We got so comfortable in London it was hard to transition to Paris, but after the first day we began to enjoy ourselves. The transit system is not as thorough and organized as the one in London, and the bathrooms are filthy, but the museums are great. The food is way too expensive and not everything it is supposed to be, but we found a patisserie that we really like and we go there every day to buy lunch and eat it in Luxembourg Gardens, one of the nicest parks imaginable.
The Delacroix Museum, housed in the last place he lived and worked, was a good way to start: small, almost empty of other people, and well done. It really gave us a feeling for the man, his work, and his studio. We saw drawings, works in progress, and the variety of his paintings. They even had his palette!
The Cluny Museum is right down the street from where we are staying. My favorite part is the Roman walls, so ancient and layered with bricks every three feet, just like the Roman wall in London. The ceiling in the older part of the building is partly crumbled away, revealing layers of history and the structural details. It would be marvelous to set up and paint from observation there: the subtle colors, the massive forms, the power of something so old. Golds, and browns, and reds – the earth itself. The exhibits, Medieval and Renaissance, were exquisite. Much of the art had been deliberately defaced (literally) by conquering groups, heads and faces chiseled right off the sculpture!
D’Orsay, a museum of impressionism, pre and post. We had to go twice to take it all in. There was a temporary exhibit of the macabre in art: Goya, Victor Hugo (who knew he drew?!) Redon, Munch, Delacroix,, Rodin, Ernst, and many others I had never heard of. Vampires, witches, apocolypses, Medusas, surrealism. Goya’s etchings had more depth in tone and more clarity in line than the reproductions.
We had to go back to see the permanent exhibit. There was an incredible, powerful, beautiful painting by Courbet – painted in the 1800’s – a woman as earth, full frontal view of her vagina. It was stunning in its directness and boldness; artful in its composition. A masterpiece and so unlike anything I would have expected. I thought I should be offended, but I was not. In fact, I wish I had painted it myself.
I saw paintings I have seen in books many times over and the color was so different, the space so deeper, the images so cleaner. Afterwards I did not want to purchase the take-home reproductions; they seemed like such a disappointment compared to the real paintings, the colors off, the values distorted. And the volume of work these artists produced! Madmen, every one of them; they must have painted every single day.
You must have been in Paris for months to take all this in! No wonder you were exhausted! Of course, when I go to Paris for a few days every year in January, for work, I am able to pick out just one museum to visit each trip. That means I am able to savor just a few things before I have to leave. But I am in awe of your characteristic determination and your love of art that compelled you to visit these many places and, even in your weariness, to truly observe what you saw. I hope you can savor your memories and enjoy them more deeply in retrospect.