Flux at Two Paris Impressionist Museums

Admirers of Impressionist art have long considered the Musée d’Orsay the required stop in Paris, Unless you are interested in some of that museum’s other French art of the 19th century, you may do well to put off your next visit until 2011. That is because the entire fifth floor, where the majority of the Orsay’s best Impressionist works are usually exhibited, is closed for re-structuring, and it will not reopen until March next year, if all goes well.

In the meanwhile the museum has lent about 100 of its Impressionist works, including many of its best, to the Mapfre Foundation in Madrid, where they are on display in an exhibition “Impressionism: a Modern Renaissance” that purports to explore the early evolution of French Impressionist painting in terms of influences and inspirations from outside sources (such as Goya and Velasquez). It will move on from Madrid to San Francisco in May, and then to Nashville in October, before the works return to the Orsay in early 2011.

Meanwhile leftovers of the Orsay’s early French Impressionist works, and some of its best Impressionist art of later years, have been re-distributed in the outer perimeter of the ground floor of the museum. There is no particular order in the way that they are exhibited that I was able to detect during a visit last week, but perhaps I missed it. Still, I did not enjoy my last visit at the Orsay as much as I usually do.

Where can lovers of French Impressionism requite their passion in Paris in 2010? The Orangerie Museum, in the Tuileries Gardens retains most of its impressive collection of Impressionist works (except for three Renoirs currently on loan to the “Renoir in the Twentieth Century” exhibition at the Grand Palais). Monet’s exceptional suite of eight giant “Water Lilies” paintings awaits you. The works are beautifully displayed, and it is certainly worth a visit.

Our other favorite museum for Impressionism in Paris is the often-overlooked Musée Marmottan Monet, which is located on the west edge of Paris, It is home to the most outstanding ensemble of Claude Monet paintings in the world (over 140 works, spanning the master’s entire life, from teen-ager to octogenarian), as well as a worthy collection of works of other great Impressionists, such as Manet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley and Berthe Morisot.

The Monets until recently were on display in the basement gallery of the 19th century private mansion that is the Marmottan’s home at number 2, rue Louis Boilly, in the 16th district of Paris. However, the museum’s new director, Jacques Taddei, has implemented revolutionary changes in way the museum displays its collections. Now some of the Impressionist works are distributed in the rooms on the first floor (which hitherto had been reserved exclusively for Paul Marmottan’s collection of Empire art, furniture and furnishings, and the Wildenstein collection of medieval Illuminations and manuscripts), as well as on the second floor of the museum.

The new director’s efforts to breathe new life into the staid Marmottan includes an extraordinary exhibition, “Fauves and Expressionists: From Van Dongen to Otto Dix,” which occupies the basement gallery, in place of the Monet collection. It displays 50 works, many remarkable, from a diverse range of artists that includes Vlaminck, Raoul Dufy, Braque, Kirchner, Kandinsky, Munch, Nolde, Grosz, and others. On loan from the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal, Germany, one of the stars of this collection is an exceptional work by Kees Van Dongen, “Nude of a Young Girl.”

The exhibition aspires to projecting directions taken by art after the Impressionist movement. It is scheduled to end on Feb. 20th, and it will be interesting to see how the inspired curator uses the underground gallery when the Fauves and Expressionists exhibition concludes.

One thing on which you can almost always count at the Marmottan, in stark contrast to the Louvre and Orsay Museums: there are usually not many other visitors, and you can often view many of its seminal masterpieces (Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise,” included) in close proximity, in complete tranquility. The building itself and the Empire collections should not be over-looked.

The museum opens at 11 am, last entries are at 5:30 pm, and it is closed on Mondays. Full fare entry fees currently cost 9 euros. Owned by the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France,  the museum is not covered by Paris Museums Pass, It is an eight minute walk from the La Muette metro station (line nine).


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