A day at the Musée D’Orsay in Paris

The main reason for my visit to Paris last week was to spend a day at the Musée d’Orsay, famous for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. The museum was so close to my hotel, Hotel d’Orsay, that it was the museum was the view from my balcony. The reason why it looks more like a railway station than an art gallery is because it used to be the Gare d’Orsay, the railway station for rail links between Paris and Orleans from 1900 until closing down in 1970 after a long period of decline. It opened as an art gallery in 1986 filling the gap between the paintings in the Louvre and those in the Museum of modern art at the Pompidou Centre.

It was soon acknowledged as having one of the most comprehensive collections of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings anywhere in the World and a visit there will soon bring you face to face with paintings that you have seen all your life in book illustrations.

It still looks like a railway station, of course, and after my journey from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord, I already felt at home in this type of ambience.  It is a vast building ingeniously divided into smaller cell-like exhibition areas that open out into the station concourse and constantly changing your sense of space. There are wonderful views from here on the left bank of the River Seine, across Paris with the hill of Montmartre distinctly visible beyond the Tuilerie Gardens and the Louve across the water on the Right Bank.

As for the paintings, well, what can I say! There are so many great works of art here that my day in the museum was overwhelming and exhausting. In the interests of space, I won’t mention the works by Corbet, Ingres, Millet and Delacroix, wonderful though they are, because they are also well represented across the river at the Louvre which I hope to visit next year. I have left out Pissarro and Sisley too just because there are so many Impressionist paintings in the d’Orsay that Impressionism-fatigue kicks in after a bit, admiring both those painters as I do. There are many more masterpieces by the painters below too but here are twenty paintings that I have loved in reproductions but couldn’t quite believe I was meeting face to face at last. You will have seen most of them before. There are two sculptures that had to find a place in this list too but, believe me, this is just touching the surface of this astounding collection that constantly delighted whenever I turned a corner and saw yet another famous painting.  I could look up close at the artist brush-strokes too, so difficult to judge from photographic reproductions, without being jostled by other spectators because, in early March, you almost have the place to yourself. I spent at least some time on my own with each of these pictures most of which I have “known” all my life but never “seen” before. In every case they far exceeded my expectations.

Self-portrait with Yellow Christ 1889 by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

Arearea (Joyousness) 1891 by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe 1863 by Édouard Manet (1832-1883)

Sur la plage 1873 by  Édouard Manet (1832-1883)

The Card Players 1895 by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)

Maincy Bridge 1879 by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)

L’Absinthe 1876 by Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

La toilette 1891 by Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Coquelicots (Poppy Field) 1873 by Claude Monet (1840-1926)

La Pie (The Magpie)  1869 by Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Bal du moulin de la Galette 1876 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

Doctor Gachet 1890 by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

Starry Night over the Rhone 1888 by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Jane Avril dansant 1891 by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
The Circus 1891 by Georges Seurat (1859-1891)

Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 ( Whistler’s Mother) 1871 by James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

The Wheel of Fortune 1883 by Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898)

Madeleine au Bois d’Amour 1888 by Émile Bernard (1868-1941)

The Poor Fisherman 1881 by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898)

L’homme et la femme 1900 Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)

L’Âge d’airain (The Age of Bronze) 1876 by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Woman bitten by a snake 1847 by Auguste Clésinger (1814-1883)

There were so many great paintings here that it is churlish of me to have been disappointed not to have seen one of the collections most famous pictures, The Woodscrapers by Gustave Caillebotte but it was not on display on my visit. Some of the Manets were missing too but I shall be able to see them at London’s Royal Academy when I go to see the massive Manet exhibition there in April.

The Woodscrapers 1876 by Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)

As a lover of Caillebotte’s work, there was compensation in seeing the snowscape painted from his study window in Paris. Today now that snow has returned to Lewes, UK, this looks like my view out of the window too.

Snow-covered roofs in Paris 1878 by Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)

There was an unexpected surprize too after seeing the splendid Young Picasso exhibition in London last month, to find another of the young Spaniard’s 1901 paintings in the Musée D’Orsay, this vividly dramatic portrait of an absinthe drinker. It tempted me to have a glass of Pernod when I left the museum.

The Absinthe Drinker 1901 by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

No absinthe served in the excellent restaurant at the d’Orsay though but the food was good at lunchtime…

…and there was some very classy patisserie to have late afternoon with a pot of English tea.

It was a long day, I probably walked the distance that the old trains used to travel between Paris and Orleans but it was worth the aching feet and pixelated brain…

…and, being Paris, there was always somewhere nearby to aid in art-overload recovery. Tomorrow, I’ll take you to Paris’  Orangerie Museum for some Monet on a giant scale.

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