My first trip to France was in 2016, and amongst numerous delights was the opportunity to visit the most famous of Paris’ museums. I’d fallen in love with Impressionism as a, well, as an impressionable teenager. And though in the years since I’ve moved on to swim in deeper artistic waters, so to speak, I’ve never quite forgotten my first love. So of course when in Paris for the first time, I had to go to the Orsay.
You may know that Le Musée d’Orsay, or the Orsay Museum, is the home of the greatest collection of Impressionist masterpieces, or chefs-d’oeuvre, in the world. It’s situated on the Seine river inside a renovated train station built at the turn of the last century. The building is gorgeous. Incredibly, this edifice was slated to be torn down in the 1970s before someone had the bright idea to repurpose it as a museum.
I was excited as I could possibly be for the chance to see those Monet, Caillebotte, and Morisot masterpieces in person. But it didn’t quite turn out the way I expected. Or, more precisely, my reaction was not at all what I expected.
It was bit of a strange experience. The reason was, I think, that I had seen most of these paintings dozens, if not hundreds, of times in books. Seeing them in person was not the transcendent experience for which I had prepared my brain. Although the canvases were literally foreign — thousands of miles from my home, deep in the heart of Texas — I was so familiar with them that they ceased to move me in the way that they once did. I’d reached a saturation point, mentally, before I ever made my way to the City of Light.
Rest assured, I had many transcendent experiences on that first trip to France. And some were indeed with art. They just weren’t, for the most part, with the art that I had seen so many times I could call it up in my mind’s eye with the mere suggestion of a painting title.
The building, though, was another matter. It was truly awe-inspiring. I’ve just been rooting around in my computer files looking for my own photos, only to come up empty. That must have been the day that I forgot to put the recharged batteries back in my camera. Don’t tell me you’ve never done something dumb like that. (Please, don’t.)
So I’ve pulled out some of my paper souvenirs and taken a few quick pics with my phone. And found some lovely images of the museum online (used with permission, thank you).
One of my favorite memories of visiting the Orsay was standing on the upper level, behind one of the enormous clock faces. There is a photo of me somewhere, standing there in silhouette, with the giant Roman numerals and clock hands behind me. I’ll find it one of these days. But for now, this dude’s photo looking through the clockface will have to do. Fin.