Thursday, June 27, 2013

Musée d'Orsay

The grand central space of Musée d'Orsay, housed in what used to be a train station.

We spent a full day at Musée d'Orsay in January. Alas, many of the museum’s key paintings were not on display, and Joshua missed seeing artworks he had keenly wanted to see (most of all, “The Floor Scrapers”).

A visit to Musée d'Orsay provides a magnificent experience—but the greatest collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings reside in the United States.

American art collectors were the first to recognize the importance of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, and bought up Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings left and right when the artworks were brand new, with the paint barely dry.

By the time the French government decided to enter the art market and begin buying Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings for France’s museums, most of the greatest artworks had already left the country and were safely ensconced in the Western Hemisphere. Moreover, the French government, entering the art market thirty years too late, still had to contend with American buyers prepared to outbid and out-buy the French government.

Such accounts for the fact that the collection of Musée d'Orsay, large as it is, is disappointing to Americans. The quality of the collection does not match the quality of the building.

(And the quality of the main restaurant of Musée d'Orsay—the restaurant with the giant clock face, and with portal windows overlooking The Seine—had greatly deteriorated between 2004 and 2013.)

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