The Experienced Travelers promised to visit more museums and fewer cafés in an effort to elevate the intellectual tenor of our Paris visits. We kept our word, and spent time at the exquisite Musée D’Orsay.
Opened in 1986, the “M’O” houses art created between 1848 and 1914. If we paid attention in our high school art appreciation class, we know this means the museum holds an immensely popular Impressionist collection. Popular is an understatement. The entry queue is often long, and we have two hints; buy your ticket online ahead of time, and consider visiting on Thursday evenings when the M’O is open till 9pm and everyone else is queued up waiting for a table at the Violon d’Ingres.
Here’s good news for people with limited mobility. You can cut the line! Nurse was using “hotwheels” because of her bad knee, and the very determined Security forces ushered us past the waiting throng. Better yet, we were able to borrow a wheelchair - after the typical miasma of French bureaucracy and paperwork. This convenience got complicated because the M’O is riddled with stairs. So we toured the back hallways and secret doorways, and maneuvered Nurse into elevators the size of linen closets.
But it was worth it. Given the ferocity of the crowds in the galleries, you would think they were showing van Gogh’s ear instead of a self-portrait. The Renoirs, Manets, Monets, Gauguins and Toulouse-Lautrecs were stunning. So stunning that I wanted to remember them forever by taking “no flash” photos.
Suddenly, like the charge of Napoleon’s troops, the uniformed security contingent rose as one, to smote me and my camera. The management of the M’O prefer that I remember the Impressionists forever by purchasing lovely postcards and souvenir drinks coasters in their gift shop. Thankfully I had Nurse riding shotgun in the wheelchair which parted the crowd for a timely retreat to the linen-closet elevator.
We were four intellectually curious women experiencing some of the greatest art on earth. So its embarrassing that we were overheard saying “oh, those colors would work for the bathroom” and “how would those Cathedral at Rouens go along the stairs?”. This happens every time we visit a museum. Maybe that’s why we gravitate to cafés. It’s time to get rid of HGTV and Martha Stewart Living magazine.
So wheeling through the secret passages and “no entry” doorways we went, emerging each time into a room of extraordinary artwork, but never the room we were trying to find. But no matter. We came away with strong impressions from Mary Cassatts tender images of mother and child, the bleak hopelessness of Degas’ Absinthe drinker and appreciating that Berthe Morisot held her own with the boys at a time when it just wasn’t done.
If the ubiquitous Impressionism calendars make you weary of these French masters, a visit to the M’O will remind you that their use of light, their style and their appreciation for nature and simplicity was revolutionary and wonderful.
The Impressionists broke the rules of academic painting by depicting day-to-day life, painting outside in nature and painting outside the lines, if you will. So why can’t the ETs be rule-breakers and take no-flash photos or discuss home decor when they should be debating brushstrokes and chiaroscuro? We held our own Salon des Refusés later that afternoon at the Café Central and it was a huge success.