Friday, July 25, 2008

Musée d'Orsay

Paul Cézanne, Nature morte à la bouilloire, 1869

Paris_Orsay_Cezanne, originally uploaded by david_stirling.

If you only have one day to visit a museum in Paris, go to the Musée d'Orsay, skip the Louvre. Heck, if you have two days, go to the Orsay both days. While the Louvre will crush your puny self with its weight, the Orsay lifts you up, starting with the Barbizon school and the Naturalists, through the Nabis and pre-Impressionists as you climb the levels, until you arrive on the sixth floor and the glorious Impressionist collection, including the unspeakably beautiful Van Gogh room.

Van Gogh's paintings are so powerful I could only stay in the room for a while at a time before retreating to the passive delights of Renoir to rest for a minute. Van Gogh's brushstrokes weep color, intense like the oxygenated blood of a re-opened wound. It's almost too much to bear.

So there I am, having an emotional moment in the Van Gogh room, and couples keep coming up to ask me to take a photo of them in front of Starry Night. OK, yes, I'm glad people think I'm a trustworthy harmless-looking guy. But now and then for a minute I wish I was the one asking somebody to take a picture of me and my gal. But just for a minute.

An added bonus to all the artists you know and love, the Orsay offers a comprehensive range of other delights and horrors from the second half of the nineteenth century--when Paris was the only town that mattered. This link, which you click at your own peril, is what I consider the Parisian equivalent of the Britney-Madonna "lesbian kiss": the air-horn announcing that a culture has nowhere left to go but down.

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