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Art + Paris Impressionist Museums and Walking Tours

Art + Paris Impressionist Museums and Walking Tours

by Museyon Guides

Illustrated listings of 150 must-see Impressionist paintings from Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie, Musée Marmottan Monet, Musée du Louvre, Petit Palais, Musée Picaso and Musée Rodin with the stories behind the art.  Easy-to-follow tours that bring the reader into the streets of Paris to explore the places where the


Illustrated listings of 150 must-see Impressionist paintings from Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie, Musée Marmottan Monet, Musée du Louvre, Petit Palais, Musée Picaso and Musée Rodin with the stories behind the art.  Easy-to-follow tours that bring the reader into the streets of Paris to explore the places where the artists lived, fell in love, found inspiration and placed their easels to paint these famous works.

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Museums and Walking Tours

By Museyon Inc.

Museyon, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Museyon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-938450-29-7


Museum Tours

1 Musée d'Orsay

2 Musée de l'Orangerie

3 Musée Marmottan Monet

4 Musée du Louvre

5 Petit Palais

6 Musée Picasso

7 Musée Rodin

The museums of Paris are home to some of the most exquisite works of art on the planet. Among them are these 150 Impressionist masterpieces that no visitor should miss. From idyllic images of the countryside to bawdy café scenes, these images paint a picture of life in Paris at the end of the 19th century.

Musée d'Orsay

One of the largest museums in Paris, the Orsay was originally built in the Beaux-Arts style as the railway station Gare d'Orsay in 1898. In 1939, the building became unsuitable for train use and in 1977 was turned into the museum, opening its doors in 1986.

The primary focus of the Orsay's collection is French art from the mid 19th to the early 20th century, but it is best known for its expansive collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces, the largest in the world. The Orsay owes much of its extensive collection to the Musée du Luxembourg, founded by Louis XVIII in 1818 as a venue for the work of living artists, with the promise that the works would be transferred to the Louvre 10 years after their death, if their "glory had been confirmed by universal opinion."

Initially, the Luxembourg's works were purchased almost exclusively from the Salon, with a focus on history paintings, portraiture and classical landscape. The museum's doors were closed to the more experimental work of the time such as Impressionism. But in 1890, a group of subscribers led by Claude Monet managed to open the doors of the Luxembourg Museum to Édouard Manet's Olympia. Then, in 1894, Gustave Caillebotte, an artist and patron of the Impressionists, died, bequeating his collection to France with the stipulation that it be displayed. After initial resistance and drawn out debate, the museum was forced to exhibit the works. Caillebotte's collection numbered more than 60 paintings by Degas, Manet, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro and Millet, which in one swoop brought the Impressionists into not only the Luxembourg, but also the various institutions in Paris that shared the collection.

The Impressionist collection continued to grow at the Luxembourg with further bequests, including that of Van Gogh's friend Dr. Gachet. In the late 1800s, the museum opened its doors to foreign painters. This collection of foreign works eventually grew so large that, in 1922, the separate Musée du Jeu de Paume was created to house the works. In 1929, the Luxembourg transferred all the work from the Impressionists to the Louvre.

The Louvre reorganized its collection in 1947 and sent all their Impressionist works to the Musée du Jeu de Paume, located in a former tennis court. The new works proved so popular with the public that crowding became a safety concern. It was decided to convert the disused Gare d'Orsay into the museum we see today to house all of the work. Some of the collection's masterpieces include Manet's Olympia; Monet's Poppies Blooming and Van Gogh's L'Arlésienne.

The Orsay holds regular movie screenings and concerts and has a glittering restaurant that first opened in 1900 and serves traditional French cuisine, with dishes that often correspond to the museum's events.


The first painting Manet submitted to the Salon — The Absinthe Drinker — was rejected in 1859. In 1861, he submitted two works: The Spanish Singer and this portrait of his parents. The former garnered praise, while viewers commented that this canvas was overly realistic, that Manet's father — who would die two years later — looked old and his mother seemed agitated. The painting gives a glimpse into upper-middle-class life during the Second Empire.

