If I had to pinpoint a time period when Claude Monet became my favorite artist, I’d probably tag the summer I lived in Washington, D.C. That summer, I spent 40 hours a week at a useless internship. But when I wasn’t filling clip books and trying to entertain myself in my lonely cubicle, my feet chewed up pavement in this capital city.
Every free day I chose a new museum or exhibit to explore. And because so many museums in D.C. are free, my puny college bank account could afford to indulge.
I didn’t know much about art — I still don’t — but I visited many art museums that summer anyway. And somewhere along the way, I discovered Monet.
Since then, whenever Cory and I have ducked into an art museum, I have my eye out for the occasional Monet that pops up in collections.
Our recent trip to Paris, France, was a short one — only a few days on a layover back home to Ukraine from Morocco. We knew we didn’t have time to visit the famous Louvre. We knew we’d need to devote several days to that art museum. And we definitely didn’t want to spend any additional time standing in line for tickets.
We decided, instead, to visit Musée d’Orsay, which I read had a few pieces by Monet. But when we showed up mid-day, the museum’s line was a nightmare — a long snaking line of people we’d have to stand in for two hours.
Nope. Not going to happen.
So, where else can you find Monet in Paris? I’m actually a wretched travel planner, so it wasn’t until I did some research the night we decided not to go to the Orsay that we discovered Musée de l’Orangerie. If I wanted Monet, this was the place we needed to be.
We arrived early the next early to stake out a spot toward the front of the line. Once inside, we struck the Monet gold mine.
The Orangerie is home to eight panels of Monet’s Nymphéas (Water Lilies). Displayed in two large, egg-shaped rooms built specifically for this display, the panels completely cover the walls.
There is no horizon line or shore — just massive seas of color lost between sky and earth. Every panel is a pool of swimming hues, hazy imagery, and reflections of Monet’s gardens at Giverny.
I sat entranced, my eyes lost in the panels. For long minutes at a time, my gaze wandered around the rooms. It settled on a water lily here or a splash of purple there.
The Musée de l’Orangerie has an excellent virtual reality exhibit about Monet’s experiences painting the Water Lilies. We watched the VR film before seeing the paintings, and it helped provide additional context for the art. One of the things we learned is Monet didn’t paint what he saw specifically. He painted the colors in the places he observed them; together, these colors created his complete works of art.
In general, I’m noticing an increasing number of people who fly through museums, snapping photos of placards, pieces of art, and exhibit items without actually taking time to appreciate them. For me, simply sitting in the presence of these incredible pieces that took Monet several years to create was an awe-inspiring experience in and of itself.
I will return to the Musée de l’Orangerie again some day, just to have embody that feeling once again.
While the Water Lilies and the virtual reality experience that accompanied it are worth the admission to the Musée de l’Orangerie ten times over, it’s worth mentioning the museum’s other exhibits are also fantastic. The museum houses an eclectic but noteworthy exhibit by two collectors that include works by Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, and others.
Certainly Paris’ other art museums are worth visiting — and I hope to give them the time and attention they deserve some day. But for those crunched for time yet still interested in a taste of the city’s artistic culture, I highly recommend visiting the Musée de l’Orangerie.