January 30, 2012

Masterpieces at the Musée d'Orsay

“Love of beauty is Taste. The creation of beauty is Art.”
 Ralph Waldo Emerson

The "new" Musée d'Orsay has has reopened its upper floors and I got the chance to see the masterpieces of the 19th century in their new galleries. For several years this museum has been undergoing restoration on the upper floors and many of its beautiful works have not been on show.

Built on the left bank of the Seine, opposite the Tuileries Gardens, the museum was originally a railway station built by Victor Laloux for the Orléans line and was inaugurated at the World's Fair of 1900. At the station's opening, painter Edouard Detaille said presciently: "The station is superb and looks like the Palais des Beaux Arts." By 1939 it was already obsolete, its platforms too short for the new modern trains that appeared with the electrification of the railways.

Today its impressionist and post-impressionist collection boasts 34 Manets, 86 Monets, 43 by Degas, 56 Cézannes, 46 Sisleys, 81 Renoirs, 24 Van Goghs and 24 Gauguins, among others, that help to pull in around three million visitors a year.

It has taken almost €8m to create the new galleries – part of a two-year renovation of the museum costing €20m – in which clever use of colour and illumination shows the works in an entirely new light.

modern parquet with high tech benches

I joined a tour that focussed on the Impressionists and those who celebrated the modern life of their day. I learned about the historical background and the stories of the painters and their lives, many of whom endured years of hardship and incomprehension. I admired works by Monet, Manet, Courbet, some delightful works by one of the few women Impressionists Berthe Morisot, the iconic painting known as ‘Whistler’s mother’, the famous dancers by Degas, Renoir’s Dance at the Moulin de la Galette set in the dance hall in Montmartre, and Van Gogh’s powerful expressive works. I also saw the fascinating model of Opera Garnier and the sculpture of the Dance, by Carpeaux, which was considered too scandalous for the Opera House facade.

On my way out I could not resist a quick coffee at the stunning new café designed by Brazilian brothers Humberto and Fernando Campana which turned out into a lovely, reflective contemplation on the beauty of Paris.

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