Suitcase and World: The Musées d'Orsay and Rodin.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Musées d'Orsay and Rodin.

Admiring the marvelous architectural details of the Musée d'Orsay.


  ur day started with breakfast at home.  I had bought some items from our local supermarket yesterday and today, I whipped a quick and easy meal in our teeny, weeny kitchen.  I ate my share, gave it some time and then woke Z up.  Today, I wanted to make sure he had a fairly full belly to start the day with.

So far, I've not been lucky with getting us out of the apartment before a double digit hour and today was no different.  By the time we hit the streets, it was close to 11:45a.

I love the apartment buildings in Paris, especially their beautiful wrought iron railings.

Our museum pass is only good for two days and we got it stamped yesterday at the Louvre.   So, in order to make full use of it,  we had to visit more museums today.  We started with the Musée d'Orsay, our first destination of the day.

By the time we arrived at the entrance to the d'Orsay, there was a long line snaking its way to the entry doors.  Our museum pass allowed us to enter for free but there was no *skip the line* option at the d'Orsday.  Darn.

The line was long but it moved fairly quickly.  At the entrance, we went through security.

Notice the *no selfie* rule.  Definitely a recent addition.

The Musée d'Orsay  is housed in the former Gare d'Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station that was constructed for the Chemin de Fer de Paris à Orléans and finished in time for the 1900 Exposition Universelle.  The museum holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1915, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography.  It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

The rail station was the terminus for the railways of southwestern France until 1939.  The station was slated for demolition in 1970 (to make way for a new hotel) but was saved by Jacques Duhamel, Minister for Cultural Affairs.  Subsequently, the Directorate of the Museums of France proposed that it be converted to a museum and that plan was accepted by Georges Pompidou.  Flash forward to December 1986 when the museum was officially opened  by then-president, François Mitterand.

This is the second time I've been to the d'Orsay and my reaction was the same as the first.  As I stand in the Main Hall and look all around me, I am speechless.  It's just so elegantly beautiful.  It's also hard to imagine that this was once a place was once a train station with noisy trains and passengers coming and going and air filled with the smell of soot.

The main hall of the d'Orsay.  We have Gae Aulenti, an Italian architect to thank for it.

One of the most striking architectural details is the old train clock which looks so grand, it really does belong in a museum.  It still tells time.

Looking down at the lower level of the Main Hall.

Statues occupy both the lower and upper floors of the main hall.  What surprised me was how many French artists that I knew for their paintings were also sculptors.

La Jeune Tarantine by Alexandre Shoenewerk (1871)

La Pensée by Auguste Rodin (1895)

Potiche by Paul Gauguin (1886).  This display made me go hmmm....I definitely struggle with interpreting Gauguin.

Jugement de Pâris by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Richard Guino (1914).

We spent most of our time at a temporary exhibition titled, "Splendour and Misery. Pictures of Prostitution, 1850-1910.

As described on the museum's website, this exhibition is:
"The first major show on the subject of prostitution, this exhibition attempts to retrace the way French and foreign artists, fascinated by the people and places involved in prostitution, have constantly sought to find new pictorial resources for depicting the realities and fantasies it implied.

From Manet's Olympia to Degas's Absinthe, from Toulouse-Lautrec and Munch's forays into brothels to the bold figures of Vlaminck, Van Dongen or Picasso, the exhibition focuses on showing the central place held by this shady world in the development of modern painting. The topic is also covered with regard to its social and cultural dimensions through Salon painting, sculpture, decorative arts décoratifs and photography. A wealth of documentary material recalls the ambivalent status of prostitutes, from the splendour of the demi-mondaine to the misery of the pierreuse (street walker)."

Please note that some of the pieces presented in the exhibition may be shocking to some visitors (particularly children)."

Yes, the exhibition came with a parental guidance warning and indeed there were a few exhibits with an age restriction - you had to be at least 18 to enter.  Surprising considering this is France and the French are not known for being prudes!

Photography was not permitted but I did see a few people use their cellphones to snap a few.  Tsk, tsk.