Lola de Valence (real name Lola Melea) was the star of the Mariano Camprubi dance troupe from Madrid. Spanish fashion had influenced Paris since the 1840s; the French Empress Eugénie De Montijo, originally from Spain, was even considered a style icon in the country. Manet's earlier work, The Spanish Singer, received praise at the Salon of 1861, but this depiction of a modern Spanish figure was rejected from the 1862 Salon.

The jury of the 1863 Salon rejected this controversial painting, which depicts two clothed men in a park in the company of two women, one naked and one partially clothed. However, when it did exhibit at the Salon des Refusés, it elicited both praise and condemnation. Some viewers saw the piece as obscene. Worlds apart from a classical nude, Luncheon on the Grass caused scandal because there was no artistic reason, other than the obvious interpretation, for depicting a nude woman among clothed men. Although the nude woman was only one aspect of the painting, it became the focal point of the piece. Several viewers commented on its indecency, adding that such scandalous work would never hang in the Louvre. However, it seems Manet found the controversy amusing, even nicknaming the painting "la partie carrée," or "the foursome." He also delighted in the irony of the debate: Manet had borrowed the subject from the Concert champêtre — a painting by Titian that was, indeed, hanging in the Louvre.

This painting caused quite the uproar in the 1865 Salon. Once again, as with Luncheon on the Grass, Manet seems to have been testing his audience and critics with his reinterpretation of the female nude. He represented Venus as a prostitute (her black cat was a symbol of the trade) and her brazenly direct gaze at the viewer unnerved and upset many. Although the scene is contemporary, Manet did borrow inspiration from works of praised artists, including themes employed by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, as well as works like Titian's Venus of Urbino and Francisco Goya's Naked Maja. Critics attacked the painting, calling the figure a "yellow-bellied odalisque." The piece was, however, defended by a small group of artists, as well as Émile Zola. Paul Cézanne later painted two versions of the piece. In an ironic twist, this painting ended up right next to Ingres's Grande odalisque in the Louvre in 1907.

Manet was already influenced by Spanish art when he visited Madrid's Prado Museum in 1865. He based Le fifre on the 17th-century painting Pablo de Valladolid by Diego Velázquez. This painting applied a similar principle — an absent, airy background embracing a singular figure — to a contemporary subject, a member of the Imperial Guard's band. It was rejected by the jury of the 1866 Salon, but Zola applauded its modernity.

Zola's work was controversial throughout his career — he wrote about corruption in politics, as well as the Dreyfus Affair. Zola was a champion of Manet's work and the artist offered to paint him as a thank you for his ongoing support. Several elements from their relationship are depicted, including the cover of a brochure in which an article by Zola, defending Manet, appeared.

The figures in this painting are all Manet's friends, including the painter Berthe Morisot. This marked Morisot's first appearance in Manet's paintings; she is seen sitting down, hands elegantly clasped, with one arm resting on the balustrade. The other models are the concert violinist Fanny Claus and the landscape painter Antoine Guillemet. The child in the background could possibly be the boy Manet raised, Leon Leenhoff. The paternity of the boy was not certain; either Manet or Manet's father, Auguste, may have fathered him. The painter again turned to a Spanish source: Francisco Goya's Majas on a Balcony. Critics at the 1869 Salon took issue with the use of color, as well as the contrast between light and dark. Yet the piece went on to inspire later artists; the Belgian Surrealist painter René Magritte offered his own version in 1950.

This is one of the first works that Manet completed following the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune — he had served in the garde nationale and was unable to paint. The portrait depicts fellow Impressionist Berthe Morisot, a model and friend. Manet and Morisot were introduced by Frédéric Bazille in 1868. In this image she is seen dressed in black mourning veil following the death of her father. Morisot herself was an accomplished painter, her work had been accepted to the Salon and she and Manet often shared ideas about art. Manet would go on to paint Morisot numerous times, ceasing only when she married his brother Eugène.

