My favorite pastimes in the City of Light are few and simple. First I eat, usually at some small cafe; then I walk, usually from one pastry shop to another; and then I visit an art museum, usually the temporary exhibit at the Grand Palais, located conveniently near my "route of the patisseries" off the Champs-Elysees.
But I ventured into new artistic territory on my last trip to Paris. I paid a visit to the Musee d'Orsay, the Picasso Museum and the National Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Center. Each captured my heart in a different way. Here are my impressions.The much-talked-about Musee d'Orsay is a popular addition to an already splendid collection of Paris museums. The Orsay Railway Station and Hotel were remodeled into a gallery that houses the prolific output of French artists dating from 1848 to 1914. The Gare d'Orsay opened as the Musee d'Orsay in 1986. The museum is located on the Left Bank in the 7th District, across the Seine from the Tuileries.
It includes works once displayed in the Louvre, the Palais de Tokyo and the resplendent collection of Impressionist paintings from the Jeu de Paume.
The museum's popularity is apparent at a glance. By the time I arrived early on a Tuesday morning people were already standing in a line that stretched half the length of the building.
What was the station platform is now the sculpture gallery, made intriguing by a multitude of levels on which you can wander amongst busts, torsos and bodies by Rodin, among others. The lofty ceiling is a glass-covered arch.
Rooms on both sides of the sculpture hall display paintings, architectural exhibits and photography.
A woman architect designed the museum's interior. She managed to make it spacious yet interesting. Escalators at the head of the nave take you to a pinnacle overlooking the gallery. Also on the third level are the clear glass faces of two giant clocks through which you can gaze at the rooftops of Paris. There is a cafe and a terrace with a view of the Seine, as well.
As far as I'm concerned the Impressionist and post-Impressionist exhibit on the third level is by far the highlight of the museum. I spent hours there absorbing one masterpiece after another of Cezanne, Monet, Sisley, Manet, Pissarro, Degas, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Renoir, and Pointillists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. The Impressionist rooms alone are worth the price of admission.
The Musee d'Orsay is open daily, except Monday, from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.; and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Picasso Museum displays a wide range of this celebrated artist's work. The museum is located near the quarter known as the Marais. Once a marsh, the Marais is still home to medieval buildings. In the 16th and 17th centuries members of the French gentry built elegant town houses in the Marais that are characterized by courtyards, main sections with lateral wings and terraces and gardens at the back.
Some of these residences have been restored, making a walk through the Marais to the Picasso Museum even more interesting. To get there you pass through a perplexing maze of narrow streets. Signs at strategic corners, however, point the way. If you're intimidated by the prospect of getting lost, take a cab.
The museum itself innovatively displays the works of Picasso in halls, rooms, staircases, ramps and niches. The idea is to present a spectrum of Picasso's works. Exhibits include paintings, sculptures, ceramics, sketches, graphics, studies and journals.
The French government came into possession of 200 paintings, 150 sculptures, 30 reliefs, 100 ceramics and more than 3,000 sketches and graphics by virtue of a law that allowed important works of art to offset estate taxes. Works Picasso bequeathed to the French government that were exhibited in the Louvre from 1978 to 1984 have been moved here.
The Picasso Museum, 5 Rue de Thorigny, is open daily, except Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.; Wednesday from 9:45 to 10 p.m.
The Pompidou (also known as the Beaubourg) Center is an ultra-modern complex in the heart of traditional Paris. Pipes, ducts, air conditioners and ventilation systems are painted bright colors and exposed on the building's exterior. Escalators are enclosed in a glass bubble, affectionately referred to as the caterpillar, attached to the structure's facade. The building itself is a rectangle of glass and steel. Proponents praise the center's functionality. Load-bearing elements are contained in the outside walls. Space on the five floors of the interior can be arranged however an exhibitor sees fit.
Opponents say it resembles a refinery. "Architecturally bizarre" and "aesthetically hideous" are among the terms used to describe it. The fact that the center is located amid the city's more traditional architecture adds fuel to the fire.
The center's namesake is Georges Pompidou who championed the project when he was president of France. The design that was to become the center took first place in a competition of 700 entries from 50 countries.
The architects were a 39-year-old Englishman and a 34-year-old Italian.
Their vision of an arts complex has become the center of a continual controversy.
I went there to see the National Museum of Modern Art. Works of Matisse, Picasso (early 20th century), Braque, Gris, Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian, Debuffet, Giacometti, Moore and Calder are among those on display.
I've noticed a shortage of places to sit in many museums around the world. They seem designed to keep you on your feet. Not so the National Museum of Modern Art. After two hours of shuffling from one painting to another, I join the people who are sitting on a sturdy red pipe that runs along the wall. It doubles for a row of chairs.
The pipe is not quite the height of a chair nor the comfort, but it will do just the same. I must consequently count myself among the building's proponents. A pipe-turned-chair is certainly functional. It is fanciful as well.
The National Museum of Modern Art is open daily, except Tuesday, from noon to 10 p.m.; and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
* For information about museums in France, contact the French Government Tourist Office, 9454 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 303, Beverly Hills, Calif., 90212, or call (213) 272-2661.