Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Musee d'Orsay vs The Louvre

During my week-long sojourn in France I was able to visit both the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay. Of course I have heard all about the Louvre, so I considered it a definite must-see while in Paris. It was my roommate, Olga, who insisted on seeing the Musee d'Orsay. I hadn't heard much about it, but was willing to go along anyway.

So on our first morning in Paris I dragged Olga out of bed bright and early (7am), in order to make it to the Louvre before the hordes of other tourists got there. I had heard that it was only open for a few hours every day and that the lines could be daunting, so it was best to make it out early. In the end it didn't really matter: it turns out that there aren't that many people there on a snowy Thursday in January. Who knew? But I was glad that we got their early anyway, as there was so much to see. I hadn't realized that the Louvre was more than just "art" as I define it. I was imagining hall after hall of famous paintings, and not much else. In fact the paintings were just a small part of the art on display. The Louvre had an entire wing devoted to Greek and Roman sculptures, another one for Egyptian art and artifacts, rooms and rooms full of Iranian and Middle Eastern antiquities, and countless other priceless pieces. It had a sample of artwork from every major era and area around the globe, basically. The overall effect was stunning, and a bit intimidating. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it was mostly the Italian and French paintings that held my attention. Sculptures are all well and good, but after a few minutes my mind started wandering.

Olga and I spent all day exploring and getting thoroughly lost inside the halls of the Louvre. In fact, even when we wanted to leave to get some lunch, we couldn't manage to find our way out for at least a half an hour. It seemed like the "Sortie" (exit) signs were everywhere, completely contradicting each other. The worst part was that we could see the outside, but there were no unlocked doors to let us out. I started pounding on the windows in frustration, which effectively grabbed the attention of one of the guards and earned us a guided escort from the building. Free at last! I should probably avoid the Louvre for a while until they forget about that incident...

Anyway, the next day we hit up the Musee D'Orsay. I wasn't expecting much after seeing the Complete History of the World the day before, so you can imagine my surprise at seeing an entire room full of my fave artist of all time, Claude Monet. I felt like a kid granted an unexpected pass to the candy store with $20; it even felt like candy for the eyes as I looked around the room. But that wasn't all: Monet was followed by Van Gogh, Manet, Pissarro, and thousands of other classic artists.

The most shocking exhibit was without a doubt Gustave Corbet's "The Origin of the World" which depicts a detailed image of a woman's vagina. Despite being a woman myself, I have to say that I found it a bit egocentric to insinuate that the world came from female genitalia, but that's art for you. To each his own, I say.

All in all, while I was far more impressed with the Louvre, I thought that the Musee D'Orsay was much more to my taste. It was smaller and thus more personal, and for me it doesn't get any better than a room full of Monet's. Seeing both museums was an experience I'll never forget, though. It made me realize that art is like a gift. It gives you images of different situations and time periods that you could never otherwise see or really imagine. Then, rather than limiting the imagination, art inspires it to go to new heights by providing a springboard to start from. Yes, I definitely think that art has grown on me, despite the fact that I'll never be able to truly appreciate the type of art that Corbet produced.

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