Last week, I posted about Norwegian artists Johan Christian Dahl, Nikolai Astrup, and Edvard Munch. Today, I want to look at some of my favorite pieces from the Museé d’Orsay in Paris, literally one of the most amazing museums I have ever visited. The Museé d’Orsay officially opened, as a museum, in 1986. However, the building is a former train station which was built or the Exposition Universelle in 1900. The main hall is where the trains would come in and out, and the initial view, walking in from the entrance, is spectacular.
I do not have the space, or the time, to write about every piece that I saw at the Museé d’Orsay, so like last time, I will focus on just a few pieces. Two pieces from Claude Monet really stood out to me, partly because of their connections to Norway. Monet visited Norway in 1885 and painted about 29 works. The one at the d’Orsay is “Le Mont Kolsaas en Norvège” which depicts Mount Kolsås, a mountain in Eastern Norway near Oslo. Monet did not ski, and since he was here in the winter, it was difficult for him to travel around and get views from not easily accessible perspectives. He wrote, “This country is undoubtedly infinitely more beautiful without snow, or at least when there isn’t so much of it.” Monet saw the beauty in Norway’s landscape, and he captured it in “Le Mont Kolsaas en Norvège.”
Another one of Monet’s works that stuck out to me was a painting from his series of poplars, “Effect de vent, sèrie des peopliers.” In this series, Monet painted the poplars in various light and different weather during the summer and fall of 1891. “Effect de vent, sèrie des peopliers” drew me because of its movement, seeing the effects of the wind on the trees, pushing them towards the left side of the frame as it whips through the air. While Monet painted this series along the Epte River, this painting reminded me of Norway. When I initially saw Monet’s painting, my mind went directly to Johan Christian Dahl’s “Bjerk i storm” (1849). The landscape and form of the trees are completely different, but the ways that each painting depicts the wind affecting the trees highlights the movement and force of nature to sway, bend, and influence its surroundings. Painted 42 years apart, you can also see the stylistic shifts that occurred from the romanticism of Dahl to the impressionism of Monet.
One of the highlights of visiting the d’Orsay had to be seeing Vincent Van Gogh’s work. After I walked through the museum, I realized that the d’Orsay’s collection included “The Starry Night.” I retraced my steps, went back to the Van Gogh section and searched desperately for the painting. Eventually, I asked a museum attendant where the painting hung, but the attendant simply said that the museum had loaned it out to a museum in London. This realization disappointed me, but it did not take away from the works I saw: “La chambre de Van Gogh à Arles,” “Fritillaires Couronne impériale dans un vase du cuivre,” “Dans le jardin du docteur Paul Gachet,” and “Portrait de l’artiste.” My favorite Van Gogh painting that I saw, though, has to be “Chaume de Cordeville á Auvers-sur-oise.”
Van Gogh painted “Chaume” probably a month before his death on July 29, 1890. After leaving the asylum at Saint-Rémy in May 1890, Van Gogh visited his brother and sister-in-law in Paris before heading to Auvers-sur- Oise. It was in Auvers-sur-Oise that he painted “Chaume” and also shot himself in July. “Chuame” has a frenetic style with swirling shapes, almost as if a wind has entered the right of the frame and pushes everything to the top and left side of the frame. Movement exists within these grounded structures. The buildings look like they are moving, being pushed back by some inexplicable forces, and the these forces push the grass, trees, smoke, and clouds with them. I think that is what draws me to this painting, not just the post-impressionistic style, but the movement, the urgency emanating from the canvas, an urgency that contains within it a struggle for understanding the world we live within. An urgency that seeks to define and make sense of a world that does not always make sense. An urgency that sees beyond the tangible into something more.
While more paintings caught my attention, the sculptures at the d’Orsay really intrigued me. When I visited the Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, I saw Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s sculpture Le Négresse (1868), the bust of an African woman that would part of the Fontaine de l’Observatoire which displays four female figures, each representing different continents. The completed fountain is in the Jardin Du Luxembourg, and I did not have time to see it. However, the d’Orsay has a model of the fountain in the main hall. While the bust, as I point appears to play into stereotypes of African women being in bondage an sexualized, the fountain, and the model at the d’Orsay do not do this. Unlike the bust, the African woman in the model does not have ropes binding her, and she, like the other three women, are nude. The ropes and lowering of the woman’s top to expose her breast in the bust causes me to view it in a stereotypical manner, but the model and fountain remove these semiotic connections. The female figures in the Fontaine de l’Observatoire represent Africa, American, Asia, and Europe. They collectively hold up the globe, signifying unity and equality.
Jean-Léon Gérôme’s “Gérôme exécutant les Gladiateurs, Monument à Gérôme” shows him in his studio sculpting a gladiatorial fight. While Gérôme’s presence is important, what really caught my attention was the detail in the gladiators and their engagement. One gladiator stands over another, a foot on the neck of his fallen opponent. The downed gladiator reaches out his arm, pleading to an unseen audience for mercy and compassion. We do not know, of course, if the individual in charge of the games grants the fallen man leniency and spares his life. Gérôme’s sculpture just shows us the moment of defeat, of asking for that leniency. It is in this moment that the anguish of the fallen gladiator comes through. His faces screams for mercy, and his outstretched hand signals surrender. His opponent faces the same direction, awaiting the verdict. Does he execute the fallen man? Does he spare his life? When I took a picture of this sculpture, I framed the gladiators with the clock in the main hall. This framing, at least to me, adds to the sculpture and the fleeting nature of life. Plus, I just like the clock in this position.
I want to end this post with some of my favorite pictures that I took at the Museé d’Orsay. Two clocks face out, towards the north, from the d’Orsay. From inside, you can see through the clocks and get pictures of the surrounding area. The north-east side clock is in a restaurant area, but the one on the north-west side of the building is a perfect spot for photographs. I am not sure what I was looking at as I gazed out of the clock, but the view, and the image through the clock face, is spectacular.
Also during my time in Paris, I visited the Museé Rodin. Stay tuned in the near future for post on that visit. Until then, what are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments below. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @silaslapham.
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