Saturday, March 25, 2006

Musée d'Orsay

Over dinner at Chez Maurice I made plans with two of my fellow students to visit the Musée d'Orsay if the weather was bad. Sure enough, by the time class was over at 1pm, the spring rains had arrived to wash away the winter rains. I met up with Liane (Germany) and Ify (a Scot of Nigerian heritage), outside the Musée at 3pm, joining a long line for a special exhibition on Cezanne & Pizzaro. The skies opened up again, and then all of a sudden there were opportunistic salesmen with umbrellas darting up and down the lines. I figured if they could manage without using one of them, then I could too. Like the lines for the Pompidou, this was for access to the building and a security check, and then another line for tickets.

Finally, ticket-in-hand, one strides directly into the magnificent chamber adapted from an old train-station, scultpures dotting the central corridor, with bands of galleries up either side for two levels. Additional galleries are on floors above and adjacent to this space.

The last time I walked into rooms with so much instantly 'R'ecognisable art was the Hermitage exhibition at the Metropolitan in New York in 1988. I didn't go to the Orsay with any expectations to see anything in particular, so walking into some of the rooms of Renoirs and Van Goghs was a bit of a shock - not to mention being able to walk right up to within a foot of them. There were pleasant little surprises everywhere, such as some of the pastels kept in low-light galleries, including a pre-geometric (fireman-red carpet) Mondrian. On the other hand, there was much of what I'd call "filler" - usually French artists of a particular school, not seeming to advance any genre, or even to represent it technically to an interesting level.

It's also worth noting that many of the commerical galleries in the area e.g. along the Rue St Honoré, have works by the same artists or even "better" works by other artists. Or you may find that if you like a particular work, then a store on the Rue de Rivoli will have a tie based on it.

After we'd arted ourselves out we were joined by Marta (Spain) and headed for Saint-Germain for coffee. Another classmate Satoko passed our table, and joined us for tourist-priced hot chocolates. I remember talking about my family-tree work, and Liane said "oh yes all you Australians are gangsters aren't you?". I was a bit slow on the uptake and thought she meant something about mixed ancestry, then realised she meant "convicts". I like "gangsters" better. I explained to Marta that my ancestors were actually all millionaires deported for tax evasion.

And I didn't forget to bring home some photos of artworks that Bondi might appreciate.

Scotlands People have just released the details of the 1851 Scottish census online, so I did some digging around to fill in details of my Wood/Henderson ancestors between the 1841 census and immigration to Australia. I managed to find a record that showed those living members of the family all in one house in Edinburgh, with more details of where they'd been born. Half the children were born in Edinburgh itself and others in Fifeshire, within an hour's drive (Monimail and Kilconquhar) in the general area of St. Andrew's. When I'm next in Edinburgh I can apparently check the parish birth registers for free.

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