Paris Stories and Tips

The Musee d’Orsay - A Degas Experience

A superior conversion-train station to Photo, Paris, France

Even in December on a brisk windy day, the lines for entrance to this popular museum stretched almost a block when we arrived around 9:30am. Voila! We entered on the left, went to reception, showed our Paris Visite cards, and picked up a free plan, and soon we surveyed the sculptures that adorn this gallery positioned under the former train station’s gilt clock and stunning glitter-like crystal roof. Within 20 minutes, a flood of visitors poured in and headed right for where we were - the upper level and its Impressionist and post-Impressionist treasures. Avoid busy Sundays here if you can; our schedule did not permit us to see it any other day, as we were leaving Paris on Tuesday.

Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, and Renoir are stars here; at first we concentrated on the Renoirs because we’d visited the Monet-Marmottan Museum on our first Paris visit and seen Manets at the Prado’s special Manet-Velasquez exhibit just 2 months before this Paris visit. Renoir’s colors are so beguiling –"Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette" shimmers with color and depicts diffusion of light and presence of shadow amid his dancers. Similarly, his duo "The City Dance" and "The County Dance" excel in color and the beauty surrounding his subjects. Both Renoir and Degas were more traditional in execution than Manet and Monet; I like the clarity of image in both.

As post-Impressionist star, there’s Vincent Van Gogh the inimitable, represented by his "L’Eglise d’Auvers-sur-Oise," "La Sieste," and his stark self-portrait painted just after he entered the hospital in St Remy. Also unappreciated in his time, Cezanne experimented trying to achieve three-dimensional effects similar to those of Van Gogh. His "The Card Players," just two fellows playing cards, emerge from the blobs of color Cezanne constructed for them. Of course, we had to see Seurat’s "The Circus," and Toulouse-Lautrec’s "Jane Avril Dancing." I bypass them , but the Orsay has some prized Gaugins and Rousseaus.

I have bypassed Degas in the past, perhaps because I’m not a ballet enthusiast, but this Orsay visit made me fall in love with his artistry. The Orsay has a strong Degas collection, including his bronzes cast after his death from the impressions he made in his later years. Like Monet, Degas’ sight began to fade with age. For Degas, this diminished sight impelled him to rely more on his sense of touch, to making sculpture rather than continuing painting as Monet did. After the critics attacked his "Little Dancer," he could afford to retreat and not expose his sculpture to their attacks. Degas was not a plein air painter; he worked in his studio well-equipped, as his family was prosperous - no starving artist was he. He was a bit of a socialite and liked to attend a wide range of social events, like the ballet and horse races. What struck me about Degas was his fascination with movement, bodies in movement, whether ballerinas or horses. This fascination with the expenditure of energy, kinetic representation, shows throughout all his work in many diverse media. In a controlled, dimly lit room on this level was a collection of pastels, many of which are by Degas and just exquisite.

Since it possesses such an estimable Impressionist collection, the Orsay frequently lends works to other museums. Before your visit, you can check on the website to see if any of your favorites will be away from home under "Artworks Abroad."

62 rue de Lille - Never on Monday; Tues.-Wed. and Fri.-Sat. 10-6; Sun 9-6
Adult 7€, under18 free; free First Sun. of each month
RER line C, Musee d’Orsay; Métro Solferino

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