Van Gogh, Cézanne, Renoir and the Musée d’Orsay



The Musée d’Orsay was originally the Gare d’Orsay, a train station with a hotel. It was converted into a museum in 1986. When it opened, much of its collection, especially from the 19th and 20th centuries came from the Louvre.

A magnificent building they nearly tore down after it was no longer a train station.

On our previous visits there, the Impressionists and Van Goghs were up on the fourth floor. But things would be different this time.

This is how the Van Gogh's are usually displayed when they're not renovating. I found it on Peter Matthes wonderful blog. Read his description of being in the room of Van Gogh's all alone.

As soon as we walked into the main first floor hall, we saw big Van Gogh posters with signs indicating they were now on display on the ground floor, given that the fourth floor was under renovation. That was fine, although it also meant we wouldn’t be visiting the fourth-floor restaurant behind the big clock. While the food there was never great, the room itself was spectacular.

Just a word on museums in Paris. There are hundreds of them, addressing all interests and enthusiasms. Some of the smaller ones, like the Rodin Museum or the Maillol, you can cover in a day (even that can be a challenge). But others, especially the Louvre and the d’Orsay are so big, and so full of masterpieces, you simply have to have a plan for what you’re going to see and walk away from the rest. It’s just far to much to see in one visit.

So, for this visit, we confined ourselves to the Van Gogh’s, Cézannes and Renoirs. But really, for me, the Van Gogh’s would have been enough.

You really have to see this in real life. No picture does it justice.

There are 24 Van Goghs including the iconic self-portrait with the swirling turquoise background, the Church at Auvers, Starry Night Over the Rhone (not the one commonly referred to as Starry Night which is at the MOMA in NYC), one of the two portraits of Dr. Gachet, and one of the Bedroom in Arles canvases (there are three of them).

This self-portrait was painted in the asylum at St. Remy and Van Gogh brought it with him, north to Paris, and then took it to hang in his room at the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-Sur-Oise. It’s a very intense painting for the small room he had in Auvers (more on that later).

Interesting side note about the acquisition of the Church at Auvers canvas – according to the book Musée d’Orsay, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces, it was purchased with the help of Paul Gachet and an “anonymous Canadian donor”.

Van Gogh Church at Auvers

We saw the painting in Paris, and a week later we'd be in Auvers to see the church itself. It's just up the hill from where he lived and a walk through the famous fields to the cemetary.

Gachet, the son of Dr. Gachet, owned the painting. Curious way of describing the transaction. Did Gachet want money which was provided or augmented by the mysterious Canadian donor? Who was the Canadian donor?

Van Gogh Portrait of Dr. Gachet

This is one of two versions of this painting. For a while it was disputed as to whether it was real or a fake. Vincent never mentioned this in any letters, but it has since been authenticated.

Seeing these paintings again just stopped me cold. You look, you think about where and when they were painted, you recall the stories you’ve read about them. I’ve looked at these pictures many times in books, but standing in front of the real canvas was an electrifying experience. The brush strokes are so clear. They look like they were painted with energy, not necessarily quickly, but frantically. They hold you on the spot. It’s hard to move away.

Aside from the Van Gogh Museum and the Kroller Müller Museum, this is likely the largest single collection of Van Goghs. Many of them had been donated or sold by Paul Gachet to the Louvre from where they were moved to the d’Orsay.

In all, we spent about an hour and a half in the d’Orsay. We passed on all the beautiful Monets and Manets.

Renoir at the Musée d'Orsay

One of Musée d'Orsay's overly sweet Renoirs. But sometimes you need a little sugar, right?

We admired the Cézannes (I find it easier to admire his work than to love it), delighted in the voluptuous chocolate box paintings of Renoir….. and then it hit both of us. The day snuck up on us, tapped us on the shoulder, and said you guys need a nap. Back to the hotel for a two-hour lay down.

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