As you know from my earlier post we were not going to do the obvious Paris sights. We scarcely saw the Eiffel Tower except from somewhere else more interesting such Montmartre. We walked around outside the Louvre but never once considered entering it. We did visit the Pompidou Centre, as you will know from my earlier post and there will be a little something on the Arc de Triomphe. The Musée d’Orsay, however, we decided should be our one other major gallery visit and it did not disappoint. Before reaching it though we walked some of the streets of St-Germain des Pres and discovered the variety of historic old shops and contemporary fashion and interior design boutiques.
From Odeon metro stop we were to start our walk at Cire Trudon which has sold candles here since 1643 and is the world’s oldest candle maker. It supplied both Versailles and Napoleon. To get there we first passed down the lovely little Cour du Commerce St-André housing the worlds oldest café, Le Procope. Before we could find the candle shop, though, Kate spotted a lovely little shop selling nothing but hair grips, if you can believe it, and was able to buy a very pretty little silver one for just €12.
Au Plat d’Etain was our next stop, selling tin soldiers and other toy figures since 1775, and finally Maison de Poupée selling doll’s houses and antique dolls. Making our way between these originals we wandered past various more contemporary Emporia such as the children’s clothes store that was being readied for opening with an artist creating a mural over one entire wall and a snow leopard in the window, a lovely flower shop and a classic Parisian hat shop.
Not all old buildings and churches are beautiful. As we wandered St-Germain des Pres we came upon a very large square with a monumental fountain in the centre fronting a church about large enough to be a cathedral which turned out to be Eglise St-Sulpice, a Counter-Reformation monstrosity commenced in 1646. I think it no exaggeration to say that this would have to be one of the ugliest ecclesiastical buildings I have ever seen. Judge for yourselves.
Strolling on, past the Musée de Luxembourg, we briefly popped into the Jardins for a quick promenade by the orangery. No time to do any more on this occasion. Paris streets are seemingly continuous avenues of stereotypical five to six étage apartment buildings and this quarter was no exception but these particular ones caught my eye due to the conjunction of old and new.
After a shamelessly delicious chocolate éclair and coffee we continued on to our goal but not before encountering many more retail delights the first of which was Le Bon Marché. We are talking serious shopping here as I hope the accompanying gallery illustrates. This was just the food hall and then just some of it. For my Australian readers, it made the David Jones food hall in Market Street look like a mere suburban market in comparison. Europe may be in a long slow decline but these Parisian department stores are still at the pinnacle of retail. Check out the gallery to the right for this temple to consumption.
This area also had its fair share of high fashion stores. Kate was tempted into one by some beautiful coats which turned out to be made from baby alpaca. The one that particularly caught her eye was in a gorgeous burnt orange and a snip at €900. Needless to say we didn’t but it although the shop assistant was quite delightful offering to let Kate try it on, even though she knew Kate would not buy it, saying “oh yes, try it just for the pleasure” (in a French accent, of course). I like that attitude.
After a some very French omelettes with pommes frites for lunch in a properly authentic family-run eatery we finally made it to the d’Orsay. This is what our Lonely Planet guide had to say about the building:
“Built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, by 1939, the Gare d’Orsay’s platforms were too short for trains and in a few years all rail services ceased. In 1962 Orson Welles filmed Kafka’s The Trial in the then-abandoned building before the government set about transforming it into the country’s premier showcase for art from 1848 to 1914.”
Having been built as a major railway station it is a huge cavernous space. That space has, however, been very imaginatively transformed to house this gigantic collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Art Nouveau works. Walkways have been constructed down each side many of which are populated with sculpture while room after room leads off to arched galleries in which pictures are carefully grouped by period, style and country, sometimes. Additionally, there are many large glassed areas in the north facing side affording excellent views across the Seine to Montmartre. For the interior space see the gallery at right.
We hit the upper galleries first, where the major Impressionist collections are displayed. The arrangement of the pictures comes as a bit of a surprise at first as they are not displayed chronologically or by artists but by collection, that is to say, there are several major private collections that were donated to the State and which have been kept together. One effect of this is that I saw more pictures by Alfred Sisley than I have in all the rest of my life put together and so greatly increased my opinion of that artist. Uniquely, I think, there is also a room containing the “autour de la premier exposition impressionniste de 1874” (luckily you all read French fluently).
One of the highlights, especially for Kate who loves this style, there were several rooms devoted to Art Nouveau arranged by country or region of origin one of which was Scandinavia. This was a real eye-opener. It had, for me, a sense of British Arts and Crafts but the source inspiration was coming from the Nordic myths. I have posted a gallery just for examples of Art Nouveau and one for the various other works that I was particularly taken by.
Despite having spent all morning walking we were drawn on inexorably through level after level, room after room as if in some great Aladdin’s cave where each room tempts one on and on, deeper and deeper. By the time we called it a day, we were totally exhausted but found the energy to cross the Seine before catching a blessed metro back to our little Georgette refuge.