Experiencing a Painting the Right Way: Musée de l’Orangerie


Musée de l’Orangerie deserves some attention.  A lot of attention.

Because actually, it will knock your socks off.

In fact, I’d venture so far as to claim that this trove of impressionism should be frequented more than the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, the two most popular museums in Paris.

Having been to all three, along with my share of others both in Paris and in other countries, I would suggest a visit to Musée de l’Orangerie above nearly any other museum.

Why?  Because it’s small.  Counterintuitive though it may be, the museum offers the perfect sampling of art: enough to feel satisfied but not so much that the pictures and statues begin to blur together.

Granted, I adore the Louvre, The British Museum, and the other “big players” out there.  Some of them contain the most beautiful, astounding pieces of art in the world, but as much as I personally enjoy wandering through museums for hours, I rarely remember the details of more than a smattering.  And honestly, I oftentimes find myself drawn towards the lesser-known pieces tucked away behind the Mona Lisa.

Like what’s up with this guy?

Musée de l’Orangerie allows you to actually experience every painting, every brushstroke, particularly with the Monet masterpieces.  It’s a spectacle that needs to be seen.  Two circular rooms contain four paintings each.  The curved canvases stretch across the stark white walls, as Monet actually constructed each painting as a series of panels.  When examined closely, you can discern where he matched up the panels, with two halves of a lopsided, whimsical flower joining at the crease.

Go here.  Honestly.

You know, paintings have never really moved me before.  Songs have made me cry.  Books have pushed me to the brink of an emotional breakdown, the best ones evoking a sigh as I turn the last page.  Sculptures have taken my breath away.  And I’ve always liked paintings.  Some I have loved.  Many I have appreciated.  But never have I been truly moved by a painting.

Since childhood, stunning paintings have brought my home to life.  On our whitewashed walls in McLean, VA, the deep blues and bright yellows added splashes of creativity in what could have been an austere house.  I used to stare at this one we kept above the mantelpiece.  A purple river curved around the bend, as if it flowed into the painting itself, and when I was feeling particularly existential, I’d stare at the painting, pondering it, wondering where the river could possibly lead.

But I never felt like it moved or changed me the way a book did.  I never developed that attachment.

My dad paints and with each new piece, I love to study his incredible ability to capture the changing moods of nature with color.  Until recently, my father painted the only piece that has ever really “moved” me, and that’s partially because I’m narcissistic and he made it for me, using “my colors.”

But in Paris.  In Paris you can find an original Monet, and that, my friends, is worth everything.  As most of you know, Claude Monet was prolific.  His paintings have withstood the scrutiny and fickle preferences of society through time, and for that alone his paintings deserve a visit.  Don’t be fooled, though.  An original Monet offers so much more than an intellectual look through time and the painter’s peaceful reaction to World War I.  An original Monet allows people to feel as if they’re swimming in his colors.  For the first time in my life, other than my narcissistic moment, a painting moved me.

Of course, to truly experience Monet, you must go to Monet’s garden in Giverny.  The paintings evoke enough feeling and thought to trick your mind into believing you’ve just entered some fantasy world where the rules of physics and nature cease to exist.  (That would make an interesting book, no?)


Monet’s garden allows you to actually see and experience it all.

Plus, the fresh smell and cheerful atmosphere offers the perfect respite from crowded Paris.  Unless you like the stench of urine and exhaust.  In which case, stay in Paris.  (I love this city but really people?)

When the Van Gogh museum finally finishes construction, I will attend and reassess, but for now, the Musée de l’Orangerie stands as the best museum in Paris.

Other tips: Explore the tranquil gardens around the museum for free and don’t forget the Renoir and Soutine exhibits beneath Monet!

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