Archive for the ‘Paris Museums’ Category

Impressions from the Musée D’Orsay

June 9, 2012

The Musée D’Orsay is proof that good things can happen to an old railway station. Photo by Christine

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.

The shopping commenced before we crossed the threshold. Imagine what will happen when Christine and Nurse find the gift shop (gift shops are the shoppers reward for an erudite afternoon at the museum) Photo by Barbara.

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.

Nurse’s hotwheels careened us past the waiting crowds and through Security.

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.

The Impressionist painters were mocked and derided by the critics. After years of rejection by the prestigious Salon de Paris they brought their work to the public at the rival Salon des Refusés, where they were mocked and derided by the public.

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.

I could almost taste the heavy brushstrokes on this Monet still life.

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.

An illegally-got Degas. Barbara and Chris are deeply sorry for this photo and apologize to the management of the M’O for their transgression.

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.

Will it go over the fireplace?

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.

Another Monet. Barbara and Christine promise to make a YouTube video of their apology to the M’O authorities.

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.

Outside the M’O, you can buy your own original art, then let these strapping young men pedal you home. We considered towing Nurse’s hot wheels behind us, but thought better of it

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.

Nurse will not “refuse” a martini no matter what the social and artistic convention might be!

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Museum Visit: The Cluny

July 31, 2011

The Cluny Museum. Slip into some chainmail and explore the medieval past

Occasionally, the Experienced Travelers stay out of cafés long enough to visit a museum.  Probably not as often as we should, but there are 153 museums and over 7,000 cafes in Paris, so you see the challenge.

I was on my own one afternoon when Melinda suffered with a funny tummy.  (But not to worry – Nurse made a long-distance diagnosis (stop the Chantrix) that put Melinda back in her wedgie shoes by evening. Nurse is a magnificent diagnostician, even from Command Central across the Atlantic.)

I admired the gothic spires of the Hôtel de Cluny and decided to refresh my knowledge of France’s medieval past.  Known as the Musée National du Moyen Age, “the Cluny” holds a premier collection of religious sculpture, stained glass, art and artifacts from the Middle Ages – in particular the famous 15th century Unicorn tapestries and original statues from Cathedral facades.  And if the 11th century isn’t early enough, there are Roman baths on the grounds – Caesar’s idea of a spa weekend.

Woe be unto those that pull dusting duty

The Cluny is a world away from the tourists and errant water bottles that crowd the larger museums. The dark, quiet interior of the Hôtel is perfect for the collection.  I could overhear a concert of medieval music in the chapel that put me right in the mood for chivalrous knights, Abelard and Héloïse and chanting monks singing the Divine Offices.

You have to admire a man who would depend on this to deflect an oncoming lance. Tim and Victor-this is *so* you.

The lives of medieval Parisians were hardscrabble and God-fearing. Royalty on the right bank, the clergy of Notre Dame on the island, and upstart Sorbonne intellectuals on the left bank. Since it’s my fantasy, I opted for the royal court, insuring ET creature comforts like beds, fires and chamber pots.  With a tunic, an embroidered lace bodice and a fetching fur mantle I’d be ready for any social occasion or Anglo-Saxon invasion.

A beautiful 14th century depiction of the Holy family and the Presentation at the Temple. I love the gentle faces and swaddling cloth.

The Cluny holdings include religious art, beautifully rendered by anonymous stone masons, artists and mid-level monks.  Medieval Frenchmen – devout and largely illiterate – relied on these exquisite works for visual tutorials in their Faith.

Madonna and child carved from wood. He's a rather mature-looking baby who slightly resembles Barak Obama.

What does it say about me that I pondered not the existence of God, but whether things would “go” in the living room?  How many of the Unicorn Tapestries would fit on the wall behind the chair? (and do I have to change the rug…)  What would Nurse think of those gold reliquaries on the mantle?

We have just the right corner for this 13th century gold chasse from Limoges.

It was the Knights Templar meets HGTV and I was on the path to accessorized eternal damnation, taking Nurse down with me by association.

Add an uplight and a fern - instant drama

Afterward, I sat in the beautiful gardens surrounding the museum to contemplate my near-heresy. (after all, I didn’t *actually* redecorate…)  I must purify by getting some medieval stricture into my daily life before I’m damned.

Self-portrait taken before I realized I was damned.

Maybe I could linger at a table in the Café Flore since it’s built over the grounds of the famous Abbey of St.-Germain.  Or delicious cheese might earn time off from purgatory if it’s made using the methods that artisans practiced centuries ago.   I must save my soul by noshing on French bread and wine and renouncing my spurious past.