In July of 1873, Manet stayed with his family in coastal Berck-sur-Mer. He was enjoying financial and professional success — he had sold several works to art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel in 1872. He had also had his first major success since 1861 at the Salon of 1873 with the painting Le bon bock (The Good Glass of Beer), a portrait of the art dealer Émile Bellot. The models for this painting are Manet's wife Suzanne and brother Eugène, who was featured 10 years earlier, almost in an identical position, in Luncheon on the Grass.

Manet painted several café scenes beginning in the 1870s. This piece, derived from real-life sketches and painted in the studio, depicts the Reichshoffen caféconcert. This painting seems to be a close-up version of Coin de café-concert (Corner of a Café-concert). Manet began the painting in 1878, but cropped it into two parts. The version depicted here is missing both the dancer on stage and the orchestra.


Monet's failed attempt at a magnum opus bears the same name as Manet's infamous painting. It was as much an homage as it was a direct challenge. He planned to submit it to the Salon of 1866. It is rumored that Gustave Courbet (the seated male figure) became critical of the piece, leading Monet to abandon the work. In 1920, Monet gave his account: "I had to pay my rent. I gave it to the landlord as security and he rolled it up and put in the cellar. When I finally had enough money to get it back, as you can see, it had gone moldy." He cut the painting up and kept only three fragments; that third fragment has since disappeared.

After Monet abandoned his ambitious Luncheon on the Grass, he began work on this large piece. The painting was an attempt to show figures as they appeared in the open air. Abandoning black, Monet recreated the play of light and shadow through varying values of a single hues. Monet worked primarily outdoors on this piece, lowering the canvas into a trench (by pulley) when working on the top part. Camille Doncieux, Monet's companion, served as the model for the women on the left side of the painting. In 1867, the Salon rejected the piece. Some critics negatively commented on the visible brushstrokes and found the work incomplete. Zola, later a champion for the Impressionists, gave the painting a vivid, favorable review, marveling that Monet's treatment of light and shadow created "the strangest effect imaginable." Monet was, by now, in dire need of money; when the piece wouldn't sell for a reasonable price, Frédéric Bazille purchased it for a whopping 2,500 francs.

Monet often placed himself in the elements, working outdoors even in the chill of winter. This piece was completed in the winter of 1868-69, in Étretat. It depicts the effects of sunlight and shadows on the snow-covered countryside. A journalist from Le Havre, Monet's hometown, remarked on the artist's dedication, stating that he wore three overcoats, gloves and that his face appeared half frozen. Despite his perseverance, the Salon jury refused the work in 1869.

Before fleeing to London, Monet headed to Normandy with Camille to avoid the Franco-Prussian War — stopping to marry along the way. This work depicts the seaside resort of Trouville; Monet's quick brushstrokes create the illusion of scattered clouds and flags fluttering in the wind. At this point, Monet's was repeatedly rejected by the Salon and he couldn't sell work. Camille's dowry kept the newlyweds afloat.

The early 1870s in Argenteuil marked a prosperous, fulfilling time for Monet. This painting depicts wild poppies in a field, with Camille and their son Jean. The painting was shown at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. It likely hung near his controversial Impression, Sunrise, and likewise suggests a moment — a sunny summer's day — rather than directly reproducing an image.

Monet executed this painting during his productive time spent living in Argenteuil, a suburb on the basin of the Seine. While in Argenteuil, a lively center for boating, Monet painted several works depicting the river and bridge. He even converted a small boat into a floating studio.

