This year for Valentine’s Day I did something that was terribly clique...I spent it in Paris. My partner and I set off early in the morning and arrived to spend the day wandering the Parisian streets with other lovers. People shouting out to offer their flowers to a love-struck population. A generous offer from a friend provided us the chance to stay in a sweet flat overlooking the oldest planned square in Paris, Place des Vosges. Sitting in a chair drinking espresso whilst looking out the window into the square felt curiously voyeuristic. I couldn’t help but think of all of the inspiration that artists like Camille Pissarro claimed from these squares and the people that populated them.
Speaking of art; I visited three fantastic museums during my visit to Paris and naturally saw lots of dreamy Impressionist works. Thursday was Musée d’Orsay, Friday was Musée du Louvre and Saturday was Musée du l’Orangerie. I also managed to tuck in a visit to Notre Dame and Sainte-Chappelle (on one of the sunniest days that Paris has seen in weeks!) If you know about Sainte-Chappelle’s magnificent stained-glass windows you’d know why we were spoiled rotten by ample, brilliant rays. Consider this installment to be part one of a two-part series about my trip... We’ll save the best for first by starting museum-heavy while part two will be about tucking in with the locals over countless Nutella crepes at my favourite French markets.
It’s very fitting that this museum is housed in a former train station. When standing amongst the fine sculptures, one is eclipsed by the massive clock that transports you back into the prodigious era of impressionist Paris. Everything is arranged so beautifully in this museum. They way in which the floorplan is designed and objects arranged is laid out for maximum dramatic effect. The creamy white stoic figures by famous French sculptors haunt the main space beckoning visitors into the galleries. These galleries contain rooms that divide works by era as well as by artist. Van Gogh’s works take up two rooms with a few works by Paul Gaughin peppered in. While these rooms may be crowded, it is worth the wait to get a close look at Van Gogh’s amazingly odd colour combinations and frantic brushstrokes.
I’m not usually one to get reeled in by museum restaurants with costly meals and elaborate afternoon teas, but Musée d’Orsay was different. The restaurant formerly operated for Hôtel d'Orsay and the room is as arresting as it was for its debut in 1900. It doesn’t hurt that the dessert tray is luscious and the wine selection is wide. After spending a few hours (at least!) taking in the museum, it’s a lovely place to spend some time reflecting on your visit; with wine in one hand and comté cheese in the other.
It was always hard for me to come to grips with the fact that I have an art history degree, I’m turning 29 this year, I studied abroad in Europe, and that I’ve never visited Musée du Louvre. It was a priority to pay my due diligence to this temple of art and culture on this trip to France. Tackling the Louvre had always seemed so massive a task and now I can tell you first-hand that it absolutely was. It was all too easy for me to spend 7.5 hours in those hallowed halls with a few coffee and lunch breaks sandwiched in between. The breadth of artwork contained within the Louvre is staggering. From Assyrian wall panels to statement sculptures by Anslem Kiefer; the collection variety is vast and ever so intriguing. Although Italian paintings are often my first stop in museums, I decided to explore elsewhere initially in the Louvre. I didn’t feel like sharing my love for Leonardo da Vinci with hordes of tourists clamouring over one another for a selfie with the ‘Mona Lisa’ herself.
There are three wings in the museum: Richelieu, Sully and Denon. Sitting down with the map at the beginning of my visit proved overwhelming. How could I decide between Roman antiquities and French paintings? Being extremely Type-A, I whipped out a pen and proceeded to circle all of the galleries that I wanted to visit. I then planned a route that began with the Richelieu wing and wound through the museum ending with Italian paintings in the Denon wing. I oogled epic Islamic art, drank in the French paintings, was inspired by Greek antiquities and beguiled by the French Crown Jewels. It was helpful to have a predetermined route in mind as one could easily get lost and swept away by all of the marvelous collection works. All of the most affordable food (as far as museum food goes), is located in the main lobby below the iconic pyramid. It was tempting to stop off for a coffee at some of beautiful restaurants, but travelling back to the lobby several times during my visit was helpful in getting my bearings and making sure I was hitting all of the galleries that I wanted to visit. Trainers are your friend for this museum!
