Remembering l’Orangerie

**More drabble from the anthropology class. Professor asked us to visit a virtual museum. So I did. In memory.

Musee du Louvre is by far the most popular museum in Paris. Museum-lovers, myself included would fly to Paris for the sole purpose of visiting the Louvre. Much of what we study in art history is housed there. Yet, one of the most deeply felt experiences would be across it. Walking through the sandy Jardin de Tuileries, with people sunbathing by the fountain, drinking wine, and talking, then turning left towards the River Seine, one would find the Musee l’Orangerie. It houses Claude Monet’s Water Lily series which was donated to France on the day of the armistice in 1918. 

It feels strange to revisit the site online, with vivid memories of a past visit. Looking through photographs and 3-dimensional scans of the museum and surroundings gives an eerie feeling amidst the pandemic. Tourists flocked to the Louve, with long lines, exciting chatter, and eager photographers. The l’Orangerie is quite different. It is much smaller with no tourist lines. Yet, it is a popular place to visit for tourists and locals alike. I imagine it empty as I navigate the keys of the online counterpart. But I still remember the small crowd gathered, particularly the small children, probably a kindergarten class, sprawled on the floor in front of the Water Lily paintings, with their coloring materials drawing their own version of Monet’s work. 

It is difficult to imagine now, but about 50 years before the donation of Water Lilies to France, Claude Monet was rejected by the Salon. His work, Impression Sunrise, painted in 1872 and exhibited in 1874 was mocked by critics at the time. His technique was considered rough and unrefined. But things are changing at the time and modern art is just beginning. Impression Sunrise would evolve into the label that would be given to the early moderns, Impressionists. Now, of course, the play of light, the rough brushstrokes, and painting en plein air or outside are considered beautiful. 50 years after Monet and his fellow impressionists were rejected by the Salon, Water Lilies would be gifted to the state. 

The Water Lilies housed inside the Musee l’Orangerie are 2 sets of large-scale paintings of Monet’s water garden in Giverny, Normandy. Monet have worked on the Water Lilies for decades until his death in 1926. The works were offered on the day of the armistice in 1918 but the ones displayed in the l’Orangerie were turned over in 1922 and were displayed in the museum since 1927, a year after Monet’s death. It was designed according to Monet’s wishes, with the 8 compositions installed in oval-shaped rooms. The ceiling was designed to give natural light to the paintings, similar to the intentions of the impressionists in playing with light. Going around the two oval rooms gives the impression of moving through time, with the water gardens changing with the light. 

Monet’s offer during the armistice was intentional. He wanted his paintings to be a symbol of peace for France. The donation was made through his connection with politician Georges Clemenceau. Monet constantly worked on and revised the Water Lilies series before turning it over to France, at some point facing that there is nothing left to be done. Walking through the museum, digitally or in person, gives the feeling of peace as Monet wanted. The 50-year journey from the rejection of Impression Sunrise to the state’s acceptance of Water Lilies reflects the journey of modern art. Now, people can easily see the beauty and serenity of Monet’s works. 

Looking at the small building of Musee l’Orangerie after spending a peaceful time with the Water Lilies can give a lasting impression. The museum was named as such because it used to house orange trees during winter, before eventually being transformed into a museum for Monet’s works. You can feel the wind blowing through as the museum is just by the River Seine. Upon exiting the l’Orangerie, you can see the Place de Concorde and its notable Egyptian obelisk. But before walking away, you can also see a reproduction of Auguste Rodin’s modern sculpture The Kiss. Locals and tourists alike would hold their knees and wish for love, as tradition. This serves as the perfect, picturesque end to a tour of the museum. The question now is, do you turn towards the River Seine and bask in the long sunset or walk towards Place de Concorde and onwards to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées? 


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