As I considered my redemption over a glass of wine, I wondered what might have been the life of a medieval ET?  A religious pilgrim on the road to Compastella atoning for all those café stops? A troubadour in the countryside singing epic tales of heroes and villains? Or an itinerant seller of early Hermes scarves and Kelly bags going from village to farm?

A medieval guardian angel showing an errant ET the path to righteousness.

Maybe just a penitent novice, earnestly painting an Annunciation to redecorate the Mother Abbesses’ private chapel.  (anything to avoid the harvest.  Medieval moi is no fool)

Tres Moderne II – Murakami at Versailles

January 19, 2011

What were they thinking. Murakami rug in the Chateau of Versailles

Our earlier post on modern art at the Centre Pompidou reminded the ETs of another divisive Art Experience at the Chateau of Versailles.  The ETs are usually a model of harmonious travel.  But the exhibit of 22 works by pop artist Takashi Murakami at the Chateau ignited a disgreement that still simmers.

Murakami specializes in manga, a Japanese art form that uses cartoons and comic characters.  The exhibit was controversial, even before it opened.  A group called “Coordination Defense de Versailles” circulated a petition against it.  Defenders argued that it made an historic relic relevant. 

Prince Sixte-Henri de Bourbon-Parme, the “heir to the French crown”, argued that the exhibit was illegal.  He sued to prevent the display, which he considered an affront to all Bourbons, living and dead.  In a very Republican turn of events, he lost.

Murakami's Oval Buddah has an admirer but you can't see the shock on the photographer's face

The ETs cheerfully arrived at the Chateau, unaware of the swirling controversy.  A giant gold Buddha in the gardens was the first clue that this visit to Louis’ old chateau would be different.  Nurse made a gleeful sound and beelined to it. I froze in my tracks and stared. 

By the time we entered the palace, I knew that something very, very wrong had transpired.  They were *everywhere*.  The Queen’s bedroom.  The Coronation room.  “Hello Kitty” meets the Hall of Mirrors. 

Off with it's head! By now the ETs were enjoying a very French difference of opinion

Nurse was delighted by the huge, colorful outer-space characters.  I hoped that modern-day Monarchists were secretly convened to debate the practicality of sending a cartoon character to the guillotine. 

Murakami meets Mansart. The architect of the venerable Hall of Mirrors might wonder... (photo by Sodacan, Wikipedia Commons)

Nurse’s hot-wheels careened with joy from one wide-eyed goblin to the next.  I reluctantly followed, grousing about “la gloire”.  But I must give Nurse her due.  In her most stern Knowledgable Historian voice, she reminded me that Versailles was no stranger to the ridiculous, when you considered the antics of Louis XIV’s court, and Marie Antoinette’s petit hameau.  Am I to be the ETs apologist for excesses of the Bourbon monarchy that strain any definition of aristocratic behavior?  Will we dine at separate tables this evening?  (We negotiated a reconciliation so we could share dinners.  Pacem per cibum, or “peace through food”.)

A statue of Louis XIV averts his royal gaze from the annoying creature (Photo by Sodacan, Wikipedia Commons)

Our Disney-meets-“Dangerous Liasons” tour of the Chateau gave the ETs debate material for days.  My objection to the Murakami exhibit makes me wonder;   What would I have thought about the works of avant-garde artists like Manet and Whistler at the “Salon des Refusés” of 1863? Art or outrage?

Très moderne at the Pompidou

December 4, 2010

L'Art Moderne.

(Pre-emptive apologies to fans of modern art.  It’s all in the service of the Narrative.)

The Experienced Travelers are fond of old things, especially when the old thing is a vintage Hermes scarf on sale.  But sometimes they indulge Nurse’s post-modernist streak and pay a visit the Musée National d’Art Moderne at the Centre Georges Pompidou. 

Nurse was a real sport about my Proustian excursions, so despite my developing headcold I put on a pop art attitude and went along.

Georges Pompidou - He could be a "Mad Men" extra!

Unlike the ETs, Prime Minister Georges Pompidou was not fond of old things.   A man of the 1960s, he envisioned a New Paris that would personify the modern age.  Not since Haussman has a man done more to change the face of the city.  

His legacy includes the smelly, death-defying traffic lanes on the banks of the Seine, the heartbreaking destruction of Les Halles (the central market of Paris) – especially the Baltard iron structures, and the awkward Tour Montparnasse office skyscraper.  Even Nurse, in her most modern frame of mind, agrees.

