Paris Visit: “Spectaculaire Second Empire” at the Musee D’Orsay

The Musee D’Orsay is probably one of the best museums on earth for it’s collection of 19th century French painting alone. Ingres rubs shoulder with Monet, who collides with Cezanne having a friendly parlance with Van Gogh, who is admiring a giant work by Gustave Courbet. Anyway.

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Cor blimey.

Everybody knows about the amazing permanent collection at the D’Orsay but what I really like is the top notch temporary exhibitions they show. The breadth of the collection allows them to stage massively in depth studies of classic French art, and the exhibition style is very inclusive, featuring pieces of design and photography alongside the paintings.

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This blog post is becoming it’s own blockbuster exhibition. Or blogbuster? Ha ha HA?!

Last time I saw possibly my favourite exhibition ever on prostitution in art, from which I left completely convinced modern art was basically the product of prostitution. Anyway.

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My love for the Musee D’Orsay is ever in the month of May.

This year the big blockbuster is on the French Second Empire, which in some ways is a slightly ignored period. The curators showed off the massive excesses of Louis Napoleon’s France, where 19th century art reached a peak of mannerism via architecture like the famously gaudy L’Opera and the horribly over-academic art of painters like William Bouguereau.

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Cabanel’s Birth of Venus. When seeing this in person I was really struck by just how close to very poor pornography this sort of picture really is. Berger was more or less correct in this regard.

This was all done in a really captivating way, including a room recreating the Salon of 1863 complete with Manet’s Dejeuner sur L’Herbe, and a room recreating some of the massive industrial exhibitions that took place. There were some great obscure pieces, including a room devoted to a hilariously tasteless revival of Greek theatre that took place among the French aristocracy.

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“You looking at me? Eh? EH?”

Not all of the riches were tainted; Ingres’ famous portrait of Madame Moitessier still dazzles, but what was really interesting about the exhibition was that it showed what it was that artists like Manet were rebelling against, namely a horrendously excessive and stuffy imperial society that was limping into a modern world where empires no longer existed. The seeds of revolt were shown in works like Courbet’s portrait of the anarchist theorist PJ Proudhon and some early impressionist pieces. Overall then, another definite success.

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