Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Musee d'Orsay

While I was still in Paris I was able to sneak in a very quick visit to the Musee d'Orsay. If you have spent some time in the museums of Paris, you know that a quick visit to any of them will only scratch the surface of what they have to offer you.

I zoomed from room to room, and tried to soak in as much as I could.

As I began my brief visit, I entered one small darkened room and found that it contained the provocative work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Of the ten to twelve paintings there, it was this one of a young girl fixing her hair that jumped out at me. I was careful not to use a flash, but a slight reflection seemed unavoidable due to the odd lighting of the room.

I found Toulouse-Lautrec's tendency to let large sections of the natural brown canvas show through to be extraordinary. Many painters feel a need to smother the canvas with paint. Lautrec often included only what was absolutely essential to what he saw in his mind.

Lautrec was also known for his bold use of colors, but many of his paintings here at the museum were dominated by a unique green. I can only imagine this must have been one of his go-to colors. Both his love of green and his habit of sparing sections of the canvas can be clearly seen in this painting entitled "Jane Avril dansant" (1892).

The next few rooms contained work from many of the most notable Impressionist painters. Impressionism has never really been my cup of tea, but my love of the sea made me gravitate towards this one.

"Man at the Sail" was painted by Théo van Rysselberghe in 1892.

As I wandered through the next few rooms, the harsh brush strokes seem to soften. In a large, well-lit room hung this portrait of a beautiful woman.

For the life of me, I cannot remember the artist, but I will make this challenge. I will send a Wolves Den T-shirt to the first person who can tell me the painting title and artist's name.

In a small connecting room was this painting by Paul Gauguin. It is entitled "The Seine at the Pont d'Iena" (1875)

What struck me about this painting was that this very same image was lodged in my own mind. Much of Paris has not changed much since Gauguin was alive.

Unlike many other global cities, Paris strictly maintains much of its classic architecture. To illustrate this, I went back and took this photo (above) from where Gauguin might have painted his picture over 100 years ago.

As the museum began to close, and my time ran out there, I found myself in a central room containing the work of Vincent Van Gogh.

Most people think of Vincent as, "that guy that cut his own ear off", but some historians now believe that his ear might have been severed in a knife fight with the aforementioned Paul Gauguin. The fight, it is believed, was over a prostitute.

In the middle of this room, completely devoted to him, hangs the smaller of two almost identical surviving paintings of Van Gogh's very modest bedroom.

It is simply entitled "La chambre de Van Gogh à Arles" (1889).

At the center of the large perpendicular walls, the museum choose to display two of Van Gogh's self portraits. They seem to stare across the room at one another.

These represent only two of the 43 self portraits that Vincent painted in his short lifetime. However, these two paintings are among the most famous and often reproduced.

The smaller of the two was painted in the autumn of 1887. At that time, Van Gogh was staying in Paris.

Almost dwarfed by its very thick frame, it has a striking appearance to it. Its quick, sharp, linear brush strokes stand in stark contrast to its larger brother hanging on the bang opposite wall.

This larger portrait (above) was painted in 1889 while Van Gogh was staying at a mental hospital in Saint Rémy. He had checked himself in due to a lifelong fight with mental illness.

Unlike the smaller portrait, this one is made up of the swirled brush strokes that characterize much of Van Gogh's work in his last few years. This very same swirled brush stroke style can be found in one of his most famous paintings, Starry Night Over the Rhone" (1889).

If you stand very close to this painting, and look deep into the eyes, you can see an incredible depth of loneliness in his face. One can only imagine how completely alone he must have felt as he painted this. Just two years later, he would sadly take his own life.

As you can see from this picture (below), one of the great things about the Musee d'orsay is that you can stand inches away from these paintings and drink them in.

Unlike many of the museums found in the United States, the French have a very trusting attitude towards their artwork. When possible, they make these priceless pieces of art approachable ... quite literally.

As the museum closed, I remained alone in this Van Gogh room. Although there were cameras located in various corners, I could have very easily defaced or destroyed a half dozen of the most famous paintings of all time. There was not a living soul within 1000 feet of me. I love it when that that level of trust and maturity can exist.

The five to ten minutes that I spent in that room, completely alone with those paintings, was one of the best moments that I had in Paris.

Although, there have been isolated incidents where very famous paintings have been attacked by museum visitors, it would truly be a shame if all artwork was kept out of reach and behind thick plates of glass like the Mona Lisa.

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Blogger The Lone Beader said...

You and I have a lot in common! I too enjoy being alone in museum rooms with my favourite paintings! For me, that is usually somewhere like the Andy Warhol Museum or the Tate Modern. I also enjoyed the Musee d'Orsay, however it was quite crowded when I visited! I went there 2 years ago, and am due back to Paris soon, maybe next spring. Later this summer, I am headed to Venice! :D

7:43 PM  

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