This is Paris and there are many noteworthy museums to visit. While some tourists may only visit the Louvre (to see the Mona Lisa and leave), Paris is a city dedicated to art lovers. Not only is there ‘Nuit Blanche’, a special night awarded to art lovers, where the city doesn’t sleep and instead charms its citizens with thrilling art exhibitions, street art, showcases throughout the city both in and outside the museums but for several museums, entrance is either free or affordable for students. The amazing thing about visiting museums in Paris is that each offers a new experience and a different understanding of what art is, giving the viewers a wide range of different genres to pick from. This allows the viewers to choose their favourite genres and define, for themselves, art.
For example, the Guimet National Museum of Asian arts (musée national des arts asiatiques, Guimet) is home to several works from Asia: Zen monks from Japan, Buddhas from Afghanistan, Indian textiles, Samurais, artwork from China. Another “must go to” place to visit is Institut du Monde Arabe (Institute of the Arab World), which was built in 1987 to act as a cultural vehicle through which Arab history, culture, art and lifestyle is being transmitted to France. Musée d’Orsay has the largest collection of impressionist art.
On a recent visit to Musée d’Orsay, I was introduced to (and fell in love with) several painters of whom I had heard of but never encountered. I was positively overwhelmed by Édouard Manet, Jean-François Millet, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet. Two paintings stood out to me: one named “Bras de Seine près de Giverny” by Monet and the other titled “Bergère rentrant des moutons” by Camille Pissarro.
The Monet painting is one that displays a perfect reflection of trees in a clear river, changing its colour and hence, its transparency. There are no words to describe the tranquility I felt watching that painting – the clearness of the river, the endless trees encircling it to an unknown end. Other Monet paintings seem quite similar to this – pastoral. Some focus on a river, others on trees, gardens, farms, or some abandoned stacks of hay.
Pissarro is similar to Monet in that he is an impressionist painter. He painted pastoral lifestyles, but he also painted glimpses of the city life too. He painted women fetching water by a river, or working at a farm, or in places in the banlieue. But he also painted Paris, and people living the city life. This particular painting, “Bergère rentrant des moutons” did not impress me aesthetically. However, the story behind it does. It is a painting that was taken from Paris by the Nazis during the second world war, rediscovered years later in Switzerland and in 2001, given to the University of Oklahoma university to be exhibited at its Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. However, in 2012, Léone Meyer, heiress to the family to whom the painting originally belonged, asked for the painting back. In 2016, and an agreement was made that the painting will be rotated between the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of the University of Oklahoma and a French museum.
There are, of course, other things about Musée d’Orsay that are fascinating. Initially, it was designed by three renowned architects – Lucien Magne, Émile Bénard and Victor Laloux and built as a train station ‘Gare d’Orsay’ for the 1900 Exposition universelle. Until 1039, the train station was used as the terminal for the trains from southwestern France, and then afterwards, it served as a mail center during the second World War. The train station ‘Gare d’Orsay’ still exists today, but the museum was only built in 1986. Today, Musée d’Orsay hosts more than 3 million visitors annually and offers a café, a sculpture section and a library on the ground floor and is free for students and people under the age of 26. I regret not spending the entire day touring around the museum, but I will definitely go back.