09 July, 2008

"I have a terrible need of - dare I say the word? -religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars..." -Vincent van Gogh, 1888

I got to see some of my favorite paintings at the Musée d’Orsay. While they invoked a great sense of awe and admiration in me, they also made me joyful and excited because of the magical sense of connectedness I felt when I looked at them. Van Gogh’s meticulous brushstrokes, or Cezzane’s almost whimsical watercolor washes, seemed many times more impressive than what I had seen on slides and in textbooks, but they also seemed much more accessible and human. Seeing them gave me courage and real inspiration for my own artwork.

Note: Photographs from the day are on Flickr and can be viewed by clicking here.

The collection at the Orsay is brilliant, superb, magnificent, opulent... exquisite. I had not expected to find works by Art Nouveau architects Gustav Klimt, Victor Horta and Hector Guimard – people I had studied and written about just last semester at Princeton. There was also work inspired by Viollet-le-Duc.

While it was great to see familiar paintings in real life – and indeed the crowds were all gathered around the famous impressionist paintings on the top floor – what really excited me much more were the watercolors. After all, a lot of the art I am working on is going to be in watercolors and so these pieces – framed behind glass and therefore impossible to portray well in photography – were a real and practical source of inspiration. I loved the rough pencil marks, the free-flowing color, the sense of spontaneity and movement... oh, and the pastels (in particular, Degas!) of course were also superb.

I spent over four hours at the museum. I took a break half-way through and sat and watched a documentary in a small theater about the mystery in Manet’s life and works. It was in French but, surprisingly, I understood quite a lot.

After the museum, I went and walked on the Seine and then went to the Tulliere Park, where I sat in a comfortable chair facing a large, circular fountain and read my book.

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