my father,” says Smith. “He didn’t have an education beyond high school, but he was highly intelligent and very well-read.”

Smith ducks inside the European renaissance galleries, zipping back in time a couple of centuries. She admires a French tapestry for the poetry of the image — a blindfolded, triumphant Eros with a bow and arrow — and inspects some Northern European wooden sculptures of saints and the Madonna. She is not a religious person in the traditional sense, so I asked her why she responds so strongly to Christian imagery. “I love the art that came out of religion,” she begins.

“One of Christianity’s greatest gifts was the art that came out of it. In the name of Christianity, there has been much horror, and one can talk about that, but that’s not on my mind. What’s on my mind is the beauty of the art, and how the New Testament stories have inspired artists. Just look at this work. It’s one thing after another. And what’s more beautiful in the end than Christ’s message: Love one another.”

Another picture catches her eye, and she makes a beeline for “Saint Jerome in his Study,” a small, brilliantly painted devotional work the size of a large postcard by the 15th-century Flemish master Jan van Eyck. Jerome is reading, hand on chin, surrounded by his stuff: books, an hourglass, a shapely bottle, a jar, a folded letter. Each object is loaded with symbolism. Smith studies the painting in silence for a long time. Then, moving away, she says: “I’d like to put that over my desk.”

It’s hard not to think of Smith’s own photographs in “Camera Solo,” which are of similar scale to the van Eyck and also document everyday objects pregnant with meaning. The pictures are steeped in Smith’s private iconography, illuminating her reverence for the artists, writers, family and places that have inspired her.

She focuses on the personal possessions belonging to her muses, common objects elevated into talismans — a fork and spoon used by the poet Rimbaud, monogrammed slippers that belonged to her beloved Robert Mapplethorpe, a coffee cup favored by her father, artist Frida Kahlo’s bed, the German writer Hermann Hesse’s typewriter. Smith’s photos are casual and fleeting, and the technical imperfections of the old school Polaroid investing them with authenticity and quiet emotional intensity.

Smith walks into the flood of natural light barreling into Rivera Court and tilts her head upward to survey the four wall s. Diego Rivera’s murals (1932-33), whose sensual forms capture the dynamic assembly line, roaring machines and heroic laborers of the Ford Rouge plant, are the finest examples of the great Mexican muralist’s work in America and the artist considered it his greatest triumph. Like everyone who sees them, Smith was overwhelmed by the power and sweep of the works when she first saw them in 1973.

Today the murals also bring to mind Fred Smith, who grew up in Detroit and considered the DIA equal to any museum in the world. Much of the video for their song “People Have the Power” from 1988 was filmed in Rivera Court. There are other departed loved ones who come to mind as Smith wanders the DIA. She was very close to Sam Wagstaff, the museum’s curator of contemporary art from 1968 to 1971, who later became Mapplethorpe’s mentor, patron and longtime lover. Wagstaff died of AIDS in 1987, two years before Mapplethorpe succumbed to the same disease.

Smith ends her stroll in front of Seurat’s “View of Le Crotoy from Upstream.” Given her spiritual connection with visual art and her talent for various mediums — not to mention her gifts as a poet — why has she devoted her life to music? The answer goes back to Seurat’s painted frame.

“As a young artist I always felt confined to the paper, to the canvas, to the typewriter, to the page,” she says. “I don’t know why I felt like that, but I think it’s because I’m a natural performer. I wanted to keep going.”