The exhibition galleries were packed to the brim with people - so packed that often I had to wait my turn to get up close to a painting to see it properly.  It was also really hot in some of the galleries - I had to skip those as it was too uncomfortable for me to be there.

As  I walked through the exhibition, it finally dawned on me that these paintings, which captured the life of prostitutes and the world they lived in, were like photos of today.  The painters who created them were, in essence, photo journalists of their day.  When that revelation hit me, I really appreciated what I was looking at and the paintings held more meaning.  Even the ones that seemed to be so crudely painted, it didn't matter that they weren't *perfect*.  It was like looking at a photo that's out of focus - you can still make out the picture and get the gist of what the photographer was trying to capture.

In addition to photos, they also had silent movies from back in the day.  Very entertaining and of course, very interesting to see how the video arts have evolved from the days when capturing audio along with the video wasn't possible to today when we have computers generating 3D images.

But I digress.  I really did enjoy the exhibition and in many ways, I'm thankful to the museum for presenting the collection of paintings in context.

After we finished up with the exhibit on prostitution, we made our way around to see one of the museum's permanent collections.  I remember being enchanted with this exhibition the last time I was here and today, it again brought a smile to my face.

These are stage designs for theatrical productions.  I only took pictures of a few.  These were drawn by Charles-Antoine Cambon, a French scene painter born in Paris in 1802.  They are for a stage production of Hamlet, the play written by William Shakespeare.

The models are teeny tiny and appear to be constructed of paper, perhaps cardboard.  They are incredibly detailed drawings and indeed are worthy of being works of art unto themselves!

At the very far end of the Main Hall sits a very large architectural model of the Paris Opera House which was designed by Charles Garnier and built from 1863 to 1875. A whole generation of artists, painters, sculptors, decorators and ornamentists worked on the opera house, which had a lasting influence on European architecture.

Model of the Paris Opera House, longitudinal section, by Richard Peduzzi. (1984 - 1986)

Up close view of the model of the Paris Opera House which was designed by Charles Garnier.

By now, I had reached my two hour limit on time spent inside a museum and Z was ready to go as well so we left.  I took a few photos before we said goodbye to the d'Orsay.  This really is a museum worth visiting - even if you're not much of an art fan!

Next, it was a lunch break.  It was well past 2p and time to replenish the spent calories which, for me, probably added up to just a few hundred as I really hadn't done all that much activity to burn off breakfast.  Nonetheless, time to eat and catching glimpses of glorious French desserts through patisserie windows did nothing to quell my desire to eat.  Do not gawk at beautiful looking food when you are hungry.  Seriously.  Do not.

Z was leading us towards our next destination, the Musée Rodin.  I was keeping my eyes out on places to eat when I caught sight of this sign.  It might be Japanese, it might be Chinese, could be Korean.  Didn't really care.  Today, we're going Asian.  I opened the door and led us inside.  As soon as I entered, I heard a very familiar dialect - the waitress was speaking Cantonese. 

We had a quick meal of Asian fare - some Chinese, some Vietnamese.  Of course, the guy aka Z who was born and raised in San Francisco is a harsh critic of Chinese food made anywhere other than his home city.  I told him he would be surprised.  Although this was pretty decent Chinese food considering we weren't eating in a top end Chinese restaurant in Paris.  Perhaps if we have time, we'll visit Chinatown here....just out of curiosity and to compare with Chinatown in San Francisco.

After lunch, we made to Musée Rodin which is dedicated to the works of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. It has two sites - at the Hôtel Biron and surrounding grounds in central Paris, and just outside Paris at Rodin's old home - the Villa des Brillants at Meudon (Hauts-de-Seine).  Obviously today, we were in the Paris sites.

While living in the Villa des Brillants, Rodin used the Hôtel Biron as his workshop from 1908, and subsequently donated his entire collection of sculptures (along with paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Pierre-Auguste Renoir that he had acquired) to the French State on the condition that they turn the buildings into a museum dedicated to his works.  Thus, Musée Rodin was born.

The Musée Rodin contains most of Rodin's significant creations, including The Thinker, The Kiss and The Gates of Hell.

Again, our Paris museum pass let us in without us having to pay.  This place is far less popular with tourists so there was no queue to get in.  The first Rodin piece to greet us was *The Kiss* carved between 1888 and 1898 as a commission for the French state.

