|Musée d'Orsay: converted train station!|
I've written before about our travels to London and D.C., when N. had a very short tolerance for art museums, finding them overwhelming. Yet suddenly in Paris N. displayed the long attention span that he has for so many other activities. What prompted this change? I don't know. Perhaps an awareness that this was a special opportunity. He wanted to see everything and read every plaque (or have every plaque badly translated by me). We usually tired before he did! Some particular favorites, new discoveries, and learning moments for N. included the huge luminous water lilies paintings and the Renoirs at the Orangerie; pointillisme and the monumental group portraits of Fantin-Latour at Orsay (he also of course loved the building itself); portraits of Benjamin Franklin at musée Carnavalet and Petit Palais; the Napoleon Apartments in the Louvre; remnants of the first royal equestrian statue in Paris at musée Carnavalet; an awesome exhibit of the chronological development of the 20th-century chair at musée des Arts Décoratifs; Lavoisier's scientific instruments at Arts et Métiers. He learned to identify Rodin's work so well from the museum that he recognized it before I did when we saw it later at the Opéra Garnier. He pointed out the difference between Degas' sculptures and Rodin's. He learned about fauvisme at Centre Pompidou and puzzled over contemporary art there as well. He loved the displays of scientific instruments, disguised cameras (bow-tie cameras, top-hat cameras, etc!), robots, and old French cars at Arts et Métiers. From the back of a huge throng he saw the Mona Lisa from about her chin up and was confused by the crowds. This is just some of what I remember him being especially engaged by. I was so gratified to see N. soaking up all this art and hope to try to keep reinforcing and building connections to the things he saw in Paris in the coming years.
Aside from the art itself, going to museums with throngs of other tourists is a strange experience of socialization. We talked a lot about why some museums (or parts of museums) were packed with crowds while others were nearly empty. We talked about the historical accidents and museum marketing that have made the Mona Lisa so well known. We talked about the maddening trophy-photography of other museums goers who have themselves snapped grinning next to one famous painting after another they've barely glanced at. The point is not that other people are doing museums wrong and we're doing them right, but we talked about why people go to museums, the different ways the museum experience is meaningful for people. I go to museums to see art I've read about in its full vibrancy. I was overwhelmed by how rich Monet's water lily paintings (works that had seemed bland and cliché in reproduction) were in situ. And I go to museums to learn about art I didn't know about. I am so grateful to be able to combine these for N., so that his first exposure to some stunning works of art was through looking at the very works themselves.