21st century meets the 19th

Room number 1 in the Musée d’Orsay, the first room on the right on the ground floor, is called Ingres et l’Ingrisme. As soon as you enter you are confronted with one of his most famous paintings, La Source (The Spring).

I learned from the museum’s website that Ingres started this picture in 1820, but then put it aside and didn’t finish it until 1856. Even then, he got two of his students to fill in the background, which seems to have been common practice in those days.

This painting was shown at several exhibitions in the 1850s and 60s, and was widely discussed as a synthesis of the real and the ideal. Is the nude figure a statue or a real person, or both?

In 1857 the painting was bought by a Count called Charles-Marie Tanneguy Duchâtel for 25,000 francs (which apparently was a lot of money in those days). In his home the painting was “surrounded by large plants and aquatic flowers so that the nymph of the spring looked even more like a real person.”

If Ingres were alive today, I think he would paint pictures of girls taking photos with their digital cameras. (Or riding bicycles or talking on their cell phones.)

Claude Monet, Le bassin d’Argenteuil

On the top floor of the Musée d’Orsay is the impressionist collection, with astounding numbers of famous and familiar paintings. In room 32 alone there are forty-two paintings by Renoir, Monet, Pissarro and Sisley. The one in the photo is Le bassin d’Argenteuil by Claude Monet (1840-1926), Argenteuil being a suburb northeast of Paris.

Claude Monet, La gare Saint-Lazare

This is another famous painting in the same room, also by Monet. It one of the eleven pictures that he painted of La gare Saint-Lazare, one of the six big terminus railroad stations in Paris.

Musée d’Orsay from the Seine Tower

The Musée d’Orsay also used to be a railroad station, as you can see from this photo that I took in 2008 from the top of the Tour Seine, one of the observation towers at the back end of the museum.

This internal Tour Seine should not to be confused with the 98-meter Tour de Seine, a high-rise residential building at 39 Quai de Grenelle, which is also on the Seine River in Paris but four kilometers downstream from the museum.

Five years later, in 2013, I had the privilege of touring the Orsay Museum with the Belgian art connoisseur Eddy Dijssel, whom I had met through the now-defunct website VirtualTourist.  First we had a great meal together in the ornate restaurant on the second floor of the museum, and then he showed me some of his favorite paintings in nearly all the museum’s departments.

Unfortunately, we were there during a five-or-six-year phase when the Orsay Museum did not allow photography, so I can’t show you any of the paintings he showed me. This phase lasted from about 2010 until 2015, when the French government imposed a uniform policy on all museums. Now non-commercial photography is again allowed, as long as you don’t use a flash, a tripod or a selfie-stick.

Location and aerial view of the Musée d’Orsay on monumentum.fr.

My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2021.

See also: The Richelieu Wing of the Louvre in Paris.

9 thoughts on “21st century meets the 19th”

  1. The gorgeous ornate dining room has been modernized. It’s not particularly inspiring any more. I loved the old one. It reminded you of another world.

    We visited a special Van Gogh exhibit there during the no-photo years. When I did my blog about it, I had to use photos I’d taken in previous years. We were delighted the next time we went and we could again take pictures.

  2. We were allowed to take pictures in the museums of Paris in 2018. But after I bought guide books from gift shops at Louvre and Orsay, I felt it is not necessary to take too many photos by myself 😉. I also really like the audio guide from the museums, it helped me to understand the backgrounds and details of the paintings.

  3. I’m certainly glad we were allowed to take photos there!!! Two of my granddaughters seem to be great fans of Van Gogh so that’s mostly what we looked for. My art course in college introduced me to Manet, Monet, Pissaro, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin, and Picasso, but they were only interested in looking at the Van Goghs.

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