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Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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Category Archives: At the Museum
Two and a half hours is no where near a sufficient amount of time to see enough of the Met, but it turned out to be the perfect amount of time to see the Late 19th & Early 20th Century European Painting Wing, with just enough time left over for a panicked phone call with my credit card company, and a harried cycle around the gift shop (I say this frequently but it bears repeating, as it was one of the best things my dad ever said: Every good cultural experience must end in a retail experience.”). I’m like a moth to a flame when it comes to Impressionist paintings, or rather a heat-seeking missile. Get out of my way, arms and armory. Move it, musical instruments. Modern art? Girl bye. I need to visit my old lovers: Claude, Pierre-Auguste, and Vincent. The Met did not disappoint. The last time I visited was over four years ago, and there were so many treasures to discover this time that I practically floated around the galleries, like something out of a dream. When I saw this Monet, I actually burst into tears. I circled the rooms over and over, finding new things to delight over, or swoon over, every time, stopping every so often to scribble something down in my notebook: the dark, beady eyes Manet seemed to favor painting, or how nothing stays still in a van Gogh.
I could’ve spent days there.
How’s this for a humblebrag: I was across the room and noticed a pair of still lifes on an opposite wall, lush flowers in low bowls, dark, near muddy backgrounds, and thought, “Those look like Fantin-Latour.” I walked over to get a closer looks, and they were. My dad would have been so proud of me.
This might be a slightly controversial suggestion, but you shouldn’t pay the recommended $25 admission rate. Now, I consider myself an enthusiastic museum supporter and patron; museums are my happy place. I have a membership to both the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Louvre (the latter, it’s worth pointing out, has an annual membership fee of around $15 more than the Met suggests you pay for one visit). The $25 admission fee is a wildly inflated, noncompulsory rate that was actually the subject of a lawsuit back in 2013. An 1893 New York State Law mandates that “the public should be admitted [to the museum] for free at least five days and two evenings per week.” The Met is a non-profit organization, receives free rent from the city, pays no income tax, and has a $2.58 billion (with a ‘B’) investment portfolio. Admission fees only cover 11% of the museum’s operating budget. And still, armed with all of this knowledge yet still happy to pay $10 for my visit, the person working the ticket window threw the most severe shade at me for not ponying up the full, recommended $25. The judge in the 2013 lawsuit ruled that visitors could pay “at least a penny” for entry, snarky sir.
I’m a member of two of the greatest museums in the world, on two different continents. The Louvre was just a little far last week (sadly), so when faced with only a three-hour workday on Friday, I knew there was only one place I wanted to spend my afternoon. I’ve sung and will always sing the praises of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but in case you need a refresher: I love this museum. I grew up coming here almost every Sunday with my dad, and Jamal and I even had our engagement photos taken here. Museums are my happy place. They are quiet, grand, filled with all my favorite artists, and you’re encouraged to linger, to sit, to stare, to think, to soak it all in. I went to the Louvre once a week in Paris, and I can’t tell you how good that was for my soul. I was overdue for a visit to my hometown favorite.
While I knew I would inevitably end up in my favorite wing (European Art, 1850-1900) to see my boyfriends Claude, Vincent, Edgar, Pierre-Auguste, I was happy to catch the Paul Strand exhibit the museum currently has on. Nearly all of the 250 prints on view came from the museum’s archive of close to 4,000. It was an exhaustive look at Strand’s body of work, with images from Ghana, Egypt, France, Italy, coastal Maine, and of course, New York. I ran into my friend Katie, who works at the museum (lucky duck!), while I was meandering through the gallery. It was a sweet surprise to see her.
Also a delight was seeing Diana back in her spot at the top of the Great Hall stairs. The giant sculpture had been removed to be reguilded last year ago and was only recently returned, sparkling with new bright gold leaf. And once inside my favorite wing, I discovered a previously unknown-to-me van Gogh still life, of dark daisies. Would you have ever guessed that was a van Gogh? He painted it in 1885, only five years before his death. It’s moody and a little muddy for a painting of flowers, and more precise and small than his other works, which is an interesting contrast to the oversized, colorful sunflowers usually associated with him. Still, you can spot his trademark wide slabs of paint in the green shadows along the table. I love it.
I’m telling you, the best investment I made during my time in Paris was a membership to the Louvre. I made sure to visit the Musée Rodin frequently, as well, but the Louvre is unlike any other museum in the world, and I had free access to it whenever I wanted. I might even feel a bit smug about how familiar I became with the mammoth layout and the art; most people visiting Paris spend only a few hours here at most, running to the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo and Winged Victory, now that she’s back in her rightful spot. I don’t begrudge a quick visit –it’s still a visit, and it warms my heart that people are going to museums at all– but it’s a shame that more tourists don’t have excessive amounts of time to devote to wandering the museum without a schedule. There are some real gems to be found in wings hardly anyone visits, and even the architecture of the building itself is worth exploring and appreciating. At sunset, the light bounces off the domed marble rooms in magnificent, blinding ways. Being able to watch (lurk) on someone sketching in an empty stairwell was, simply, magical.
