By: Elisabeth Paulson
It started with the best croissant of my life, across from the Louvre.
This sort of sentence had not been in my lexicon up until last month when I spent a divine 2 1/2 weeks in France (yes, I also say “divine” now, thank you very much). That croissant, espresso, and the kick-ass company of my mother, Judy, began the voyage to the Musee d’Orsay. Such a day prompts my first post in the series “France!”
Musee d’Orsay, along the left bank of the Seine in Paris, is now one of my favorite international art museums. Set in the former Beaux-arts Gare d’Orsay railway station, the building itself is a work of art. No longer suitable as a rail yard in 1939, it became a mailing center during World War II. In 1981, Gae Aulenti, an Italian female architect and lighting/industrial/interior designer, designed the space to house the museum. The true hidden gem is the layout of the space. Gae Aulenti believed that “people make a room a room and not to overpower it.” This philosophy is evident as hundreds of people move about from space to space and are still able to pause and reflect on each work of art.
This stone statue, “Ours Blanc” (or “Polar Bear”) by Francois Pompon, stands over eight feet wide and displays a magnificent yet serene presence in the central sculpture alley.
Musee d’Orsay is known for their French art, mostly from 1848-1915. Surrounded by visions of surreal landscapes and religious persecutions, I found relief in a spattering of paintings that portrayed the inner workspaces of French poets, artists, and diplomats. This painting, “Jeanne Lanvin” by Edouard Vuillard, seemed to be the only depiction of a working woman – a fashion designer and perfume house founder. After seeing dozens of men at work, it was about time.
One of 15 large commissions, this painting by Odilon Redon was created for a dining room wall in the chateau of Baron Robert de Domecy. Redon subscribed to the theory that art should be part of everyday life and “there are no paintings, there are only decorations.” Usually a foe to “decoration,” I was surprised at my attraction to these images and the theory behind them. At nearly nine feet high, this painting kept me marveling.
If I have learned one thing in France, it is the importance of taking a mid-day break to drink wine and eat foie gras. Thanks to the recommendation of a friend, my mother and I spoiled ourselves in the in-museum gilded dining room filled with dazzling chandeliers and painted ceilings. The multi-colored modern resin chairs at each table were a risk-taking contrast to the historic relevance of this landmark. As I researched more, it appears the chairs change every few years.
I will come back for you, Musee d’Orsay. I will return to bask in the glory of your historical architecture, indulge my visual senses in your curated halls, and have a glass of wine in whatever chair you provide at the time.