The d’Orsay, l’Orangerie and the Opéra Garnier

Another busy week in Paris! I can scarcely believe it’s been three weeks already and I’m half way done with my stay here.

In the past week I have visited Musée D’Orsay and Musèe de l’Orangerie which jointly host work from artists like Matisse, Van Gogh, Picasso, Manet, Monet, Klimt, Signac and Cabanel. Those are some of my favourites however they also have Renoir, Cezanne, Sisley, Degas, Delacroix and too many others to list.

The D’Orsay has in it’s collection some notable Van Gogh paintings. Of the collection in the D’Orsay, the jewel has to be Starry Night over the Rhone. Van Gogh painted this painting in 1888 and prior to entering the asylum he checked himself into in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. His very famous The Starry Night was painted while in the asylum and the two starry night paintings clearly show how rapidly his mental state had deteriorated. Sadly, Van Gogh died two years later after a self inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, having sold one painting and in virtual anonymity. He is considered the greatest Dutch painter since Rembrandt.

The biggest surprise, for me, in the D’Orsay was a Paul Signac, which I could not stop looking at, called Port of La Rochelle. I’m not entirely sure why this particular work struck such a chord in me but I do love the pointillism technique and the brilliant use of colour.

Another one of my favourites was The Magpie by Claude Monet who remains one of my favourite painters of all time. Considered one of his best snowscapes it is one of the D’Orsay’s most popular paintings and it’s no wonder. It is utterly beautiful. The master of, and arguably, the most notable among the Impressionists, the short brush strokes, use of colour, colour in shadow and realistic renderings of landscapes are what draw me to his work. I can stand in front of a Monet and stare at it for hours.

This is exactly what I did when I went to the Musee de l’Orangerie which hosts part of a series of Nymphéas (Water Lilies) which he painted from his home in Giverny. The series consists of approximately 250 paintings, painted in the last 30 years of Monet’s life and whilst he suffered with cataracts.
The display at the Musée D’Orsay is utterly breathtaking. Two oval rooms with the canvases mounted in a 360 degree treat for the eyes. The walls are a neutral cream and there is nothing else in the room to distract you from Monet’s work. There are two such rooms hosting eight paintings and having the works displayed in this manner was exactly how Monet wanted it.

In the days following my visit to the museums I went on a tour of the Opéra Garnier. This tour was a birthday gift from a very special friend and it is thus far one of the best gifts I’ve ever received!
Nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared me for the Opéra Garnier. I had deliberately not gone online to look at anything as I wanted my first experience to be first hand.
The Opéra was built by Charles Garnier during the time of the reformation–the very same one that saw Baron Haussman tearing down approximately 12,000 square meters to facilitate this ‘facelift’–under Napoleon III. Charles Garnier secured the privilege to build the home of the world renowned Paris Opera and Ballet companies after taking part in an architectural competition.

The Paris Opéra is utterly exquisite, opulent and in a class of it’s own. The grand staircase is so beautiful that I feel as though any words I use to describe it would be doing it a disservice. In one of the French colonies, I forget exactly which one, they found opal which they mined and had brought back to France and used it in the construction of the balustrade of the staircase.
Opal was exceptionally expensive which is why only part of the staircase is made from it. The same is said for the mosaic style that Garnier saw when he spent some time in Algiers and only parts of the ceiling are decorated in this manner.

The paintings, mosaic and sculpture work on the ceilings, walls and staircase are utterly magnificent. Breathtaking. Astounding.

Every corner I took was more stunning that the one before it, every sculpture–of the Greek mythological gods and busts of various composers, including Mozart, Spontini and Beethoven–more spectacular than the last, every painting more beautiful that it’s predecessor. Just when I thought the staircase was the masterpiece of the Opéra, we entered the Grand Foyer.
Suffice it to say, so magnificent was that room that I simply wept. The Grand Foyer is partially modelled on the Hall of Mirrors at
The Palace at Versailles only it is vastly more opulent and has upon it’s ceiling Paris’s version of the Sistine Chapel painted by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry. Baudry heard of Garnier’s intent to have him paint the ceiling of the Opera and immediately left for the Medici Villa in Rome. To prepare to paint on so large a scale as that of the Opéra, Baudry painted eleven full size copies of the Sistine Chapel, studied Raphael’s art works in The Vatican and made preparatory drawings for the Opéra Garnier. I say France’s version of the Sistine Chapel because Michalangelo painted it without help from another artist, which is exactly what Baudry did in the Opéra. Were I able to lie down on the floor I would have, perhaps I should have. That ceiling is so beautiful that you should be able to lie flat on your back to study it. 

Before I forget, try and get into the auditorium if you can! You can see the Emperor and Empresses boxes and the ceiling painted by Marc Chagall in 1964. This ceiling was installed leaving the original intact and protected underneath it. When it was installed it caused a vast divide as some thought it was progressive and others thought it did not fit with the theme and/or vision that Garnier had.
I hated it.
Originally painted by Jules-Eugène Lenepveu and titled “The Muses and the Hours of the Day and Night”. I saw one of the artists “sketches” which is just a vastly scaled down yet painted version and I can honestly say it is beautiful and far more regal and graceful than the children-could-have-done-it-with-crayons of a ceiling Chagall painted. Pictures you find online need to be seen in the context of the room to make any real decision.

In any event, the absolute highlight of my trip so far. The Opéra Garnier comes highly recommended as a very worthwhile place to visit while in Paris.

Next time, the best macarons in Paris as well as the return to the Eiffel.

Thank you for reading.


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