Paris 2014: Musée Marmottan
Just at the edge of Paris’ sixteenth arrondissement and the Bois de Boulogne sits the Musée Marmottan. Often overlooked by tourists, the Marmottan contains the largest collection of Impressionist painter Claude Monet‘s work in the world. Spectacular paintings, furniture and decor abound in this jewel box of a museum. It also houses an array of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works (including Edgar Degas,Paul Gauguin, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Signac, and Alfred Sisley), the Jules and Paul Marmottan collection of Napoleonic era art and furniture, the Wildenstein Collection of illuminated manuscripts, and Italian and Flemish primitive paintings.
Established in 1934 by France’s Académie des Beaux Arts, the Marmottan began life as private residence. It was originally built as a hunting lodge for maréchal C. E. Kellermann, the Duke of Valmy. In 1882, Jules Marmottan purchased the Empire-style residence to house his collection of Napoleonic era pieces.
Marmottan’s son, Paul, inhabited the residence and expanded it with his own collected works from the second Empire. Paul Marmottan dedicated his life to the study of the Second Empire and his own collected works expanded his father’s already generous collection of furnishings, objets-d’art and paintings. The museum’s main and second floors are decorated in the Empire style to highlight this collection. Marmottan willed the entire residence and its contents to the Académie des Beaux Arts upon his death.
Empire styles gave way to Impressionist paintings via a large donation in 1957. Victorine Donop de Monchy bequeathed her father’s collection of Impressionist works. He was Georges de Bellio, homeopath and physician to Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley and Renoir, as well as an early supporter of the Impressionist movement. It was likely this donation which led Michel Monet, son of Monet, bequeathed his own collection of his father’s work, as well as the artist’s property in Giverny, to the museum in 1966. Monet’s donation prompted the construction of a basement-level gallery space whose design was inspired by that of the Musée de l’Orangerie, home of Monet’s grand-scale
“Nymphéas” (“Waterlilies“) paintings.
Numerous works by Monet on permanent exhibit include :
“…the Trouville beach, Camille, and the movement’s eponymous painting Impression, Sunrise; the Argenteuil pieces: walks or railway bridges; the views of Paris: the Tuileries, the Saint-Lazare station; the travel memories: the London Parliament, the Charing Cross Bridge; the water lilies, Japanese bridges, and rose alleys that will lead to the Grandes Décorations…” ( – Marmottan website)
Claude Monet by Nadar
Singular in its renown is ” Impression, Soleil Levant “ ( ” Impression,
Sunrise “) 1873, likely of greatest interest to most visitors. This painting, by Monet, of sunrise, is credited with establishing the Impressionist movement as well as its name. “…a thing done in Le Havre, from my window, sun in the mist and a few masts of boats sticking up in th e foreground. … They asked me for a title for the catalogue, it couldn’t really be taken for a view of Le Havre, and I said: ‘ Put Impression. ‘ ” – Claude MONET
” Impression, Soleil Levant ” ( ” Impression, Sunrise ” ) 1873
Originally part of Dr. Georges de Bellio’s collection, “Impression” was stored at the Chateau de Chambord, in the Loire Valley, beginning in 1940 alongside some of the greatest artworks in the world, such as the Mona Lisa (click here for summary and photos of this undertaking). It was stolen from the Marmottan in 1985 and recovered in 1990, “Impression” has remained on permanent display since 1991. The Marmottan will mount an exhibit, ” Impression, Soleil Levant: Biography of a Masterpiece, “ in the Fall. The exhibit will trace the origins, influence and travels of this singular painting. It will also include a rare “night version;” Monet’s painting of the same – at night – via an American collection.
Musée Marmottan, lower-level gallery
Uniquely, two paintings were most compelling to me. I spent time observing each – via multiple points of view, listening to audio guide descriptions, and reading details listed in accordance with each. I had the sense that if I would continue to study them, I would become aware of some additional insight, be it visual or otherwise. Each possessed an enigmatic quality. I wished to stay much longer, and disliked having to leave them. One point in common, both paintings were examples of Monet‘s series paintings, for which he simultaneously and repeatedly painted numerous canvases of the same subject matter in order to capture the changing light of the day.
