Home to numerous impressionist and post-impressionist painters over the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the Orangerie museum can be found in the ‘jardin des Tuileries’, right next to the place de la Concorde. It displays the famous masterpieces of Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Armedeo Modigliani, as well as Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and many other artists of this period.
The name is not deceiving, the beautiful ‘musee de l’Orangerie’ is installed in an old orangery, built in 1852 to shelter the acidic citrus fruits from the ‘jardin des Tuileries’ in winter. Like all orangeries, the stone building was built in length, and was constructed in glass on the side of the Seine (to the south) and in bricks on the garden side (to the north) in order to conserve as much heat as possible. Its rather classic and simple decoration fits in perfectly with the area that surrounds it.
Converted throughout the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th into a warehouse, military accommodation, and then a site for diverse demonstrations (sports, musical, and even patriotic), the former orangery finally fell into the hands of the administration des Beaux-arts in 1921. This organisation had big plans for the orangery since they wanted to use it to hold a part of the ‘musee du Luxembourg’ which is now the National Museum of Modern Art.
Taking the idea of the head of government of the time, Georges Clemenceau, Claude Monet was chosen to convert the inside of the building. The famous painter created a superb mural ensemble that he called the cycle des Nymphéas and offered as a donation to France. Returning with at least two pieces made especially for them, this series of 250 oil paintings is representative of the bucolic atmosphere of the Giverny property, of the painter and his famous water-lily pond.
Eight years passed between the artistic gift from Monet and the opening of the museum, in 1927. Very much inspired by the “art deco” style which was in fashion at the time, Monet chose the interior decoration of the museum himself, assisted only by a respected architect who only assisted with the final touches.
In this period, the building only consisted of one level. ‘Les Nymphéas’ took up a whole half of the museum, whilst the architect took charge of converting the other half of the building into exhibition galleries. Strangely, Monet’s ‘les Nymphéas’ was not greatly popular among the public who were more interested by the exhibitions presented in the west wing of the museum. The temporary exhibition rooms were particularly small with a space of just 500m², but they were the only ones (along with the ‘Petit Palais’) that could welcome old art exhibitions on a large scale.
Between 1959 and 1963, the museum acquired the “Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume Collection” with the aim of creating a fresh identity for the museum. The collection was composed of an admirable pictorial ensemble created by the art dealer and collector Paul Guillaume and his widow, Domenica, who remarried the architect Jean Walter. Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Modigliano, ‘le Douanier (customs officer) Rousseau’ and many other artists contributed to the 144 works of the collection. This piece therefore acts as an excellent witness of 50 years of artistic creation in Paris, from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th.
In order to house this prestigious collection, a large new construction site was erected on the grounds. Following completion of this construction, the exhibition gallery was removed and the building was divided into two levels. For the interior design, Domenica requested the construction of a main living room, stretching across the entire length of this floor looking out onto an impressive staircase. Between 1978 and 1984, new works arrived to improve the museum and to continue the renovation the interior décor.
Up until the end of the 1970s, ‘l’Orangerie’ was one of the best places you could experience the highest culture in Paris, thanks to its exhibitions as well as the delayed success of the ‘Nymphéas de Monet’. However, more modern and powerful institutions, such as the Grand Palais, the Centre Pompidou and the ‘musée d’Orsay’, were beginning to provide fierce competition for ‘l’Orangerie’ and becoming ever more talked-about. ‘l’Orangerie’ was starting to be seen as a bit old-fashioned, however the public remained faithful to this modest museum and the number of annual visitors grew from 200,000 in 1984 to 500,000 in 1998.
To counteract its lack of modernity, the ‘musée de l’Orangerie’ began a big renovation project designed to re-enliven this little space. Thanks to the individuality of the collections, to the artistic ingenuity which occupied this space and its cultural actions, ‘lOrangerie’ finally managed to play its cards right. From 2000 to 2006, the most recent works revived the museum with a new image. The interior was refurbished yet again and the exterior was taken on by the famous architect in charge of historic monuments, Michel Goutal. In the end, the Nymphéas gained an interior décor in harmony with their pictorial style and conditions worthy of its faithful public.
With Come to Paris, you can access all the exhibitions of the ‘Musée de l’Orangerie’.