My favourite gallery in Paris, bar none, is the Musée D’Orsay so stepping in there is like being a child let loose in a sweet shop for me; and never likely to be a swift visit either as I could happily loose myself for hours.
A question that came into my mind the other day, about the building that houses D’Orsay – which was once the Orsay railway station – had me tripping upon this lovely resource from the Google Cultural Institute which provides a great visual history of its transformation into a world class art gallery (testament to how a building can be salvaged and its best features capitalised upon yet turned to completely new use) as well as walking you through its contents.
Yet for all the great expansive spaces and glass filled roof that hark back to its former existence – which are, in many ways, the making of the Musée D’Orsay – it is actually a feeling of having enjoyed some moments of profound intimacy with some of the world’s most stunning art that leaves its most indelible mark upon me. I always come away feeling like I have spent alone-time with some of my most favourite pieces, wandering from room to gem-like room filled with colour and light, and quite regardless of how many people happen to be there with me.
This is even more so since my recent visit, which presented a series of galleries newly transformed in terms of the colour of the walls, the lighting and the presentation of the work. Instead of the stark white of earlier visits (a “colour” which can kill art dead in its tracks), the wall surfaces had now received a complete makeover with deep blues, oranges and grays that newly enhance the paintings by allowing them to light up the space from within their very frames. The transformation was striking and the overall effect was very-much to my own taste in terms of the use of deep, complementary colours on which to hang vibrant, light-filled paintings so that they come alive all on their own; the true magic of a well-considered gallery space being when the light seems to emanate from the canvas, not from the spotlight it is under.
Having made my most recent visit just a few months ago – it occurred to me – how odd that I hadn’t yet written a post about it here…and then I remembered why. I used to applaud the Continentals for their laissez faire attitude to photography in public spaces, as compared with the ‘Brits’, but since my previous visit the gallery has decided that people holding up cameras and phones have become a nuisance to other visitors and so, as with L’Orangerie, permission to take photographs has now been withdrawn with the additional justification that reproduction prints are “readily available” from the shop. On my previous visit, in 2008, no such prohibition existed and so I had merrily snapped my way around the whole gallery – a recollection that had me digging out all of my archives to find these photos this morning, and diving in to see what I had got.
Taking the walking tour through my old 2008 D’Orsay snaps today has proven to be the perfect foil for a rainy bank holiday and I have lost myself in it for hours. I find I can visualise each piece of art in my mind’s eye as I retrace my steps and the fact that these shots were taken by me, informed by the way that I see things and the qualities that catch my eye as a painter, was as near to being there again as I could muster without leaving my armchair.
What is even more telling to me, looking back at these photos, are the ‘detail’ shots I decided to take by zooming in to detail, light and texture on that earlier visit – bearing in mind this was a good six years further back in my painting career – and what I find these shots offer me now is a chance to look deeply and closely into brushwork and technique in a way that you never get to do when you purchase the “official” reproductions from the gallery shop. This is a particular gift where it comes to Monet’s paintings of Rouen cathedral and, one of my favourite paintings of all time, Les Dindons (The Turkeys) – just feast your eyes on these close-up nuggets of Monet’s use of texture and brushstroke to capture the light that is so often flattened out of the reproduction prints that are so “readily available”.
In sharing this collection of images here – and in pulling back from the urge to diligently label them all with ‘artist’ and ‘title’ – my aim is to take you on a tour of D’Orsay from my perspective, which is that of a painter honing in on what most catches my eye and not seen from the context of ‘art history’ at all (plenty of sources cover those aspects and you can garner all the background information you could ever need from the Musée D’Orsay website). In short, the camera pointed where my eye was led – which was wherever the painters themselves led me to go – and this collection of re-found photographs from my archive, taking you on a virtual tour of Musée D’Orsay, is the outcome.
And if you’re ever in Paris…
Click on first thumbnail to scroll through the gallery: