Visiting the Paris Orangerie museum

Visiting the Paris Orangerie museum

by Sharon Odegaard
Stripes Europe

Tucked away in a corner of the Tuileries gardens in Paris, bordering the Place de la Concord, the Orangerie is a small museum definitely worth a visit. It’s an art experience in a compact space, so you can see the entire museum in about an hour. Contrast this with the days it would take to see the main exhibits of the Louvre down the street, and you’ll understand why your time here is so satisfying. You can take it all in without choosing between displays, and you’ll likely forego fighting the crowds, too.

So, what’s in the Orangerie? The featured paintings are Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, his piece de resistance crowning his long career. This museum was built specifically to display eight of the large paintings. What you see here took Monet more than 30 years to create. The art covers the walls in two oval-shaped rooms so that you are surrounded by the blues and greens. In regards to the Orangerie, Monet said he wanted visitors to be able to “immerse themselves completely in the painting and to forget about the outside world.”

Monet helped design the building so that natural light shines through the roof. He painted the lilies to show the course of a day, with early morning to evening shadow. Not only are the walls well lit, but the paintings themselves are oriented from west to east, following the course of the sun. The light coming from Paris enhances the inherent tones of the art.

The first room is filled with four compositions showing the reflections of the sky and the plants in the water, from morning to evening. The second room houses a group of paintings that feature weeping willows around the water’s edge. Benches in the center of the rooms beckon you to sit and look around you at the 360 degrees of Monet. You can also stand directly in front of a sizable canvas and marvel at the individual brush strokes and the bright colors.

The art was a gift to the French State on the day after the Armistice of World War I in November 1918, symbolizing peace. The museum, built specifically to house these paintings opened in 1927, just a few months after Monet’s death. Monet himself described his Water Lilies as giving an “illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore.”

While the main attraction of the Orangerie is the Monet Water Lilies, an exhibition hall in the museum hosts the art of other artists as well. When we visited, I was thrilled to find my favorite Renoir painting, “Girls at the Piano.” Check their website to find what temporary exhibitions are on display during your visit.

The Orangerie was designed during World War I and in the decade after, so peace was a subject on everyone’s mind. A hundred years later, in a world where we still hunger for peace, the Orangerie offers a quiet bench where you can sit and enjoy the calming water lilies. It’s a great place to rest tired feet as well as refresh a frazzled mind.

To reach the museum, take the metro to the Concorde station. Before or after your visit, wander through the adjacent gardens. Relax with a coffee or cold drink on one of the green chairs and enjoy the center of Paris.

All images by Sharon Odegaard

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