In the church of Monet

The Orangerie is one of the jewels of Paris. It was originally built in 1852 under Napoleon III as an “orangery”, a greenhouse for the Tuileries Palace to grow orange and lemon trees. Greenhouses like this became status symbols for wealthy families at the time and many had them built near their palaces. There are others in Austria, Germany and Wales.

Paris - Monet Lilies

When we were here years ago, we had the rooms, then downstairs, to ourselves. On this day it was crowded. But it didn't matter. Just to be here was enough.

This has always been one of my favorite museums in Paris. It only became a museum because of Monet’s promise to the state of France of a significant gift of water lily paintings if they found a proper place to house them.

Paris - Monet Lilies Close Up

When Monet painted these massive canvases, he was old, his eyesight was going but he kept at it. He knew this would be his legacy.

Unlike Van Gogh, Monet became both famous and wealthy during his lifetime, and among his friends were George Clémenceau, the statesman and ex-Prime Minister of France, who convinced Monet that the Orangerie would be the perfect site for the water lilies. Monet himself played a major role in redesigning the building and worked closely with the architect to create a space for the works in the form of two oval galleries, whose curved walls would hold the huge paintings.

Paris - Monet Lilies

If you're going to Paris, plan to spend one day to visit Monet's home in Giverny where you can see the lily ponds and the famous gardens. The house is decorated with reproductions of his paintings as he had them.

The two rooms, each bathed in the diffused light of skylights covered by a semi-translucent fabric, house a total of eight panels of water lilies. There is no other art experience like these two ethereal, dreamy water lily dioramas anywhere in the world. This is truly a cathedral of art, and like a great cathedral, it makes you humble and meditative.

Monet was going blind as he painted these. He had surgery to remove cataracts, and it is speculated that afterwards he was able to see certain ultraviolet wavelengths of light which may have had an effect on the colors he perceived and prompted him to use more blue in the paintings.

Ironically, Monet died on December 5, 1926 at the age of 86. The Orangerie Museum opened less than a year later in 1927.

We sat in those two rooms for about a half an hour. After that, you just can’t look anymore. You’re full.

Go to the Orangerie site where you can see panoramic views of both of these rooms.

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