Museum Review: Musée de l'Orangerie
Right by La Seine, sitting within the Tuileries Gardens, is the Musée de l’Orangerie. The museum features mainly 19th and 20th century art. It is smaller than the Musée d’Orsay (which displays works from around the same period), but is still among the most popular museums and tourist destinations in Paris. There are also rotating special exhibitions and a contemporary artist spotlight; but it is Claude Monet, and the impressionist and post-impressionist works on display that have earned the museum its respected reputation. I finally took the time to visit the museum. Here are the highlights:
The museum is actually quite small, making it possible to see everything in one visit. There are two floors of art: one floor dedicated to Monet’s masterpiece (discussed below), and one floor featuring the permanent collection, the special exhibition, and a contemporary artist spotlight. I would suggest starting with the permanent exhibition. The paintings in the museum actually belong to the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume Collection. The amassed collection features works from 1860s to the 1930s, collected mostly by Guillaume, which was then acquired by the French state.
The collection features 145 paintings, and is divided by artist. Each section of the gallery is designated to a specific artist, and the wall text describes both the artists’ careers, as well as Guillaume’s history in the collecting of their work. Essentially, the collection does not aim to create a chronological visual timeline of 19th and 20th century art, instead it tells the story of the famed collector and his acquired works. The art historical context is there, but it is secondary. Some wall texts described why Guillaume liked certain artists, or how he required specific artworks. The artists featured included Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Amadeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso. It was actually the first time I had seen a permanent collection from the point of view of the collector. Here were some works on display:
The upper floor accommodates the Musée de l’Orangerie’s most famous feature: Claude Monet’s Les Nymphéas (or Water Lilies, in English). I would suggest making this the floor the last stop of your visit, as anything seen afterwards will be underwhelming in comparison. The display consists of two oval rooms, and features eight of Monet’s massive waterlily murals (four murals per room). Viewing the paintings is like standing inside of an impressionist panorama.
Technically, Les Nymphéas is a series of around 250 paintings by the artist. Monet often painted subjects/locations over and over again, sometimes over a number of years. He used impressionism to experiment with light, time of day, weather, seasons, etc. His waterlily paintings are currently exhibited all over the world, and I’ve actually seen his large scale waterlily paintings in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. However, something about the way the paintings are displayed in the Musée l’Orangerie takes his work to a new level. It was honestly breathtaking. The galleries are flooded with natural light, and the clean, curved, white rooms are the perfect backdrop for the animated impressionist interpretation. It was very crowded during my visit, and I still fully enjoyed the murals. Nonetheless, I can only imagine experiencing the rooms alone on a quiet morning.
The work is contemplative and calming, yet at some points dark and abstract. What I love about this work is that its aesthetic beauty legitimizes both the power of nature and the technicality of abstraction. I was unable to get a full panoramic photo because of the crowds, but regardless, no photos could do it justice. Here are some details of the murals:
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