Centre Pompidou exterior. It's not unfinished. It's just inside-out.

So it’s fitting that the Centre Pompidou is one of the most controversial buildings in Paris. The escalators, air ducts and climate control systems are on the outside of the structure.  

Nurse moving up in the world of art on the Pompidou escalator

By the time it was finished in 1977, the Centre Pompidou was lambasted in the press, mocked and despised.  In fairness, it does have admirers.  And in the end, most Parisians have come to terms with it’s eccentricities.  

Blue canvas - artist and purpose unknown to me

But we’re here for the art!  Nurse was in her element, rhapsodizing about the installations.  I wished for just one Rembrandt.  I earnestly want to understand “la moderne”, but time and again I fail.

The ETs did get some keen ideas for making Art of our own.  This is automatic Found Money when you add up what would be spent at Overstock.com on wall decor!  Take “Blue Canvas”.  *I* can do that!  And it’s equivalent in size to a $79 Overstock special.  Found!

Joseph Beuys “Homogeneous Infiltration for Piano” 1966

While Nurse was transported by the creative use of media and shiny things, I kept thinking of useful stuff around the house that could be art-ified.  *We* have a piano.  *We* have throw rugs.  Why not? 

Lifting the spirits

Nurse wandered off to deeper inspiration while I sought refuge on a comfy bench to deal with my escalating headcold. 

My reward for immersion in modern art - a fantastic view. St. Merri in front, Notre Dame and the Pantheon in the distance

This was a fortuitous move.  From where I sat in Pompidou’s monument to the new modern city, you get the most exquisite view of the buildings and mood that he wanted to eradicate.  Sorry Georges.

Note Georges Pompidou's unfathomable Tour Montparnasse just to the left of my shoulder

Take That, Georges. Even on a grey day, the view over Paris makes me sigh.

By now, I am delerious from the headcold.  But the mounting congestion helps me see things in the art that I was missing before!  Eureka! The ETs have found an “art appreciation”  research study that will keep them in Paris for years!  My opinions of Georges and Jackson Pollock are rising every minute.

The Stravinsky Fountain outside the Centre Pompidou meets Nurse's criteria for an art experiece. It's whimsical, has moving parts and sprays water

The ETs both approve of the Stravinsky Fountain.  Created in 1983, the sixteen sculptures were inspired by composer Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”.  They move, twirl and spray, which entertains small children and the ETs. 

Our foray into modern art had inspirational moments.  The ETs duly pondered them over a glass of wine. Did Georges, perhaps, have a point?  At a cafe in the heart of Paris, even ETs can be great art theorists.

Artistic inspiration comes from many places

La Vie romantique

October 3, 2010

The Musee de la Vie Romantique, set in a hidden garden in the 9th.

Nurse kept her feet up today, so I did a walking tour of the 9th arrondissement, specifically to visit the  Musée de la Vie Romantique, just south of the infamous Place Pigalle. 

Built in 1830 in a new neighborhood that attracted artists and writers, the museum was the home and studio of artist Ari Scheffer who hosted the gliterati of his day.  George Sand, Delecroix, Rossini, Lizst and Charles Dickens were regular visitors to his Friday evening salons.

Scheffer’s descendents gave the building to the City of Paris.  By happy coincidence, novelist George Sand’s family left the City her personal belongings. (George Sand was the masculine pen name of the very feminine  Aurore Lucile Dupin)  The reproduction of the rooms and placement of Sand’s objects is painstakingly authentic to the era, which makes this an evocative experience. 

George Sand's arm and Chopin's hand, relics of their eight-year love affair. Also a lock of Sand's hair (upper left)

BTW, Chopin’s hand is barely larger than my own (non-musical) hand.  Chopin and Sand lived not far from here in the Place d’Orleans – in separate residences.  It was a stormy relationship and Chopin died penniless in 1848, two years after their breakup.

Alas, Chopin was one of many.  Miss Sand did her part to uphold the fine french tradition of “cinq à sept” (extramarital affairs) by conducting them with many of the musical and literary greats of her time. 

George Sand memorabilia

The rooms are comfortable and homey.  The chairs are quite small.  And pictures are hung from the crown molding by ribbons.  This could be a decorating touch chez moi.  And maybe even the lock of hair… but I digress!  The museum is a restful venue in the hectic Pigalle neighborhood and I recommend it.

La vie romantique is alive today – especially on the cafe terraces of Paris.

La Vie Romantique


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