In 1877, Monet returned to Paris. He had fallen into debt, his wife was sick and he felt the town, in the throws of industrialization, had lost its charm. Monet now turned to the more daring theme of modern urban landscapes. In January, Monet dressed in his finest clothes, and convinced the stationmaster to grant him permission to paint inside the Saint-Lazare station. He would have been familiar with the modern setting, as it was the Paris terminal for the Argenteuil line. Eight of Monet's Saint-Lazare paintings were shown at the third Impressionist exhibition; this painting greeted attendees, many of whom remarked on the painter's ability to convey the sounds of the trains and the sight of the billowing smoke stacks. "That is where painting is today," commented Zola, "Our artists have to find the poetry in train stations, the way their fathers found the poetry in forests and rivers."

This painting depicts the excitement after the World's Fair opened. It is often misinterpreted as a celebration of Bastille Day, the French national holiday on July 14, which only became a national holiday two years after this celebration took place. This event, celebrating "peace and work" was held to commemorate France's recovery after the tumultuous years of the Franco-Prussian War and its aftermath.

In 1885, Monet again turned to figure painting, a subject that marked the early part of his career. He approached the subject of the relationship between figures and landscape with the focus of a landscape painter, concentrating on how the light influenced his characters. The model for the painting is Suzanne Hoschedé, who later became his stepdaughter. In the way Monet painted the girl, there are several similarities to that of his late wife, Camille, whom he captured in a similar position in 1875. The work was exhibited at Paul Durand-Ruel's gallery in 1891.

Monet produced a series devoted to grain stacks, viewed in different conditions. Where other artists might have used the subject matter as a visual comment on the socio-economic climate of the times and the debate between rural versus industrial ways of life, Monet instead sought to capture his sensations of the motif. From this point on, Monet would continue to focus on series, working quickly and on multiple canvases at a time. Such works were popular and helped Monet find financial security while inspiring younger generations of artists, including the Fauves.

Although this painting and the one that follows are dated 1894, Monet completed these works from February to mid-April of 1892 and 1893, respectively. In this series of paintings depicting the Rouen Cathedral's western façade — of which there are 30 different versions — Monet set out to capture varying effects on the same structure. The consuming nature of the endeavor is evident in a letter Monet wrote to his second wife, Alice, where he describes nightmares of the Cathedral crumbling on top of him in a mixture of colors. Monet painted these works while renting a studio across the street from the cathedral and completed the works in his Giverny studio. He showed 20 of the paintings at an exhibition at Durand-Ruel Gallery in 1895. The paintings were a sensational hit, although debate was sparked concerning the role of theology in the painting.

Monet painted this work in 1893, at a time when religion and superstition were once again popular topics in French culture. In painting the series, Monet was producing relevant works of art while satisfying his continuing need to faithfully represent subjects as seen through varying effects. The fact that the painting depicts a Gothic cathedral only further served to make critics relish the works (and the painter) as a testament to France's cultural greatness. The writer Georges Clemenceau took France's president to task for not having seen the series, asking: "Why has it not occurred to you to go and look at the work of one of your countrymen on whose account France will be celebrated throughout the world long after your name will have fallen into oblivion?"

Monet most likely observed the grounds of London's Parliament from the terrace of St. Thomas Hospital, on the opposite bank of the Thames near Westminster Bridge. In the latter part of his career, Monet distanced himself from the French scenes that had made him famous, possibly after becoming irritated with French politics. France had been divided for four years concerning the Dreyfus Affair — Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish captain in the French army, was convicted of passing French military secrets to the Germans. The nation was split into those who thought him innocent (including Monet and Pissarro) and those who believed he was guilty (including Degas and Renoir). Dreyfus was later found innocent. Although the Parliament was a newly built structure when Monet painted it in this piece, fog masks the details of the structure so it does not appear as such. Monet was particularly interested in the London fog; he had experimented with the effects of smoke and fog since his images of the Gare Saint-Lazare.


Excerpted from Museums and Walking Tours by Museyon Inc.. Copyright © 2015 Museyon. Excerpted by permission of Museyon, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Museyon Guides are visually oriented travel guides, accessibly written for the greenhorn as well as the aficionado, featuring academic-quality information on artistic and cultural interests and obsessions. They are based in New York City.

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