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Impressions of Marmottan

photo: illuminations, musee marmottan

The display of illuminations at the Musée Marmottan.

Paris Life – No 35

by Laurel Avery

Paris:– Sunday, 18. January 2004:– Taking advantage of the first sunny day in a couple of weeks, I took myself off to the Marmottan Museum in the prestigious 16th arrondissement.

The museum borders on the Jardins du Ranelagh and on this bright but cold Sunday the park was filled with parents and children soaking up what rays they could before the inevitable rain returned. There were even a half–dozen donkeys on hand to give rides to the little tykes.

I arrived at the museum in the early afternoon, which turned out to be a good idea – by the time I left, the line to get into the museum stretched far down the block.

The building was originally constructed as a hunting lodge for the Duc de Valmy, and was purchased in 1882 by Julesphoto: monet section, marmottan Marmottan. His son Paul was an aficionado of First Empire decorative arts and paintings. He turned his home into a veritable museum dedicated to the style. At his death in 1932 he left nearly everything to the Académie des Beaux–Arts, and the Musée Marmottan was founded in 1934.

The Monet exhibition in the museum.

The museum features a peculiar combination of three disparate styles. The Monet collection it is most famous for is combined with Empire furniture and paintings, along with a substantial number of manuscript illuminations from the 13th to the 16th centuries. But as one progresses through the house – and it does still feel substantially like someone's home, albeit a Duke's home – everything fits together nicely.

Daniel Wildenstein donated his father's collection of over 200 illuminations in 1981, which includes works from the Italian, French, English and Flemish schools from the 13th to the 16th centuries. With 321 pieces altogether, this is one of the best collections available for public view in Paris.

Of course, the Bibliothèque Nationale has a treasure trove's worth of illuminations, but trying to get accessphoto: floor, marmottan to see them is like asking to borrow the crown jewels. If you don't have the proper credentials and dozens of letters of recommendation – but are just some artist or fan of illuminated manuscripts – forget it buddy.

Some of the floor in the museum.

In 1957 the Marmottan was given a collection of Impressionist paintings by the daughter of Dr. Georges de Bellio, who had been the physician of Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Sisley and Renoir. Though I have no proof of this, knowing what it's like to be a not–so–affluent artist in need of medical services, it would not surprise me if Dr. Bellio's collection sprung from payment for services rendered. However you look at it, Dr. Bellio had quite a clientele!

After Monet's son Michel's gift of the collection he inherited from his father, the Marmottan could boast the largest collection of works by Monet in the world.

I have never been a real fan of Impressionism – and neither was the art world when the term 'Impressionism' was first coined – but it was impressive to see all these Monets in the same room – paintings I had seen in art class and as posters throughout the years, right there, inches from my face.

photo: exterior, marmottanBeing near–sighted, I got up close to the paintings. From such a near perspective they looked like an incoherent jumble of colors – more Pollock than Monet. But step back a number of feet and the whole canvas comes together. This was in complete contrast to the collection of illuminations upstairs – where the closer you get, the more you see.

An exterior view of the Musée Marmottan.

Monet's poor eyesight may have had much to do with his style, as he suffered from both astigmatism and cataracts. When fitted for a pair of glasses to help with the astigmatism he flung them away, stating "If the world really looks like that I will paint no more!" And during the time he was painting his famed water lilies he wrote in a letter to a friend "... my poor eyesight makes me see everything in a complete fog."

Whether due to poor eyesight or creative genius, he helped to hurl the art world, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century.

Musée Marmottan – Monet – From 10:00 to 18:00 except on Mondays. At the Musée Marmottan – Monet, 2. Rue Louis–Boilly, Paris 16. Métro: La Muette. InfoTel.: 01 44 96 50 33.

Text & photos, Laurel Avery © 2004

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