Today, the Kiss marked the entrance to an exhibition titled, "The Laboratory of Creation".  The exhibition presents a selection of some 150 plaster and terracotta works that illustrate Rodin's career - in some cases, the evolution of a piece from crude clay sculpture to plaster cast to final rendering in marble.

Plaster castings of the right hands of Pierre and Jacques de Wissant (1885-1886).

Head models of Pierre Wissant.

This pair was titled, "Balzac, a nude study known as study A".  Looks like what I would create if I was asked to do a nude :-)

In 1883, the journalist Edmond Bazire advised Rodin to make a portrait of a famous man as a way of establishing Rodin's. He introduced the sculptor to Victor Hugo, who refused to pose at sittings, but invited Rodin into his home and allowed him to make a few drawings of him while he was eating or having his afternoon sleep.

Rodin hastily made sketches and then rushed out to the veranda, where he set up his sculptor’s turntable to reproduce in clay what he had just sketched.  Whatever sculpting he did after that was purely from memory.  The lab had quite a few of Rodin's works on Hugo on display.

As you enter the garden from the entrance, tucked inside a small courtyard is the Thinker.

Rodin originally conceived of The Thinker in 1880 as it was the crowning element of another piece titled, "The Gates of Hell".  The original sculpture was much, much smaller - approximately 70 centimeters, 28 inches tall and was originally named "The Poet".  It represented Dante, author of "The Divine Comedy" which inspired Rodin's The Gates of Hell.

While remaining in place on the monumental Gates of Hell, The Thinker was also exhibited individually in 1888 and thus became an independent work. Enlarged in 1904, its colossal version proved even more popular: this image of a man lost in thought, but whose powerful body suggests a great capacity for action, has became one of the most celebrated sculptures ever known. Numerous casts exist worldwide, including the one that we saw in the museum's garden.  In fact, with every piece we saw, we never knew if it was the *original* or not.

The Thinker.  Cast made by Fonderie Alexis Rudier in 1904.

"Monument to Balzac" was sculpted by Rodin in memory of the French novelist Honoré de Balzac.

"Fallen Caryatid With Urn" , large model 1918.  Casted by Fonderie Alexis Rudier in 1928.

The garden is essentially the backyard of the Hôtel Biron which houses the bulk of the collection of the museum.  It's a lovely, well manicured space and several of Rodin's pieces are scattered about the place.

Unfortunately for us, the Hôtel Biron is currently under renovation and therefore, closed to the public.  It will reopen in November of this year.

Monument to James McNeill Whistler.

The dome of Les Invalides on the left, Hôtel Biron on the right.

From the gardens, we wandered over to the Marble Gallery.  The sculptures housed here today originally stood in the garden where they were exposed to the elements,  gradually got covered in moss and began to deteriorate. In 1995, it was decided to exhibit them in the Marble Gallery, now protected by wide glass windows.

Then, it was off to another area where a casting of Rodin's The Gates of Hell was displayed.

The Gates of Hell

On August 16, 1880, Rodin received a commission to create a pair of bronze doors for a new decorative arts museum in Paris. Although the museum did not come to fruition and the doors were never fully realized, The Gates of Hell became the defining project of Rodin's career.  During the thirty-seven-year period that the sculptor worked on the project he continually added, removed, or altered the more than two hundred human figures that appear on the doors.

In Rodin's lifetime, The Gates of Hell was never cast in bronze and was known only in a full-size plaster model kept at the artist's studio at the Villa des Brillants in Meudon, outside of Paris.  Subesequently, two castings were made - one is displayed here and the other in the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia.

The Thinker in his position in The Gates of Hell.

The Three Shades.  The Three Shades top The Gates of Hell.  In Dante's Divine Comedy,
they point to an inscription that reads, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”.

On the way out of the museum, we passed by The Thinker one last time.  Had to take a couple more photos :-)

Next, it was on to a place that I've tried twice to get into but no luck.  Hopefully, the third time is the charm.  Z checked the map on his iPhone.  He was on the hook to get us to Saint Chappelle!