Monday, 6 October 2008

Musee Marmottan, Paris

There are a lot of fabulous museums in Paris.  One could, theoretically, spend the better portion of a week-long vacation museum-hopping.  Theoretically.  :-)

Everyone knows to hit up the Louvre and d'Orsay by now, but it's worth highlighting a few museums off the beaten path too.

In early September, my husband and I hopped on the Eurostar to Paris to spend the weekend with his sister and brother-in-law as they were traveling in France.  They were all incredibly compliant as I dragged them out of central Paris to the Musee Marmottan.  This museum is relatively small, especially if you focus exclusively on their impressive collection of Monet paintings, so it's easily visited in a couple of hours.  It has the largest collection of Monet's paintings in the world, and is thus sometimes called the Monet-Marmottan museum.  It's worth a visit!

When is it open?:  Daily 11am-6pm, til 9pm on Tuesdays. This is great to remember as a lot of Paris museums, like d'Orsay, are closed on Mondays.
How do I get there?: Ligne 9 to MUETTE, or the RER to Boulainvilliers, and then a short walk through a quiet residential neighborhood
What's the damage?: 9 Euros (5.50 for students & concessions, free for children under 8).

Basically, if you haven't had enough Monet in your visit to Musee d'Orsay, this is a must see.  Also, this museum is a great compliment to a trip out to see Monet's house in Giverny.  In the basement of this small museum is a really impressive collection of Monet's art, from the early pieces to the late paintings where he was going blind.  They have a full series of waterlilies and of the Japanese bridge, which allows you to see the way he progressed and changed as time (or seasons, or hours of the day) passed.  

TOP 5 MUST SEE PAINTINGS:  This museum is so accessible that it's almost silly to highlight five paintings, because you truly can see everything in an afternoon.  However, aside from the waterlilies that made Monet famous, make sure to spend some time looking at the following pieces:
  • Impressionism, soleil levant.  As you walk into the basement, this painting will be on your left.  It's easy to miss as you get distracted by the waterlilies in the adjacent space, and the sign-posting in this museum isn't the best.  Don't walk past this painting.  It basically launched the entire Impressionist movement and gave it its name.  It was stolen in the 1980s but was returned a few years later, so we're lucky to still be able to see this piece!
  • There are a handful of Monet's sketches in a display case in the basement that are really entertaining caricatures.  It's always a treat to see art that didn't make people famous and to be amazed by how diverse their talent was. 
  • La Barque.  I love this painting because it reminds me how Impressionism started.  Mottled light.  Emphasis on shadow and color.  Compressed perspective and flattening of space.  It has that Japanese feel that many Impressionist artists were striving for (a lot like many of Mary Cassatt's paintings), and I love how the boat is placed in such a precarious place on the canvas.  It looks like it might topple off the page into your lap!
  • Cathedral de Rouen.  Okay, you'd probably look at this one even if I hadn't told you to, but it's a really nice one!
  • Gare St. Lazare.  This one is on the same wall as Impressionism, soleil levant.  I love the way Monet painted the steam coming off the trains.  This painting is a great example of Impressionist interest in industrialism and the way society was changing.  We often associate Impressionism with paintings of nature, and we sometimes forget the aspect of Impressionism that was a rebellion against the Academy and the traditional way of painting, which included depicting these unusual subject matters.  Also, my mom loves this painting, and everytime I see it, I think of her.
After you've picked your jaw up off the floor, walk back upstairs and have a quick stroll through the other "galleries" in the house.  On the top floor, they sometimes have special exhibits, but sometimes they display more of their permanent collections which are worth seeing if they are out (also mainly Impressionist art).  On the ground floor, look for the Berthe Morisot, Pisarro, and Renoir paintings.  Many of them are in the main hall, but some are off the main hall and worth finding.  I especially like the Caillebotte painting of the people strolling the streets with their umbrellas.  

Enjoy visiting this gem that is off the beaten path.  You probably won't have to fight the crowds here the way you might at Musee d'Orsay, so it's a treat to have a chance to get really close to these paintings (but don't sneeze on them!).  Also, if you are traveling with kids, there is a park right outside the museum with merry-go-rounds and space to run around--so you can bribe them with some time in the park after you go to the museum!

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