We’ve been to many art museums. The Getty and LACMA in Los Angeles, The Metropolitan in New York, the Art Institute Chicago, the Uffizi in Florence, and at least several others that we would consider of the highest order. With this trip we’ll add the Cluny, the Louvre (king of them all), and the Musee D’Orsay to our list. The Louvre, as I’ll write in one of the next posts, is incomparable in every way, but it’s really, really, big and you know going in that you will never ever see it all in one visit or even several.
But the D’Orsay, for us, is perhaps the most purely enjoyable place to go for a museum. It’s big enough, but you really can see it all in a day. It focuses on a specific era in art, the years from 1848 to 1915. and it’s housed in one a big former train station (Gare d’Orsay) that came, in the early 1970s, within about an inch of the wrecking ball. Its useful years as a train station were over as far back as 1939, but it had been put to other use in the years since. But by the end of the 1960s, the popular will was to destroy it. The government of Georges Pompidou had other ideas, however.
Once a decision was made to preserve the building, it took fifteen years, many dedicated people, and a team of talented architects to transform this once grand old station into a grand new home for art.
For its collection, all of the art from the Louvre dating from the years 1848-1915 were brought to the D’Orsay. Many, including yours truly, don’t know that there is no art in the Louvre dating past 1848. In a city with 400 museums, artworks post-1915 up through contemporary art are well represented in a host of other museums. So the D’Orsay specializes in art of a certain point in time, and from numerous parts of the world.
Given that it was a train station, there is an enormous inner atrium in which dozens if not a few hundred sculptures bask in the wide open spaces with much light pouring down from the vast skylit glass ceiling. Abutting this central space are dozens of smaller enclosed galleries housing thousands of paintings, drawings and other wall-mounted works. Way up on the fifth level, a series of galleries running the length of the building houses the largest collection of great (mostly but not all) French impressionist works in the world. Nearly all the great impressionist paintings can be found in this space. You walk through these galleries saying over and over to yourself “I’ve seen that!”, or “Oh gosh, I know that one!”, or “Omigosh, they have THAT painting!”. You just can’t stop.
The rest of the collection builds up to it as you go upward from the first floor, and to just rush up to floor five to see the impressionist collection is to deprive yourself of a visual tour through the great movements in art from that period around 1850 to 1915.
This post is called D’Orsay 2 because, after our first visit, we decided to come back! It was that good. And Mary Ann’s feet had given out on that first visit BEFORE we got to the brilliant Art Nouveau collection. So we decided to come back on Sunday to see that, as well as their amazing special exhibition on French prostitutes of the 19th century and the great artists who depicted them in a whole genre of paintings and drawings. It was called “Splendor and Misery: Images of Prostitution”. A NY Times Review of this show can be found by clicking this link.)
I wish photographs had been permitted in the “Splendor and Misery Show”. So many great works of that period were on this subject. But there were some images (films and photography) not permitted for viewing by minors, and other images of syphilis victims weren’t for the faint-hearted. A book on the show has been published, however, and we’re going to order it just as soon as it’s available in the US. (Note to travelers: Don’t buy these enormous coffee-table books unless you’re willing to truck them back in your luggage!)
Our other purpose in returning was to see the wonderful collection of Art Nouveau furniture and objets d’art that are up on the fourth floor. I had a hard time not taking pictures of it all. I’m old enough to remember a time when Art Nouveau wasn’t taken all that seriously by artsy types, but now all that has changed, and these wonderfully flowing lines of art, design and style are now considered true art. When we were in Prague, we saw the work of the great Alfons Mucha at play in the great Municipal House, Obecni Dum (Click here for pictures), another Art Nouveau masterpiece. We were delighted to see a display of furniture designed by the Spanish Architect, Antoni Gaudi, whose amazing buildings of that era festoon the entire city of Barcelona (another town we want to return to one day).
Along with this several rooms of furniture, there were several rooms of Art Nouveau paintings. Rather than rattle on, why not click right here to see a representative sampling of many of the Art Nouveau works on display at the D’Orsay.
Some additional views