While the Louvre is THE museum to see in Paris, for centuries housing some of the world’s most valuable artwork, I prefer the Musee d’Orsay.
Originally built as a train station, the building was almost demolished in 1970 in favor of yet another Parisian hotel. Fortunately the station was saved and converted into a premier museum that now houses a vast collection of French Impressionist art.
The museum runs parallel to the Seine, and its twin clock towers, coupled with the high arch windows, makes the exterior as much a work of art as the masterpieces contained within.
Upon entering the museum, visitors are enveloped in light. The large marble statues that fill the first floor, help radiate the brightness from the windows as well as the glass-covered roof. It truly takes your breath away. Fortunately there is plenty of seating in and around the artwork where you can stop, rest, and reflect on the beauty that surrounds you.
While the museum is home to hundreds of French artwork, including sculptures and decorative arts, it is most well-known for its vast collection of Impressionist paintings. And this is why I feel most comfortable here.
When I first visited Paris in 1977, there was no Musee d’Orsay, and unfortunately I knew little about art appreciation. The ninety minute tour of the Louvre was more than sufficient for me.
But when I returned in 2006 and learned a part of our tour included a visit to this museum, I started to do some research. I studied the artists, their artwork, and why it is considered important. I particularly enjoyed the DK children’s books that help identify the defining characteristics of a masterpiece, especially those by Robert Cumming: Art Explained and Great Artists Explained.
No amount of research, however, could prepare me for the beauty of the museum itself. I marveled at the architecture as much as the artwork. The high arched doorways created an ethereal feeling, and I nearly floated from room to room. The windows behind the clocks provide a unique view of the city, and on a clear day, you can see Sacre-Coeur on top of the hill.
The artwork on the third floor, however, left a lasting impression. It is one thing to read about art, I discovered, but quite another to witness it first-hand. I could see each brush stroke; I could feel the angst of the artist as he painted what he felt rather than what society deemed worthy. I was in a holy place which deserved reverence and respect.
I suppose it is for all these reasons that I am compelled to write this historical fiction novel. This story of a young girl who finds museum visits boring – until she comes in contact with the artists themselves – until she discovers herself while viewing their art.
This is what the Musee d’Orsay means to me.