Click on photos to enlarge.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Musee de l'Orangerie, Paris

This room, and another identical to it, were designed by Monet working closely
with the architect, Camille Lefèvre, specifically to accommodate the massive
paintings the artist was donating to the French government.
Last year (2015) my wife and I spent a week in Paris. I was able to take in the Louvre, Orsay, and Pompidou museums, Versailles, Giverny, Notre Dame de Paris, the Moulin Rouge, the Eiffel Tower and a few other highlights of the city. Since then I've come to regret the fact that the day I visited the Orsay Museum I didn't cross the Seine and see the nearby Musee de l'Orangerie. I guess I didn't realize that it was so close, within easy walking distance (even for a tired old man who'd already walked his legs off that day). As a result, I missed one of the greatest (perhaps, the greatest) painting spectacles Paris has to offer--Claude Monet's Water Lilies. If you're wondering why I'm kicking myself so hard for missing a painting, take a quick look at what I missed (above). Neither words nor photos do it justice. Even the video at the bottom fails to capture the brilliance of light and color with which Monet was such a master.
The Louvre is marked in green, the Orsay in blue, and the Orangerie in orange (of course).
The Orangerie is not a big museum, especially compared to the other three mentioned above. It's less than half the size of it's big sister, the Orsay. As the name suggests, it was originally build in 1852 by the architect Firmin Bourgeois, completed by his successor, Ludovico Visconti, to shelter the orange trees of the adjacent garden of the Tuileries during the winter. It was also used by the Third Republic in the 19th-century as deposit for goods, an examination room, a place of lodging for mobilized soldiers, as well as to house sporting, musical, and patriotic events. In 1921, the French government Fine Arts Administration decided to assign to the Director of the National Museums two buildings overlooking the Place de la Concorde, the Orangerie, and the Jeu de Paume (Palm Game), which was basically tennis without rackets (using the palm of the hand...OUCH), in other words a building housing an indoor tennis court. Architecturally the two buildings were virtually identical in both size and design. The Orangerie became an annex of the Musée du Luxembourg, unanimously criticized for being too small, while the Jeu de Paume came to be used for temporary exhibitions and to house contemporary foreign painting. (Tennis moved outdoors.)

A postcard from Paris--the Tuileries Orangerie around 1900.
The French are to be congratulated for converting unneeded architectural relics into art museums such as the Louvre (once a palace), the Orsay (once a train station), and the Orangerie (once an...orangery), even though, none of them were ideally suited to be art museums. That was especially the case with the latter. The building is long and narrow, its southern facade on the Seine side marked by arches filled with glass to allow sunlight in so as to nourish the orange trees in winter. That's fine for orange trees but not so good for art, in that it tends to fade pigments. Monet's oval rooms have no windows but do feature muted skylights. From the outside, it appears to be a two story building but in fact, it's a giant stone "barn" adapted at great expense and effort over the past hundred years for its new purpose.

The Musee de l'Orangerie today. I wonder where the keep the orange trees now during the winter.
Actually, the Orangerie is a two-storey building today. In 1959 and 1963 the French government acquired from the widow of the art dealer Paul Guillaume (pronounced GEE-yome) his collection of Impressionist paintings, fulfilling his desire to create the first museum of French modern art open to the public. The State offered to exhibit the collection at the Orangerie. A second renovation project ensued from 1960 to 1965. The exhibition galleries were knocked down and two superimposed levels running the entire length were added to the building. A monumental staircase replaced the entrance vestibule to the Water Lilies. It led to a series of salons displaying the 146 paintings from the Guillaume collection. A third renovation project was carried out from 1978 to 1984 in order to consolidate the building, refurbish the rooms to permanently house the entire collection. The Orangerie thus became an independent national museum, separate from the administrative supervision of the Louvre.
The two levels of the Musee de l'Orangerie. The main entrance is on the upper level at the far left.
The most recent transformation of the Orangerie took place between 2000 and 2006. The earlier rooms constructed on two levels were knocked down and the natural light was restored in the Water Lilies rooms. Basement rooms were dug out in the north of the building in order to install the Guillaume collection. Temporary exhibition spaces, an auditorium, an education space and a library were also created. The museum reopened in May of 2006. It has been attached to the Musée d'Orsay since 2010.
The Orangerie might well be called the "Who's Who of Modern Art."
Okay, aside from two rooms full of heavily pigmented, aqueous plant life, what do you find in the Museum of the Orangerie? What you find are other works by Claude Monet(above), as well as paintings by Andre Derain, Maurice Utrillo, Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, and Guillaume (who was a painter himself as well as an art dealer). There's also a reconstruction of Guillaume's office containing paintings by turn of the century artists he promoted and supported (below).

Musée de l'Orangerie, reconstruction of Paul Guillaume's office. 
For the benefit of those planning a trip to Paris for a reasonably period, admission for adults is nine euros, free for children under 26 (that's not a typo) and on the first Sunday of each Month. They are open every day from 9am to 6pm, except on Tuesdays, Christmas, May 1 (May Day, the French equivalent of our Labor Day), and July 14 in the morning (Bastille Day). Rooms begin closing 30 minutes before museum closing time, at which time you may move outside and enjoy the lovely Orangerie Gardens where they keep all the orange trees in the summer time (below).

l'Orangerie Gardens


No comments:

Post a Comment