By John Masters
Meridian Writers’ Group
d’Orsay might not have the weight of Madrid’s Prado or St. Petersburg’s
Hermitage or the Louvre, just across the Seine, but it is one of the most
enjoyable museums you’ll ever walk through.
In fact, its very
lightness is one of the most appealing things about it. Built in an old railway
station, it uses the vaulted glass roof that once covered the tracks and
platforms to fill the space with sun and give it an airiness many other museums
A soaring roof, natural
light, air that always seems fresh and the constant, gently echoing burble of
human activity give the Musée d’Orsay both drama and an intimacy, as if you’re
part of a large but private conversation.
Oh, and the art. There’s
plenty of that, too.
The museum is the main
repository for French Impressionist works: Manet, Degas, Monet, Renoir,
Cézanne, Seurat, Gauguin. The Impressionist Gallery covers the entire history
of the movement, from its beginnings, with Fantgin-Latour’s
(1864) to its end,
Woman With a Coffee Pot
In between, its walls
display some of the world’s best-known Impressionist works, and seeing the
originals, rather than copies, stimulates a fresh appreciation of their beauty.
The Dance at the Moulin de la Galette
(1876) nearly jumps off the canvas at you
— or invites you to leap into the whirl of revellers.
Likewise, when you stand
in front of Monet’s
Woman With a Parasol
(1886), a painting that can seem very bland in reproductions, you can
almost feel the breeze pushing the grass and the woman’s white dress, and smell
the spring air.
What’s equally delightful
is discovering Impressionist painters you may never have known existed, but
whose work is of as high a calibre as those you’ve known forever. Gustave
Caillebotte (1848-1894), for example.
Impressionism is the
museum’s heart, but its broader mandate is the arts from 1850 to 1914. And not
just painting: sculpture, furniture and photography have their place here, too.
There are works by Rodin
and lesser-known sculptors, such as Joseph Bernard (1866-1951), whose marble
is like an early Art Deco riff on classical Greek themes.