The Fine Arts Musée d’ Orsay in Paris has been involved with paintings from the “Impressionism” movement since its opening in l986, so it is not surprising that the first of two exhibits on loan from the d’ Orsay being presented at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco during the Musée’s partial renovation, is “Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’ Orsay” and “Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’ Orsay” which will open on September 25th and will exhibit paintings from Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, Toulouse-Lautrec and Rousseau.
“Birth of Impressionism,” now in progress at the de Young Museum until September 6 of 2010, may be described as the cultural event of this decade. It exhibits one hundred paintings through which we can see the actual works of the great French masters, analyze their schools’ different styles, observe their individual approaches to painting and learn, from their images painted on canvas, the tumultuous history of France during those years.
“Birth of Impressionism” the exhibition, guides the visitor through the Paris Salon where the artists of those years got together to paint. These young painters had different personalities, so they developed very different styles.
The Birth Of Venus , painted by Adolphe-William Bouguereau in l879, demonstrates the various techniques of the “Academic Paintings”: 1) Classical subject matter. (Venus is a Pagan Roman Goddess) 2) A nude woman. 3) Representation of the human figures with realism. 4) completely controlled brush work.
In The Bath (l867) Alfred Stevens represents the bourgeois Parisian woman. We see her luxurious bathtub and the luxurious interior of her house. The opened book next to her, may have been painted to indicate that she is an intellectual, a woman who reads books. Yet Stevens manages to capture her sensuality by placing two roses in her hand and her half-closed eyes may indicate that she was painted during an intimate moment when she was sumerged in water lost in thought.
The Dancing Lesson was painted by Edgar Degas in l873. Because the artist considered himself a “Realist” he painted all his subjects realistically. His favorite subjects were people in scenes that represented the contemporary life of Paris. He liked to paint young girls and women belonging to the entertainment world: the ballet, the cabarets, and the brothels. Degas devoted most of his later career to the portrayal of ballerinas at the opera. In The Dancing Lesson he managed to capture a very accurate portrait of Jules Perrot, the ballet instructor, as well as the spontaneous gestures of the different girls..
At the de Young, the pictures occupy a corridor and eleven rooms. Didactic Panels on the walls, provide a historical background of the times. In “The Terrrible Year: War and Civil War, l870-l871”, for instance, the poster informs the public that in July l870 powerful nationalist forces in Europe and the internal politics of France had pushed Napoleon III into a war with Prussia. That the war was disastrous for the French, and that on September the Germans laid siege to Paris. The city endured bombardment, famine and disease.
In his “The Siege of Paris l870-7l" an oil on canvas painted with almost photographic accuracy, Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier envisions the Franco-Prussian war. His painting represent a battlefield under a dark smoky sky where a Prussian eagle, personifying famine, hovers overhead the soldiers like a vulture. One can see soldiers fighting, in the background, and in the foreground wounded soldiers scattered all over. At the center of a picture, stands a large woman next to an shredded French flag.
Another interesting galleria is French Painters and Spanish Style which displays the pictures of the French painters who revived the l7th –century Spanish styles: Figural idealization, Clarity of form, Color, and a Fuller Technical and Emotional Expression. An example of this period is "The Martyr Saint Sebastian" painted by Theodule Ribot. The painting is Spanish, in subject and style..
For the lovers of the Avant-Garde, “Birth of Impressionism” have pictures of Edouard Manet who scandalized the XlX Century Paris with his aggressive innovations.
The History of The Musée d’ Orsay (Taken from Alison Anderson’s French translation)
Located on a stretch of the River Seine bank, the Parisian museum was named after Charles Boucher, signeur d’ Orsay, Councillor of the Parliament and Provost of the Paris merchants. In l704, King Louis XIV asked Boucher to build a stone work quay next to a tree garden belonging to Marguerite de Valois, Queen of Navare, the former wife of Henri IV, with the purpose to improve the king’s view of the site.
By the XVIII century, with the construction of prestigious hotels and the stables for the Royal Coaches located in the Hotel d’ Egmont, the site acquired an aristocratic character, but during the French Revolution, the coach houses got transformed into military barracks.
In l810, Napoleon decided to build the Palais du Quai d’Orsay for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where the barracks were. The Neo-Cassic building was built by Jacques Lacornee after the death of his teacher Jacques Charles Bonnard. The building was destroyed by fire in l871.
In anticipation of the Exposition Universelle (The fifth world’s fair in Paris) a train station, The Gare d’ Orsay was built for passengers’ traffic. The following year the train company bought the ruins of the Palais d’Orsay and the adjoining barracks. To keep the style of the surrounding buildings, the architects, Victor Laloux, Lucien Marque y Henry Jean Emile Benard (who in l899 would win the international competition for his architectural plans to Berkeley’s building of the University of California) worked on the design. Laloux design was chosen on April l898 and the new building was inaugurated on July 14, 1900.
The Gare d’ Orsay was busy for more than 40 years but little by little and after it lost its primary function its building was put to other uses. It was going to be torn down, but in l973 President Georges Pompidou made the official decision to convert the Gare d’ Orsay into a museum. The contract was awarded to a team of engineers: Pierre colhoc, Renaud Bardon and Jean Paul Philippon. The art collection to be housed in the museum extended from paintings from l848 to paintings of l914. President Francois Mitterrand inaugurated the Musee d’ Orsay on December 1, l986.