My membership card has an expiration date of May 6, 2015, which means I have nine months to get back to Paris and use it. Don’t worry, I have some tricks up my sleeve. Unrelated question: do I know anyone with a private jet? Asking for a friend.
The Musée Rodin might be my favorite museum in Paris. That’s a big statement, I know, and I’m probably not prepared to defend that assertion even against myself, with all of the other incredible museums to pick from. But for sentimental reasons —we got engaged at the Rodin last year, it was one of my dad’s favorites, we have the sister museum in Philadelphia, etc.– and taking into consideration the incredible sculpture garden and the fact that Rodin actually lived there, it’s a pretty solid contender. Admission for just the gardens is €2, and there are countless sculptures dotting the wide lawn and leafy, shaded sides, as well as a café and multiple benches and deck chairs for lounging. I went several times after breakfast around the corner just to see the gardens, and to relax and read in the back, past the arched hedges and tucked away from the rest of the world (it felt). On my last visit, there was a couple napping on two wooden chaise lounges, holding hands; a woman doing yoga in a sunny patch of grass; two little kids playing in a sandbox; all within feet of bronze studies for “The Burghers of Calais.” It feels magical, especially because you can see the Eiffel Tower from “The Three Shades.”
Of course, for €9 you can visit the temporary exhibition as well as the rest of the house and the art inside, and the gardens are included. I was pleasently surprised by the Mapplethorpe exhibit currently on view; it was one of the most well curated and cohesive exhibits I’ve seen. The juxtaposition of Mapplethorpe’s black and white photography, all of nude male and female figures, with the white marble and dark bronze of Rodin’s sculptures dotted throughout the exhibit was so, so striking and incredibly successful. In parts it left me speechless, it was that powerful, and I am still kicking myself for not buying the exhibition guidebook. Because, as my father always said, “Every good cultural experience must end in a retail experience.”
If you’re in Paris before September 21st, I cannot recommend it enough. Anytime you’re in the city though, this is one museum I would urge you to see. It’s never nearly as crowded as the Louve or the Musée d’Orsay, and its size makes it a manageable afternoon visit.
Musée Rodin, 79 Rue de Varenne, 75007 / metro M13 Varenne / Closed Mondays
My favorite thing to do on a Friday night here is the same thing I like to do at home: go to the museum. Most people go out, go drinking, don a cute outfit. Me? I grab my Louvre membership and walk over at around 7:30. On Wednesdays and Fridays the museum stays open until close to 10pm. Aside from the neat feeling that I am being sneaky being allowed in there so late, the crowds are virtually non-existent, and it’s amazing. I headed (of course) to the Richelieu wing on this particular trip, and stumbled upon a room of Rubens, 24 giant canvases in an enormous, domed room, with! with! people from an art class (unconfirmed if this was an École du Louvre class or not) sitting all around and sketching. It was enchanting to watch them work.
And that giant hall of statues with multiple levels and trees inside and the pitched roof? There is another one mirroring it directly across from it. The scale of this place is overwhelming.
JAMAL arrives this Friday afternoon (!!!), and our activity for that evening includes…going to the Louvre, where I get to bring a free guest after 6pm. I’ve mentioned already that this membership was an economical purchase as well as a necessary one, and it is: it’s paid for itself twice over already.
I bought a Louvre membership my first week here, knowing it would pay for itself after three visits. The €35 I spent was the best investment I could have made: amazing trove of art aside, I get to skip the outrageously long line that snakes throughout the main courtyard by the pyramid in favor of a separately sectioned-off line, without a metal detector, and with a separate door. Passing through each ticket check-point is as simple as flashing them my membership card (I’d show you, but the picture they printed on it is totally dopey; she never told me when she took my photo, so I sat there smiling for a good two minutes. The results are less than spectacular). The dirty looks this garnered me from exhausted tourists stuck in yet another queue were worth the price alone; I’m important! I’m efficient! Out of my way, frustratingly ever-present Asian tour groups!
Unlike a lot of other things in Paris, the Louvre is one destination I would recommend not visiting first thing in the morning. Wait until the afternoon, and you’ll have a much more enjoyable time. On my first visit, I skipped the Denon wing where the Mona Lisa is housed and the insane crowds that go along with it. Instead, I headed to the Sully wing (Peintures Françaises, XVII-XIXeme siecles) in the other direction, where I had full galleries to myself. On my second trip, I caved and went to see La Joconde in all her tiny glory. I also saw a tourist take a photo of a direction sign for the Mona Lisa, as well as another tourist take a photo of a Mona Lisa poster in the gift shop. (Nothing, however, beats the time I saw someone on the Champs-Élysées taking a photo of a McDonald’s sign. Tourists! We are the worst!)
