Monday, April 8, 2013

Paris - Day 3 - Musée d'Orsay

Ah, yes, the Musée D'Orsay. Once upon a time, it served as a train station, much like the Louvre used to be a palace. Clearly, it's original purpose didn't stick; it closed as a railway station in 1939 when the new trains no longer were longer suitable to its platforms and was then used as a mail centre. It almost got demolished in 1970 to be replaced by a hotel but was given an eleventh hour stay of execution and planning began shortly afterwards to turn it into a museum, one dedicated in particular to impressionist art. It was declared an historical site in 1978 and finally opened its doors after some heavy renovations and six months of set-up in 1986. In other words, it's only just barely older than me!

Outside has several statues of animals, most of the large, African variety, like the rhino above and a few elephants. The line was of the twisty, could-wrap-around-the-building variety but, because the gods apparently loved me on this trip, the security guard monitoring the line noticed my cane and pulled me, Christa, and Tina aside and told us to go around to another door, thus bypassing the whole line. I never thought I'd be grateful for my about your quirks of Fate.

When you walk inside the museum, there's, um, well think of it as a balcony going like a U around the front half of the room, the rest of it being sunken down like another storey, and the whole of it being open under a very, very high and rounded ceiling made up mostly of windows. The pit, such as it is, has various sculptures scattered around it with different galleries leading off of it. At the opposite end, stairs and elevators give access to the five storeys above and the various art pieces above.

And speaking of the various art pieces...

You have to love how, when it comes to paintings, the names tend to be obvious given the subject matter. Take the above piece, for instance, painted by Edgar Degas in 1874, its scene is set in a rehearsal room in the old Paris Opéra—a poster for Rossini's Guillaume Tell is on the wall beside the mirror—even though the building had just burned to the ground. Want to take a wild guess what it's called? The Dance Class. What else?

On an interesting side-note, this painting was commissioned in 1872 as part of an arrangement between Degas and the singer and collector Jean-Baptiste Faure. It was one of only a few commissions that the artist ever accepted, and the painting was delivered in November 1874 after two years of intermittent work.

Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (or "The Luncheon on the Grass" if English is your thing) – originally titled Le Bain (The Bath) – is a large oil on canvas painting by Édouard Manet created in 1862 and 1863. The painting shows the juxtaposition of a female nude and a scantily dressed female bather on a picnic with two fully dressed men in a rural setting. Rejected by the Salon jury of 1863, Manet seized the opportunity to exhibit this and two other paintings, in the 1863 Salon des Refusés (basically what it sounds like - like the anti-prom, this is where the art rejected by the judges of "proper art" went to hang). This painting - for obvious reasons - scandalized those infamous delicate sensibilities of polite society and consequently sparked public notoriety and controversy.

A similar painting to this, called Olympia, is also part of the Musée d'Orsay's collection. I was pretty excited to see it but, naturally, it had been loaned out to another museum. Because that's how my luck rolls.

Do you know what's even more annoying than two artists in the same style having similar names (and, yes, I'm looking at you Monet and Manet, you fiends!)? The fact that art museums seems to take perverse delight in hanging them side by side in the museum. Argh.

This, called Coquelicots (or "Poppies") is a Monet, painted in 1874. It shows a poppy field near where Monet lived in Argenteuil for a time in the 1870s. It's a landscape, depicting a mother and child pair in the foreground and another in the background. Besides randomly wandering a poppy field (you're first clue this predates The Wizard of Oz), these two pairs are used by the artist to set the diagonal line that structures the painting. The painting essentially has two separate colour zones; one dominated by red (to the left), the other by a bluish green (to the right). The young woman with the sunshade and the child in the foreground are probably the artist's wife, Camille, and their son Jean. And, you know, blah, blah, blah...

This beauty is titled Bal du Moulin de la Galette (AKA Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette). It was painted in 1876 by the Frenchman Pierre-Auguste Renoir. It shows a typical Sunday afternoon at Moulin de la Galette in the district of Montmartre in Paris. In the late 19th century, working class Parisians would dress up and spend time there dancing, drinking, and eating galettes until into the evening. It represents an Impressionist snapshot of real life and shows, as Wikipedia phrases it, "a richness of form, a fluidity of brush stroke, and a flickering light." Me, I think it looks like Renoir made real life into a cartoon and then used faded colours and a dabbing brush technique to make it different but, hey, what do I know?

No Parisian art museum - especially one dedicated to impressionist art - would be complete without Van Gogh. Sure, he was nuts - I think the ear amputation put to bed any doubt on that front - and, okay, he had that whole isolated-and-eccentric thing going for him...but you've got to admit, the man knew how to weild a paint brush.

What I love most about Van Gogh's art are his later landscapes, particularly those in Cypresses series. Starry Night Over the Rhone, painted in 1888, is one of the most beautiful of the pieces, probably second only to The Starry Night in my opinion. In Van Gogh's own words,
Included a small sketch of a 30 square canvas - in short the starry sky painted by night, actually under a gas jet. The sky is aquamarine, the water is royal blue, the ground is mauve. The town is blue and purple. The gas is yellow and the reflections are russet gold descending down to green-bronze. On the aquamarine field of the sky the Great Bear is a sparkling green and pink, whose discreet paleness contrasts with the brutal gold of the gas. Two colourful figurines of lovers in the foreground.
In reality, what the painting's subject matter looks like:

Personally, I prefer Van Gogh's take to reality.

(Please note that since the Musée D'Orsay, unlike the Louvre, did not allow photographs to be taken of its collections, I had to take this pictures off the internet to compensate)

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