The Tuesday after returning from Marseille I had a very important visit at the Orangerie… What’s that you say? The Orangerie is closed Tuesdays? Well, yes, it is, which is why this visit was so important. Organized by the American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay, this was a Patron’s Pass tour with the museum’s new director, Laurence des Cars, who has become something of a celebrity since taking over the role in January.
Before coming to the Orangerie, Laurence des Cars was at the Louvre, and a key member of the team helping the Louvre Abu Dhbai build their collection. Think about it. You are so passionate about art, you’ve made a career of it and one day you get a phone call asking you to help build a museum’s collection. From scratch, with a pretty generous budget. Reading reports and listening to interviews, its clear that is was the adventure of a life time, but not an easy one. A lot of careers took unexpected turns, with Laurence des Cars now finding herself at the Orangerie.
I felt incredibly lucky to be part of this tour and had been looking forward to it throughout my trip in the south, the abundant flowers a constant reminder of the visit to come. But I never suspected, how very special it is to visit a museum when it is closed to the public. There were security guards, and workers getting the space ready for the next show, but all this activity just made the experience more intimate, as we got to know this remarkable space as very few ever have to opportunity.
Laurence, I hope I may call her Laurence, Madame sounds much too formal in English, gave us the history of Monet’s famous Waterlily paintings, explaining that this had been his gift to the country in response to the apocalyptic WWI. He wanted to create a quiet, beautiful place people could go to meditate. Laurence shared her amazement at just how quiet tourists get as they respond to the magic that is created by the display of the masterpieces in two, large oval rooms full of color and diffused light.
I am not a great fan of impressionist art, but like the tourists, this space has always had a tremendous effect on me. The colors seem to vibrate off of the walls, echoing a nearly tangible energy, a sense of calming caressing my body. On this visit, I got to experience the sensation in an entirely new way. Busy taking photos, I lagged behind our small group, and found myself alone in one of the rooms. All that light, color and energy, uninterrupted. It was astounding. I stood there, living a moment of true awe.
Eventually, I pulled myself away and ran to catch up with the group and hear about Laurence’s plans for the permanent Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume collection downstairs. She is a dynamic, optimistic curator, who sees a big future for this space, and her enthusiasm was contagious, making us all want to help her in this journey of bringing this museum to life.
This extraordinary visit was not a unique, one of a kind day for a handful of journalists. It was an event organized by the American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay for their members and anyone who had signed up via their website. Their goal is to help both the d’Orsay and Orangerie enrich the collections they have today, contributing to restoration projects and new acquisitions. Members are mostly Americans who live in the US, but are thrilled to support the arts while becoming Paris insiders. Going on a 35€ Patron Pass tour is just the beginning. You can become a member of the AFMO and get invitations to their events throughout the year, or attend a gala and contribute even more, as you spend a magical evening with others who are passionate about art.