The sheer size of the museum is impossible to explain; I could go every single day I’m here and still not see everything. For now, I’ll settle for going once a week.
The upside to working long, long (long) days last week is that by the time Friday rolled around, I only had to put in two hours worth of work, which I gloriously accomplished from my sofa in my un-fanciest sweatpants. By mid-morning, I was a free lady, ready to jumpstart my weekend the best way I know how: $3 French onion soup at my favorite diner, and then an afternoon at the museum (that’s its own category now!).
Some people have rituals they adhere to out of respect to the experience, like saying grace before tucking into their meal or wearing the same socks whenever your home team plays. For me, it’s like a gravitational pull the moment I walk in to the museum: I have to go visit the Impressionists first. Sometimes I never make it out of that wing, but on Friday I did end up in one of the upstairs galleries, a Parisian salon from 13, rue Royale, dated 1785. There was a small radio looping a Charles Baudelaire poem, in French and then in English, and I must’ve stayed there for half an hour, just listening. “N’es-tu pas l’oasis où je rêve.”/”You are the last oasis where I dream, afire.” It was skin-tingly.
But something else magical happened, too. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve visited the museum (thousands??) but I’d never seen art students painting in the galleries before Friday. It was my very own École du Louvre moment. And I’m sure I broke their concentration with all my clicking away at the shutter and lurking quietly behind them, but it was just too spellbinding watching them work.
This Pissarro orchard painting (or a version of it) plays a pretty important role in my novel. The writing, for those of you who have asked recently, is coming along really well. I’ve been meaning to give you a more substantial update (and maybe even another snippet?), and I will, I promise. What a tease.
My mom’s birthday was Saturday, and on Sunday morning we met at (where else?) the art museum to have a fancy, champagne filled brunch (there were macarons! and eggs benedict! and a cheese board! and plenty of gossip!) and then wander our favorite galleries (European art, 1850-1900). In her words, in order of artist importance, “There’s Renoir, then Monet, and then blahbideeblahbideeblah.” I got her to relent a bit (Cassatt and Degas and Cezanne and Van Gogh!) when pressed, but she wasn’t budging on anything post-1920 which explains a lot about me. We happened to wander into the contemporary American art wing only to scramble for an exit like we’d been lit on fire upon discovering Duchamp’s toilet statue (I don’t even know, you guys), escaping back to the safety of the Impressionists.
Art, top to bottom: ‘Garden of Armida’ Wallpaper, Édouard Muller; ‘Under the Pines, Evening’, Claude Monet (and close-up); ‘The Large Washerwoman,’ Pierre-Auguste Renoir; ‘Pythian Sibyl’ , Marcello; ‘The Moorish Chief’, Eduard Charlemont; ‘Still Life with Flowers and Fruit’, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (close-up).
I’m 90% done Christmas shopping. I know, I know, that’s insane, what’s wrong with me, aren’t you Jewish, etc etc. I got a really early head start on it this year (October) and stuck to detailed lists. We decided to give our parents a framed picture each from our engagement shoot as part of their Christmas presents, and in ordering prints I also ordered a few extras for us just to have. I ordered a 4×6 of the top photo, of us looking at my favorite Monet at the museum, for my desk, and a 5×7 of the second photo to hang in our room in the picture frame Jamal bought me in Paris for Valentine’s Day. We also used that photo for our save the date magnets, which my incredible friend and even more incredible designer Herbie made for us.
I know I’ve said this a million times already, but I love our engagement photos. Especially the ones in the museum. Inna, our photographer, captured us so perfectly that afternoon, and it still gives me goosebumps whenever I look at the photos. Not because I’m narcissistic, but because we’re surrounded by so much beautiful art. I love this museum (I’ve even done some Christmas shopping at the gift shop!), and it’s amazing that we get to go whenever we want. When we’re celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary, that Monet will still be there, and we can go and sit on that bench again.
I went to the museum on Monday, taking advantage of the extra day off and hoping to soak up some inspiration for my book. The museum is usually closed on Mondays, and I was surprised to see employees moving paintings around on large carts as if there weren’t visitors wandering around. Truth: I chased them through a few galleries until they stopped by an elevator so I could get a shot (and that one handler is less than amused). It was like seeing a magic trick from backstage; the mystery is overwhelming. They just move them around like that?
How fantastic is that Monet painting up close? I’d never dream of touching a painting (I think my artist-father would have been more understanding if I knifed someone than touched a canvas) but the textures are sublime. And that Picasso chrysthanthemums painting is still on my mind.