A visit to one of Paris’s art galleries is about as essential an experience as eating a crepe in front of the Eiffel Tower. The hardest part about this experience is of course choosing which one you want to visit. I personally love impressionist art, particularly the works of Monet, Van Gough, Cezanne and Renoir. So during my short stay I decided to visit Musee de L’Orangerie and the Musee D’Orsay.
I was visiting Paris in the middle of Spring, so it wasn’t too busy with tourists at the major attractions but there were noticeably more people around than my last visit during Winter. Like any individual keen to avoid the crowds I decided to visit the Musee de L’Orangerie just after opening time. I was particularly excited about viewing the two oval rooms in the museum. Each one of theses rooms contained Claude Monet’s Water Lilies artworks which were displayed on four large, slightly curved, panels circulating the room. It is in my opinion quite spectacular because it’s like you have a 360 degree view of the painting. Monet had in fact commissioned these large panels especially for the Musee de L’Orangerie and worked closely with the architect Camille Lefervre to achieve this very impressive exhibition space. Each panel in these rooms are 2 metres high so you can just get an understanding of how awe inspriring these paintings may be. I know I was very excited to see them for myself.
Lucky for me there was no line to enter the museum and buy tickets. “Thank god”, I thought to myself. I’m here early enough to enjoy the beauty that is a Monet painting. Excited that I was finally here, I headed straight for the oval rooms. I walk around the corner and what do I see? Selfie sticks. Yep, that’s right, people taking selfies with the painting. My heart sank a bit. Don’t get me wrong I have absolutely no problem with people taking photos of, or with, a painting in a gallery if they so desire. My problem is they spent so much time staring of the screens of their phones and cameras that they weren’t’ even looking at the painting in front of them. That is what annoyed me the most. I’m not an art connoisseur, I don’t know a great deal about art or how it ‘should’ be appreciated, but I was excited to see a Monet in person for the first time. I wanted to look at it up close and see the texture of the painting with my own eyes, admire the brush strokes that make impressionist art what it is, see the way the different colours in the artwork blend into each other, and just generally admire the painting and the artist who created it. But the selfie sticks got in the way of me doing this. Take a photo as a keepsake, by all means, but at least take the time to regard the subject of your photos. Even still, buy a postcard in the gift shop as a memento. The photos are likely to be better quality, there won’t be anyone else in them and they will showcase the entire oval room.
Despite this, the oval rooms were still stunning and if anything, made me determined to revisit the Musee de L’Orangerie the next time I am in Paris. After leaving this part of the museum I headed downstairs to the rest of the gallery which featured works by Paul Cezanne and Auguste Renoir, other artists I admire. I happened to be appreciating a Renoir artwork when a woman walks in front of me takes a photo and walks to the next painting along the wall. I watched her. Snap, next painting, snap, next painting. What is the point of even coming to the museum if all you’re going to do is look at the painting on a screen? Googling the artworks will probably give you the same experience.
After leaving the Musee de L’Orangerie it was off to the Musee D’Orsay. By this time it was nearing midday and being quite a famous museum I was anticipating a lot of people. Although photography was permitted here, I was delighted to see a sign declaring that selfie sticks were banned. Thank god! I had visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam some weeks prior so I was eager to see other works by him at the Musee D’Orsay. The rooms containing Van Gogh artworks were probably the most crowded part of the gallery I went in. Understandably, the biggest crowd stood around the Starry Night Over the Rhone. one of Van Gogh’s more famous paintings. There were a lot of people taking a quick photo and moving on but at least here there were also others who lingered to admire the painting. I managed to make my way to the front of the gathering of people to see this artwork up close. I may have blocked a few photos but I didn’t care. I came here to look with my own eyes if I wanted a memento of the experience I would by a poster card in the gift shop, which I did. I wasn’t rude about it though. I had a close look, then stood back for someone else to admire closely. To share the experience. Seriously though there are a number of gift shops located all over the museum. You can get your favourite artwork on a postcard, a pencil, a magnet, a notebook, a poster, a bookmark. Just put the camera down.
There were more artworks by Monet and Cezanne further up in the museum. Although crowded, I was glad to see here more people just looking at the paintings in front of them. I stood close to a couple on a private tour of the gallery to try to overhear what they were saying. The passion in which they discussed some of the Monet paintings lifted my mood. At least there were others here to enjoy it like me. As you can probably guess by this point in this post I have never been to the Musee du Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. From what I understand my experience with the impressionist art in Paris is nothing compared to viewing the Mona Lisa through dozens of camera screens at he Louvre.
Paris is a busy city I know. It’s one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations and its understandable why. It’s easy to run away with our imagination of what our experiences in Paris will be like. But sometimes reality doesn’t always live up to our expectations when travelling. My problem was I had visited Paris during the Winter and saw virtually no crowds but in the Spring it is completely different. I guess my fantasy was that I would spend hours exploring these museums in a minimally crowded setting but instead I felt irritated in some instances and didn’t want to linger to watch other tourists take selfies. However, once I accepted that Paris will always be full of people and that I can’t selfishly have it all to myself, I moved past it. I still thoroughly enjoyed my time at the two museums. There’s no point in me being annoyed for too long because I got to see Monet’s artworks up close and in person! And for me it was definitely worth it.
Am I alone in thinking this way? Have you had a similar experience in Paris or elsewhere? Let me know in the comments below!