” Train in the Snow, the Locomotive “ 1875 oil on canvas, approx. 23″ x 30″
Various summaries of “Train in the Snow, the Locomotive“ describe it as such:
“Monet’s attraction to the convergence of nature and technology…”
” [possessing] the qualities of constant visual change
that drove artistic observations” (source)
“[Monet] became so fascinated with the railways that in January 1877 he installed himself in a one-bedroom apartment on the Rue Moncey in Paris just a few blocks away from the Gare St. Lazare so that he could study and sketch the activities from different angles at all times of the day as the light changed.”
“[Monet] captures the grey stillness of a snowy dusk…” (source)
“Unlike Impression, soleil levant this work clearly depicts an event and a location. The true stillness of the moment has been captured…short brush strokes give texture to the wooden fence posts and to the smoke from the train…the setting of a winter day … lack of any sun gives this painting a timeless setting. Monet unlike many of his contemporaries painted modernity… [Monet’s] contemporaries disliked the ideas of industrialization …does not look back at some pastoral scene as the best time … he states that now life among man’s new inventions is the best and most interesting period in which to live.” (source)I felt that cold air, the headlights’ bold glow, and the massive, bulky frame of the train. The lack of sun, the waiting…and the melancholy of this little-frequented stop.
” Branch of the Seine near Giverny, Morning Mists ” 1897 oil on canvas, approx. 35″ x 36″
Ethereal and mystical, ” Branch of the Seine near Giverny, Morning Mists ” presents the mood as blue and chilly, peaceful and alone. A heavy mist and haze blurs the line where horizon and water meet. One senses the early hour and cool air amid these soft-edged forms.
Nearly each day, Monet rose at 3:30 to record the light on the Seine near his home village. He painted in a flat-bottomed boat, custom-built with grooves that held numerous paintings. An assistant stood by and handed him canvases, all numbered, as he painted. Monet worked on as many as fourteen canvases at one time (twenty known versions in this series exist). His goal was to capture the essence of the changing light at dawn, and mist on the river.
“While some of the artist’s later works are increasingly bold, this painting exemplifies Monet at his most poetic and introspective.” (- source)
“…This version (in the series) is notable for its softness… With the point of view suspended over the water, we are made to feel weightless, perhaps even bodiless. Almost symmetrical reflections threaten to disorient us, but Monet has left enough clues to let us know which way is up.” (- source)
Somewhat ironically, Monet’s work is often critiqued as “lightweight” or simply “pretty,” without much depth. Maybe this was true of these two paintings? Perhaps the depth of the viewer’s response is simply a recognition of the scene, and how profoundly Monet captures it… if this is “fluff,” I’ll take it.
Musée Marmottan, exterior
The location of Monet’s most-viewed work is Paris’ Museé d‘Orsay and nearby Musée de l‘Orangerie which showcases his extraordinary
“Nympheas” or Waterlilies canvases (in dimension). Paris to Giverny, is an easy day trip, sponsored by any number of tour groups. About fifty miles northwest of Paris, Giverny is a small Normand village
dating to the first century, AD. Monet spent most of his adult life,
and created the majority of his work, here. Remarkably, Monet envisioned the gardens himself – as he wanted to paint them – with their wild colors and unstructured forms, their ponds, waterlilies and Japanese bridges. They are unique in their beauty and originality. Try to visit in the spring or summer. The gardens, which provided Monet’s greatest subject matter, are unforgettable and stand alone. The house is also on tour; its pink crushed brick exterior embodies the charming, dynamic interiors that await.
2, rue Louis Boilly Paris 75016
Tel. 01 44 96 50 33
Hours: Tuesday, 11:00 am-9:00 pm,
Wednesday-Saturday, 11:00 am-6:00 pm.
Metro: La Muette
Bus: No. 63
Bus 63 travels between La Muette (Marmottan location) and Gare de Lyon, stopping at locations including Le Trocadéro (Eiffel Tower), Les Invalides, Solférino (Musée d’Orsay), and main arteries of Saint Germain. The bus costs 1 Metro ticket per person per ride and is a great way to see Paris!
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