Paris! The City of Light has attracted artists for centuries and its amazing array of art museums now provide art-lovers with more art than they can possibly hope to see during a short visit. It would take months to visit all of the 74 art museums and galleries that exist in this city, so non-residents have to be selective and strategic, in an effort to get a good sampling of what is on offer.
Many of the city’s museums offer free admission on the first Sunday of each month. Having arrived in the city on 1st September, this provided us with an opportunity to see some art for free.
In recent years, I’ve developed an appreciation for impressionist art, so the Musée d’Orsay (M’O) was calling out to me to visit. The M’O is a national museum, located in the 7th arrondissement of Paris along the left bank of the Seine. The Musée de l’Orangerie and the Musée de Louvre are both on the opposite bank of the Seine, so we decided to try to visit all three on the same day.
Musée d’Orsay (Orsay Museum)
We headed to the M’O to start our day of art appreciation, arriving about 11.00am. Plenty of others were also taking advantage of the free admission, so there was a long line waiting to get in, due to the airport-like security checks. We were in-line for 45 minutes, but the wait was worthwhile, considering the treats that awaited us.
Once inside, we headed directly to level 5, where the Impressionism exhibit includes an amazing variety of art by such notable artists as Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, Pissaro, Sisley and more. Here are some photos of the pieces that I particularly liked:
Also on level 5 was a temporary exhibit (13 June to 24 September 2017) of Portraits by Cezanne. Less than 200 of Cezanne’s 1,000 or more paintings were portraits and some of them were early in his career, showing the development of his style.
Many museums around the world can only dream about having the above paintings in their possession but, at the M’O, this is only one level of the museum. After enjoying level 5, we moved down to level 2 (there are currently no exhibitions on levels 3 or 4). Amongst the varied exhibits on level 2 is a wonderful collection of works by Vincent Van Gogh.
Level 2 also includes sculptures (including Rodin), Neo-impressionism, Art Noveau, Symbolism and Naturalism exhibits.
Level 0 offers yet more to see, including sculpture, decorative arts from the 2nd Empire, Orientalism, Realism, Symbolism, as well as exhibits of Courbet, Degas, Monet, Bazille, and Toulouse-Lautrec. But we had been there for two hours and were tired and hungry! Level 0 would have to wait for another visit, so we headed out to find some lunch. The M’O had been an outstanding start to the day – so many wonderful paintings!
Musée de l’Orangerie (Orangerie Museum)
With lunch taken care of, we crossed the Seine and walked through the Jardin des Tuileries to reach the Musée de l’Orangerie. After the long line at M’O, it was a pleasant surprise to find a very short line at this museum. Within a couple of minutes, we were inside to enjoy another free admission (courtesy of it being the first Sunday of the month).
The Orangerie is smaller than M’O with the exhibits split between two levels, level 0 and level -2 (with a gift shop and cafe sandwiched between them on level -1).
The majority of the exhibits are on the lower level (-2) and consist of paintings by Renoir, Cezanne, Rousseau, Modigliani, Laurencin, Matisse, Picasso, Dertain, Utrillo and Soutine. Lots of wonderful pieces, arranged in a manner that is easy to follow in a circular route. Here is a sample of them.
The upper level of the museum is dedicated to Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, which happen to be Bev’s favourite painting.
The upper level features two rooms or vestibules that each contain four large panels featuring Monet’s Water Lilies painting, that was inspired by his water garden at Giverny. Each of the panels depict either a different part of the garden, or a representation of differing lighting conditions. The panels in the first room depict ‘Green Reflections’, ‘Morning’, ‘Clouds’ and ‘Sunset’. The second room’s panels are ‘The Two Willows’, ‘Clear Morning with Willows’, Morning with Weeping Willows’ and ‘Reflections of Trees’.
It only took about one hour to walk around this museum, so we had a bit of time left in the day to pay an initial visit to the famous Louvre, located next door.
Musée du Louvre (The Louvre Museum)
We had actually planned to visit the Louvre later in the week, on a Wednesday afternoon, as the museum closes later on Wednesdays. However, we realised that there is a lot to see at the Louvre and that two visits would allow us to see more. We were also hoping that the museum might also offer free admission on the first Sunday of the month, so that we could get a free first peak (it doesn’t).
As it was already late afternoon, there were no queues to get into the museum. By the time that we had passed the security checkpoint and bought tickets, we only had about one hour before closing time. We decided to head directly to the French Paintings section on level 1. After the wonderful impressionist paintings we enjoyed in the previous two museums, I found myself disappointed in what was on display in the Louvre. That’s because the French Paintings exhibit is for paintings from the period 1780-1850 – prior to the commencement of the Impressionist art movement. Whilst the art on display is undoubtedly of a high quality by renowned artists, I don’t enjoy that period as much as the later work. Of course, one of the highlight paintings in the Louvre is the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. I’ve seen it on a previous visit but we went to look again. The painting is encased in glass and viewers are kept several feet away by a barrier. As a result, the experience is seriously over-rated.
Whilst the French Paintings in the Louvre were not ‘my thing’, there is a wide variety of art in this massive museum. Unfortunately, the layout of the museum is not very user-friendly, even with a map in our hands. Knowing that we had limited time before closing, we decided to stay on level 1 and see what else was there.
Some of the rooms are, themselves, part of the attraction of the museum as they hark back to the period when it was the home of the kings and queens of France. We wandered through some of the rooms, imagining the splendour of the building when it was a royal palace.
Another wing of level 1 displays antique furnishings from the period of King Louis XIV.
By the time we had walked around level 1, it was 5.30pm and almost closing time. Our feet were tired and we headed back to our apartment, but we’ll return to the Louvre to see more in the coming days.
What a wonderful way to spend a day in Paris. We had been out of the apartment for 8 hours. We had walked over 8 miles (13km) and had visited three museums. For me, the Musée d’Orsay was the clear favourite of the day, with the Musée de l’Orangerie second and the Louvre in last place.