Walking through Musée du l’Orangerie evoked a distinct sense of déjà vu. The modern architecture and impressive post-impressionist/early modern collection is similar in a peculiar way to the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Barnes was a scientist turned art collector who confused and confounded New York by introducing artists such as Soutine and Matisse. Both the Musée du l’Orangerie and Barnes Foundation collections were carefully curated by a single collector who had very personal relationships with some of my favourite artists. The Orangerie contains the collection of French art dealer Paul Guillame and features works by Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Derain, Soutine, Renoir, Cézanne, Utrillo, Van Dongen, Rousseau, Laurencin and Sisley. However, the real star of the show is Monet’s Water Lillies.
Standing in the room dedicated to Monet’s masterpiece is the closest that I’ve ever come to being inside a painting. There are four large works on nearly one hundred linear meters that envelope the viewer and transport them to Monet’s Giverny estate. I was not surprised to learn however, that there was a passionate story behind the creation of these magnetic works. Monet felt compelled to undertake a great project, to create something momentous after the loss of his son. WWI was also occurring during the years that he laboured over these works which presumably intensified the feeling of gravitas. After his own personal loss and the devastation of his war-torn country, Monet was moved to create a work that would bring a sense of tranquillity to an unsettled nation. He asked French politician Georges Clemenceau, a man with whom he had a long-standing friendship, to act as intermediary in a deal where Monet’s monumental paintings were to be donated to the State. The works which were started in 1914 consumed the attention of the artist to the point that his need to continue painting caused the dissolution of the contract with the State as well as his friendship with Clemenceau. It was only upon Monet’s death in 1926 thatNymphéas(Water Lilies) was handed over by Georges Clemenceau for public display.
Whilst the entire ground floor (level 0) is dedicated to Monet’s Water Lillies, the lower ground floor (-2) contains most of the works on display within the collection. The rooms are divided up by artist and feature famous works like Derain’sHarlequinand Pierrot, Laurencin’sSpanish Dancers, and Picasso’sLarge Nude with Drapery. The contemporary architecture allows to light to shoot down to the lower ground level and flood these paintings with the natural light they deserve. This entire museum is beautifully lit and curated. The size of the collection makes it more palette able than many other French museums with the same quality of art and experience.
In order to be super helpful, I’ve compiled some visitor information for the museums I visited in Paris. It was wonderful to go to three large classic museums, but next time I want to visit more contemporary sites. What are your favourite contemporary art museums in Paris? Share your suggestions with me via Twitter or Instagram.
Address: 1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 75007 Paris, France
- Metro: line 12, to Solférino
- RER: line C, to Musée d'Orsay
- Bus: 24, 63, 68, 69, 73, 83, 84, 94
- Taxi: Anatole-France
Admission: open from 9.30am to 6pm daily, except Mondays.
- Late night on Thursdays until 9.45pm.
- Last tickets sold at 5pm (9pm Thursdays).
- Museum cleared at 5.15pm (9.15pm Thursdays).
- Closed on Mondays, on 1 May and 25 December.
Address: Rue de Rivoli, 75058 Paris, France
- Metro: lines 1 and 7, to Palais-Royal Musée du Louvre and line 14 to Pyramides.
- Bus: 21, 24, 27, 39, 48, 68, 69, 72, 81, 95.
- Car: underground parking on Avenue du Général Lemonier.
Admission: open on Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 6pm and on Wednesday and Friday from 9am to 9:45pm. Closed on Tuesdays.
- Free admission on the first Saturday of each month with extended hours (9-9:45pm).
- Museum cleared at 5:30pm.
Address: Musée de l’Orangerie, Jardin de Tuileries, 75001 Paris, France
- Metro: lines 1, 8, 12, Concorde station.
- Bus: 24, 42, 52, 72, 73, 84, 94, Concorde station.
- Taxi: 252, rue de Rivoli.
Admission: open from 9am to 6pm daily except Tuesdays.
- Last admission at 5:15pm.
- Museum cleared at 5:45pm.
- Closed on 1 May and the morning of 14 July and 25 December.