By Naomi Dalton
As many visitors to France are only in Paris for a few days, they arrive with a ‘bucket-list’ of attractions they want to see. The most popular include the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, The Musée D’Orsay, Notre Dame Cathedral and one or two places that are more specialized, relating to their interests, such as the Centre Pompidou Modern Art museum, or the Paris Botanical Gardens.
One museum that is really worth a visit is the Musée de l’Orangerie. It’s only a 15-minute walk through the Tuilerie Gardens from the Louvre, so it’s convenient to visit both on the same day.
'The Sistine Chapel of Impressionism'
The Orangerie Museum is famous for hosting eight gigantic murals of Claude Monet’s famous water lilies, painted in his garden at Giverny in Normandy. This permanent exhibition at the museum is quite a sight. To quote French artist André Masson, the display is like ‘the Sistine Chapel of Impressionism’.
When I first visited the museum a few years ago, I hadn’t any idea of the scale of the paintings. I remembered seeing one of Monet’s water lily paintings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York when I visited some years earlier, and although it was large, it was nothing compared to the magnitude of the murals at the Musée de l’Orangerie. Here, Monet’s water lily paintings stretch across entire walls of the oval-shaped galleries on the ground floor of the museum.
I later learned that this honors Monet’s vision for the paintings. He wanted them to be installed next to each other forming an oval shape. The idea, in his words, was to create "the illusion of an endless whole, of water without horizon or bank." The Musée de l’Orangerie, with its oval-shaped rooms, was therefore the ideal home for the paintings.
For me, the magic of these paintings is that each piece depicts the same scene, but at different times of day, during different seasons, and different weather. The portrayal of light in each painting is therefore unique, as you’ll see from the varying color palette Monet has used in each mural.
Water lilies by Claude Monet at the Orangerie Museum. Photo: Naomi Dalton
The magical light of Impressionism
This fascination with the effects of changing light on ordinary subject matter (such as a garden scene, water, and flowers) was the very essence of the Impressionist art movement.
Impressionist artists attempted to imitate the movement of the scene in front of them in their paintings. They considered this to be a crucial aspect of human perception and experience. Monet's paintings are therefore a textbook example of Impressionism.
Monet in Paris and at Giverny in Normandy
A visit to the Orangerie Museum is the ideal complement to a trip to Monet’s Garden in Giverny, if you plan to go. Many of our travelers who visit Normandy ask to include a visit to Giverny, which is only an hour and a half drive away from Central Paris.
Monet's Garden at Giverny. Photo © Ben and Jane Lintott