I really wasn’t planning on going to a museum. I’ve never had a desire or felt the need to see paintings in person until this past year when my interest in studying art has increased. Still, I didn’t want to spend my brief time in Paris strolling indoors, looking at paintings that weren’t really my taste.
People who knew me insisted, though. They all but bought the tickets and ushered me there. “You cannot be an artist in Paris and not go to the Louvre.”
I relented. The tickets weren’t expensive and we could always “pop in”, see a few things, and then say we’ve been to the Louvre.
With that plan in mind, I purchased the tickets online for a quick entry and then I did some research to figure out which paintings we might want to see. My complete lack of knowledge of museums and where which paintings were on display became apparent as I learned that all (almost all) of the paintings in the Louvre predate the impressionist paintings, which were the works I wanted to see most.
Further Google searches informed me that those were at Musée d’Orsay. (I was saying it dee-or-say, but our driver in Paris said it’s door-say. Maybe it’s like tom-ay-to, tom-ah-to, because I heard it said both ways.) So, we bought tickets for d’Orsay, too and we planned some time to see both of them.
We went to the Louvre on Monday, our first full day in Paris. The first thing that was so impressive about it was the size. People tell you it’s huge, but you don’t understand how huge until you’re standing next to it, like a little acorn among a grove of oaks. We later learned it used to be the palace (oddly, the kings didn’t actually live there), so the massive size and opulent style made more sense.
It had massive staircases and enormous halls with towering ceilings. Every room was bedecked in elaborate moldings and ornate trim. The building itself was art and was every bit as impressive and captivating as the paintings, sculptures, and antiquities.
I’ll just get it out of the way and say the paintings in the Louvre aren’t really my style. I am not drawn to the school-gym-sized scenes with naked people in angst laying all over the ground. BUT, and let me get this but in before you admonish me, it was the age and the size of the paintings that was so awe-inspiring. I enjoyed looking at the paintings there more than I thought I would.
As someone who feels like a 16″ x 20″ is a gigantic canvas to fill, I couldn’t even imagine working on a piece of art so large and detailed. The amount of time and paint and planning that went into each one! Each one could’ve been studied for hours to discover all of the symbolism and story carefully placed across the canvas. Maybe a lifetime.
Instead of studying the art itself, I thought about the artist and how his studio would have to be set up in order to accommodate the large canvas. He probably put in thousands of steps each day getting off his ladder and walking back to make sure he was getting the desired effect from his brush strokes.
We did see the Mona Lisa. It was crowded, so we saw it from about 10-12 feet away, but I didn’t want to wait in a line to get closer. I felt satisfied and we moved on to view less famous works.
I actually researched why the Mona Lisa is so famous and she apparently gained her fame when she was stolen in the early 20th century and later recovered. The ordeal attracted worldwide attention, which served as the ultimate PR campaign. Practically overnight, this small work that wasn’t known as one of the finest paintings in the Louvre, became its icon.
We mostly walked through the halls numbered in the 700’s, looking at the Spanish, French, and English paintings. I also loved looking at the sculptures more than I expected. I was now viewing them from an artist’s perspective, appreciating what ideal subjects they were to sketch.
This guy really did look like he was taking a selfie, so I couldn’t resist…
I took tons of pictures, so I can sketch some when I get home. Artists actually are permitted to sketch at the Louvre (and take pictures), but the halls were busy and the atmosphere too intense to sit and sketch.
The museum was a treat, though, and I’m glad I was forced into it! The building alone was worth the price of admission.
It was the busiest place we visited, though. The crowds were thick and it was hard to get good pictures of the works sometimes, because another tourist would stroll right in front of you. I was taking a picture of a pretty painting and an entire tour ground engulfed me and then the guide proceeded to stand in front of the painting I was admiring. I had to wait until he was done with his spiel and the tour moved on, so I could get a proper picture.
I later noticed that, throughout Paris, if you stop every time you might be walking into the frame of someone’s camera, it would be equivalent to stopping every time your dog wants to thoroughly sniff something when you’re taking him for a walk. At some point, you have to just press on or you’ll never get where you’re going.
As a bonus, we saw the Arc de Triomphe right near the entrance to the Louvre. We weren’t expecting to see that, so it was a nice thing we stumbled across. (Edited: My bad! Apparently, there are two arches and the larger one is a couple of miles away. We saw theCarrousel Arc de Triomphe. I thought it looked a little different from the pictures, but you know that is! Thanks to my readers who know Paris well!)
We went to Musée d’Orsay the next morning. Our tickets were for right when the museum opened, so there were times we had an entire room to ourselves. The crowds picked up as we made our way through the remodeled train station, but the pace was slower and the vibe more relaxed.
Until the moment I first leaned in to examine one of the paintings in the impressionist exhibit, I thought that seeing a picture of a painting in a book was sufficient. I was completely wrong. Seeing the paintings in person felt a little like being let in on a magician’s magic tricks. When you can see the brush strokes, colors, and textures in person, you get a much better understanding of how the painting was created and how the artist achieved the illusion of light.
Now, some of you will get this and some of you will think I’m crazy, but there were a few paintings, specifically by Monet, that I wouldn’t have bought if it was some anonymous painting at a thrift store, filed among the prints and old frames. It made me wonder if he loved all of the paintings that were prominently displayed in this museum or if he would be mortified that millions viewed some of them.
It was very encouraging to see his development as an artist, though. I don’t think we think about the fact that Monet and Renoir had to start somewhere and they probably painted a lot of less-than-great things along the way.
There were, of course, many amazing Monet paintings where you could see his genius.
What looked like very simple, non-detailed brush strokes, became a beautifully lit scene when viewed from the proper distance.
Impressionist works are all about perspective and I loved being able to change my perspective when viewing them in person. It also gave me unspoken permission to let go of the notion that everything has to be represented with a brush stroke in my own work. Some of it , even a lot of it, can be left for the eye to fill in.
There were other art styles represented in the d’Orsay as well and I loved exploring all of the nooks and crannies of the place.
The building itself also held lots of lovely surprises from the magnificent rooftop view…
…to lovely hallways that connected galleries and led you past restaurants…
…and a jaw-dropping reception room…
There was even some furniture at the museum!
In the end, I’m glad I took to time to go to both museums. Seeing the work at the Louvre made me appreciate how radical the impressionists were. I can understand why they had to fight to get their work shown and recognized.
Now, I want to visit more museums. I’m just about sick that I lived in the DC suburbs for years (even worked in downtown DC for a time) and never went to the National Gallery of Art. I’m going to have to fix that next time I’m visiting my parents in Gettysburg.
More about Paris and Tuscany to come…