This summer, I have been living in Paris whilst working in a laboratory studying vision. What art museums spring to your mind at the mention of Paris? For many, the answer likely includes the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay.
This summer, however, I have found solace in the small, unknown, and underappreciated museums of the Parisian city center. I only stumbled upon these museums because of a single daunting goal I set for myself: visit every art museum in the city of Paris. Simple, right?
Though many of us can only name a few, there are over forty art museums in Paris’ city limits. Many of these, I was happy to discover, are located in the artists’ original homes and accompanying ateliers. These museums display the artists’ domestic lifestyle, artistic flair, and working environment in tandem. This museum structure eliminates the leg-exhausting, eyes-glazing-over size of the Louvre; simultaneously, it supplies the viewer with an in-depth view into the artist’s philosophy and style.
For example, the Musée Bourdelle is dedicated to solely displaying works by sculptor Antoine Bourdelle. Visitors are welcomed into the artist’s own atelier, which contains unfinished sculptures and sketches of models. Here and there, one may find an abandoned clay foot, a marble ear, or a ceramic finger. The windows of Bourdelle’s atelier look out onto a luscious garden, which is now curated as a sculpture garden containing some of the artist’s favorite pieces. Additional galleries house hundreds of other works. Throughout my “artistic pilgrimage,” if I may call it that, I saw this museum structure repeated time and time again.
Before work this morning, I visited the final museum on my list. At the Musée National Jean-Jacques Henner, I climbed up a narrow wooden staircase to the artist’s original studio before strolling through a red wallpapered room that displayed Henner’s paintings beneath a magnificent chandelier. Seeing Henner’s work was particularly poignant for me: after all, I had first seen his paintings at the Princeton Art Museum, which houses “The Levite of Ephraim and His Dead Wife, ca. 1898” and “Study of a head of a woman, ca. 1887.”
Just like I had at Princeton, I admired Henner’s realism: his precision transforms the canvas, rather than a series of brushstokes attempting to imitate imagination, into a window onto reality. Seeing his early paintings composed at his family’s home in the Alsace region, where he repetitively painted a simple landscape of trees and water, I appreciated the humble beginnings of an incredible artist. His tentative brushstrokes, attempting to portray nature, grew into strong brushstrokes that definitively mirrored the scene before him.
I am looking forward to returning to the Princeton Art Museum with a fresh take on the works on the galleries’ walls: I will happily think back to the ateliers, homes, and museums I explored, each of which strengthened the foundation upon which my artistic appreciation is built.