We woke up this morning in time for a simple breakfast served in the basement of our tiny hotel in Le Marais. Breakfast in the basement was not all that great, so we were soon out the door to begin our day’s adventures! This morning we took the subway from our nearest Paris Métro station and got off next to the Seine, to begin our exploration of the stunning Musée d’Orsay.
The building that houses the Musée d’Orsay began life as one of Paris’ major train stations, in the early 20th century. The museum is located in the former Orsay station, a building built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900 – the museum took up residence in the 1980’s, at which time the former train station was converted into a world-class museum, known for its superb collection of Impressionist paintings:
“”The station is superb and looks like a Palais des Beaux-Arts ..”.” wrote the painter Edouard Detaille in 1900. Eighty-six years later, his prophecy has been verified.”
“The transformation of the station into a museum was the work of the architects of the ACT-Architecture group, MM. Bardon, Colboc and Philippon. Their project, selected among six proposals in 1979, was to respect the architecture of Victor Laloux while reinterpreting it according to its new vocation. It made it possible to highlight the large nave, using it as the main axis of the route, and to transform the awning into the main entrance.” (Source: https://www.musee-orsay.fr/)
The Musée d’Orsay is truly a fabulous museum, dedicated to paintings from the period from 1848 to 1914. It is amazing that people had the foresight to save the old train station from the wrecking ball and turn it into such a wonderful museum. Here, one can see masterworks by Vincent van Gogh, Auguste Rodin, Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Renoir, Degas, Gaugain and so many more, as well as a fantastic selection of Art Nouveau furnishings and decorations.
I was particularly struck, in the grand nave, by a miniature casting of a model of the Statue of Liberty, which was of course a gift from France to the United States, in celebration of the centennial of the American Revolution. The grand nave is a huge space, full of natural light. The space is dominated on one end by a huge, ornate clock.
Off in a side room I found one of my favorite paintings, Millet’s “L’Angelus,” a scene of two peasants stopping their work to pray in the waning light of the day.
In another room there was a fantastic 19th century model of the streets of Paris around the Garnier Opera House under the glass floor. Adjacent to this was a very large cut-away model of the Garnier Opera House, in which one could see the building’s structure revealed, the attics, the stage, the prop lifts, the auditorium, the Grand Foyer, the staircases and the sets coming up and down to the stage.
Higher up inside the museum galleries, we ran across another one of the grand clocks, this one on the facade, with glass behind, such that one could look through the clock and across the Seine to the sprawling Louvre Museum.
In these additional galleries we saw fantastic works by Toulouse-Lautrec and a very controversial (at the time) painting by Manet – “Luncheon on the grass (1863),” Manet’s most famous painting and one of the most popular works in the museum. The painting was controversial for its time as it depicts a female nude lunching with two clothed males.
I also loved Renoir‘s beautiful “Dance of the Moulin de la Galette, (1876)” which I admired for the way that Renoir was able to master the effect of dappled light on the dancers. The painting is full of joy and is one of the most famous impressionist paintings of all time. “This masterwork has been described as ““the most beautiful painting of the 19th century””. The painting depicts one of the numerous dances that took place in the Moulin de la Galette, one of the most frequented clubs in 19th century Montmartre, a paradise for bohemians and artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh or Renoir himself. One of the supreme masterworks from early Impressionism.” (Source: theartwolf.com)
Degas‘ painting “In a Café (1873)” or “Absinthe” is startling for the startling realism it depicted. Degas‘ painting “The Dance Class (1873-1876)” was stunning, as was his “Rehearsal on Stage (1874)”.
Claude Monet‘s “Haystacks (1891)” series and his “Rouen Cathedral (1892-1894)” (of which there are 30 in the series) series are both sublime for their technique and use of natural light. We also saw Claude Monet‘s “Blue Water Lillies (1916-1919).”
For lunch we ate at the fabulous top floor restaurant behind the big clock on the facade. After the museum we split up and went our separate ways.
I went to the fabulous Palais Royale, built in 1634 for Cardinal Richelieu. The gardens are a beautiful home to contemporary works of art. I was looking for a stamp dealer who has since gone out of business, but I happened upon a deluxe shop, home to many high-fashion dresses, jewelry, accessories, purses, shoes and even menswear. All of the pieces were labeled with the designer and date, very helpful to the casual passerby. I saw Dior, Givenchy, Cardin, Channel and much more, mostly from the 1950’s through the 1980’s.
I also happened by an exquisite confectioner in the Palais Royale with delectable and expensive treats on display.
After a busy day, we arranged to meet P., our associate from our days working as architects in Japan in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. P. was a landscape architect at our sister firm. P. had later worked with the French architect, Jean Nouvel in Paris. P. selected a late-night, meat-centric Parisian bistro, La Tour de Montlhéry – Chez Denise. What is a vegetarian to do? Eat meat? (I did have to sample a bite of the rabbit and lamb dishes.) Order some vegetables and cheeses to go along with the many meat dishes. We caught up for 2 or 3 hours over several glasses of wine. The bistro was throbbing with energy at the communal tables, was cozy, congenial and warm. P.’s children, P. and C. were 17 and 14. P. is studying at one of the top schools of architecture to be an architect himself and is reportedly doing quite well. We had another delicious Rum Baba for dessert.