The Musée d’Orsay adds some colour

5/7/08 — Museography — Paris, Musée d’Orsay — It looked like the museum would never change its pale colours. But make no mistake, coulour has now started appearing on the walls, making the paintings take on a force which was often lost against the dull backgrounds. Lest we forget, the 19th century was known for emphasizing colour in its hangs.

1. Room 15 of the
musée d’Orsay
Left to Right : James Tissot, The
Young Girl in Red
 ; Carolus-Duran,
The Lady
with a Glove
Alfred Stevens,
The Break Letter
Photo : D. Rykner

2. Room 15 of the musée d’Orsay
On the left, Alfred Stevens, The Break Letter, on
the right,
James Tissot, The Two Sisters.
In the background : Frédéric Bazille, Family Meeting
Photo : D. Rykner

Thus, two rooms have just been repainted, a preview of the new and excellent policies instituted by the recently appointed director, Guy Cogeval (see news item of 30/1/08). The first (ill. 1) houses, under the title Realism, canvases by Carolus-Duran, James Tissot, Alphonse Legros, Alfred Stevens and Théodule Ribot. The comparison with the paintings still hanging on the current pale walls speaks for itself (ill. 2).

As for the second room (ill. 3) on the ground floor of the pavilion at the back of the museum on the left, it is now devoted exclusively to four large formats (and a polychromatic sculpture by Barrias). The Temptation of Saint Anthony by Eugène Isabey, had not been displayed for some time after being exhibited for many years previously, whereas the other three had been exceptionally presented for only a few months, some years ago. These are The Last Day of Corinth by Tony Robert-Fleury, Christian Martyrs Entering the Amphitheatre by Léon Bénouville and the extravagant masterpiece by Paul Chenavard, Divina Tragedia (ill. 4), in which the colours are particularly flattered by the mauve background.

3. Room 24 of the
musée d’Orsay
On the left, Léon Bénouville, Christian
Martyres Entering the Amphitheater
 ; on the left : Paul
Chenavard, Divina
in the center : Louis-Ernest Barrias, Nature Unveiling
in front
of Science

Photo : D. Rykner

4. Paul Chenavard (1807-1895)
Divina Tragedia
Oil on canvas - 400 x 550 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

After the restoration and exhibition of the Martyrdom of Saint Agnes by Joseph-Désiré Court in Rouen (see news item of 23/6/08), is this presentation of works formerly in storage a sign that the large Salon paintings have today found new grace ? These rediscoveries and the appearance of a bit of colour on the walls at Orsay are in any case excellent news for lovers of 19th century art [1].

Version française

Didier Rykner, samedi 5 juillet 2008


[1] The lack of frames on the paintings is, however, to be regretted.

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