Sunday, August 2, 2009

Borrowed Treasures From the Musée d’Orsay

One of my favorite places in the world is sharing during reconstruction.


Some of the most celebrated paintings in art history — van Gogh’s “Bedroom at Arles,” Whistler’s Mother, Manet’s “Fife Player” and Degas’s “Dancing Lesson” — will leave their home at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris for two exhibitions to be held at the de Young Museum in San Francisco in 2010 and 2011. Other institutions will get a smaller sampling of the Musée d’Orsay’s treasures too, in cities like Tokyo, Madrid and Canberra, Australia, as well as Nashville.

The shows come courtesy of renovations at the French museum. “The Musée d’Orsay is aging now and has to be redone,” Guy Cogeval, its president, said of the institution, which opened 23 years ago in a converted turn-of-the-century train station. The museum will remain open while its upper-floor galleries and east pavilion close for about 14 months for a project that includes adding 20,000 square feet of space to show more decorative arts holdings.

Rather than put paintings in storage during the renovations, officials decided to send the works on an international tour. In exchange the museum is charging an undisclosed loan fee. The arrangement is similar to one the Museum of Modern Art in New York had with the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. After MoMA closed for renovation and expansion in 2002, it sent a group of its greatest hits to Berlin. The German museum was said to have paid MoMA more than $5 million for the exhibition. (Officials in San Francisco and the Musée d’Orsay both declined to discuss the financial arrangements.)

While the Musée d’Orsay’s two most famous paintings — Manet’s “Déjeuner sur l’Herbe” and “Olympia” — will not travel, it is parting with about 240 works that will be divided into two exhibitions. The first, “Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces From the Musée d’Orsay,” on view at the de Young from May 22 through Sept. 6, 2010, will explore the development of the style and include about 100 paintings.

The second show, “Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces From the Musée d’Orsay,” on view there from Sept. 25, 2010, through Jan. 18, 2011, will explore the work of early Modern painters and include some 120 pieces.

The de Young Museum has had long ties with the Musée d’Orsay. So when John E. Buchanan, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (which includes the de Young), heard about plans for the Musée d’Orsay’s renovations and of the shows that were being organized there, he said he “leapt at the opportunity to bring these paintings to San Francisco.” It will be the only museum to present both exhibitions

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