On our first full day in Paris, I convinced my fiancé that we needed to go to the Musée de L’Orangerie. He’s a huge fan of Monet and had never been to this museum. We had gone to Musée D’Orsay the prior year. But I knew L’Orangerie was one of those museums that was super popular so we tried to get there when it opened. There was already a line. So I have now revised a prior rule about arriving early to museums especially in Paris. If you can, buy advance tickets, and arrive early! Ticketholders had a tinier line to wait in. Thankfully, it was only about a thirty minute wait (very lucky considering I’d seen three-hour waits there in the past).
It’s definitely well worth the wait. We walked into the first oval-shaped room with four giant canvases on each wall. Each canvas showed a lake/pond with lily pads and other flora at different times of day. They were so large that it felt like looking out of a window to the horizon. Absolutely stunning. It was quiet so you could appreciate their serene beauty. And then bonus! There was a second room with the same layout. It had been so long that I hadn’t remembered that fact. Again, each canvas was a different swirl and blend of light and colors. It was stunning and awe-inspiring. My fiance and I also tried to guess what times of day each painting attempted to represent. So many different ways of representing light!
Then another bonus! There were more paintings by other Impressionists downstairs! It was the private collection of Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume. The museum had some small miniature rooms to show how the collection would have been hung in their former owners’ home. In the collection, I didn’t love the collection of Renoirs. I usually adore him; I love all the paintings at the Art Institute. These seemed harried, rushed compared to his more considered brushstrokes I’ve seen in his other paintings. I was amused by pairing Picasso and Matisse across the same room. They had an immense rivalry (which I need to read more about) and hated each other (I think). But I was impressed by the Matisses. I don’t love Matisse but these paintings made me appreciate his colorful blend of patterns. I loved how he’d combine polka-dotted blankets with bright yellow striped walls with red and blue flowered couches, etc. Stunning.
They also had some nice paintings by Henri Rousseau. I’m really only familiar with his famous jungle scenes. He was the custom officer or toll collector who never left France but created these beautiful desert and jungle scenes that were very imaginative (albeit exorcised). This museum had very different paintings like domestic scenes and modern European life. I didn’t even know he made these other paintings. Always a nice discovery.
I discovered a new artist, a female artist named Marie Laurencin. It’s always exciting to learn of new female painters. She was a contemporary of Picasso and the others. She uses broad strokes in usual color patterns like teal, grays, and whites. Her work doesn’t have a lot of details. Her paintings have this dreamlike quality to them but I wouldn’t describe them as surreal. In this collection, her paintings tended to be about women.
Next we decided to go to the Mayan exhibition at the Musée du quai Branly. This museum was very new to me. It’s a museum near the Eiffel tower filled with Latin American, African, and Asian art. I’m not sure how its Asian collection differs from the Guimet, another museum of Asian art (with a fantastic collection on Cambodian sculpture). The ticket set up is a little odd though. We ended up in the wrong line and waited a lot longer than we needed to. We also ended up purchasing the wrong tickets (damn automated machines) but security was nice and let us go in. The tickets were the same price.
The exhibition was quite fantastic. I love Meso-American art; I had previously studied the Aztecs and to a lesser extent, the Incans. I don’t know a lot about the Mayans but I was keen to learn more. Their civilization went back earlier than the Aztecs. In comparison, the Aztecs were around for a very short period of time. But they both have created incredible works of art in stone and ceramics. There were some incredible turquoise mosaic masks.
One thing that I find amusing is that some of the stone carvings are deceptively tranquil. You’ll be looking at several figures with their magnificent headdresses and then realize they are practicing auto-sacrifice or ritually cutting themselves.
The exhibition also had two short films about the breaking of the Mayan code (in English!), which was really cool. One neat story was how a Russian solider named Yuri Knoroso in WWII ended up in a damaged and burnt library. While there, he happened upon a Mayan codex. He began to be obsessed with it and became a linguist behind the Iron Curtain in order to decipher it. I love the sheer chance of the whole thing! It was interesting to see how they pieced out the glyphs, moving back and forth in arguments that they were pictographs to syllabaries. I seem to recall that it was a little bit of both.
After we finished at the museum, we wandered around the base of the Eiffel tower. Again, it had been many years since I had been in this area. The lines for the Eiffel tower were impressive, even the one for the stairs! But it was fun to stare up into this symbol of Paris and France. Totally Steampunk. 🙂
That’s all for now! Next, we’ll talk about the Winter Circus and the Musée de Luxembourg.