I’ll the get the drama out of the way: there was no real anxiety in taking Zef to the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris’s Tuleries Gardens. Sure, I imagined him projectile-vomiting on a multi-million dollar, one-of-a-kind work of art. And the thought did cross my mind that if I passed a little too closely to a nude statue, maybe his little baby-grip would fasten onto the penis and rip it off. But what are the odds of these things actually happening? Luckily, pretty slim. This is probably why I felt confident taking Zef to the museum. On arrival, I saw that were a couple of other babies with their moms doing the same thing we were so I felt like we were in good company.
Why did we pick the l’Orangerie Museum? Well, this is one of my favorite museums in Paris and is often overshadowed by its big sisters nearby: The Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. However, with their big lines and giant exhibits, these big sister museums are not ideal sorts of museums to take your baby too.
l’Orangerie, though, this is a different story. This wonderful museum in the heart of the city has a world-class permanent collection that includes works by Henri Matisse, Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Mogdiliani, and Paul Cézanne, not to mention its big draw, Claude Monet’s colossal eight-canvas “Water Lilies” series (or: les Nymphéas, click here for a virtual visit of this incredible achievement).
Apart from its permanent collection, the museum also hosts a rotating exhibition. The exhibition this season was titled: “La Peinture American des Années 1930: The Age of Anxiety,” and featured Grand Wood’s iconic masterpiece, “American Gothic,” which I had never seen. There were works by Charles Steeler, Georgie O’Keeffe and Edward Hopper as part of this exhibition I was also interested in checking out, as well. I was hoping Zef would be, too.
l’Orangerie is the type of pleasant museum that can be done in an hour (if you’re rushing a little bit) though two hours really lets you settle in and absorb of a few of the striking pieces on display. Because of its relative small size, I thought this would be a good starter museum for Zef and, even better, I thought I would let him lead us on a tour with his curiosity and baby-like intuition of what makes great art. So, I checked in our stroller and coats at the coat check (totally free!), paid the 9 Euro entry, strapped Zef up in the Baby Björn and began our tour of the museum.
From his perch in the Baby Björn, Zef gestured with his hand to show me which direction drew his interest. Works of art he appreciated were greeted with a smile, a laugh or a stream of excited babble. Works of art he deemed “less than” stellar or, in some cases, “super boring and stupid,” were given dull cow-eye gazes and, in a few instances, actual yawns (though the latter might have been more to do with his desire for a nap).
A note to artists considering impressing Baby Art Critics:
As a general rule of thumb, if the painting includes either a giant naked person or a large swath of bright red or yellow, it is considered a great work of art. If the work of art is touchable (that is, without the touchers being arrested or thrown out on the street), then this is a major plus and will cement the piece of art’s status as an Important Work and something to cherished for centuries.
Claude Monet’s “Water Lillies” canvases duly impressed Zef. He was reaching this way and that, trying to take them all in. Perhaps he was reminded of his trip to Monet’s Gardens with his grandma?
Picasso’s “Large Bather” was also a big hit (we had to come back to this three or four times) as was Matisse’s “Young Girl with the Vase of Flowers” and Renoir’s still-life, “Peaches.” However, his favorite work of art (somewhat of a dark-horse candidate) was an “Untitled Piece: Textured Cement with Reinforced Iron,” by the architect Firmin Bourgeois, completed by his successor, Ludovico Visconti. This “Untitled Piece” is comprised of the large supporting columns holding the roof of the museum’s underground display – which grew gasps of amazement from our young connoisseur as he touched and caressed the textured cement.
To my dismay, Zef wasn’t feeling 1930s America. We had to speed through The Age of Anxiety (maybe this was a good idea, in retrospect, given the state of the world and all), barely glimpsing some of the greats I longed to see. However, we did get a moment to linger over Edward Hopper’s “Gas” and Alexandre Hogue’s “Erosion #2: Mother Earth Laid Bare.”
The most boring work of art, the one that exhibited the largest “who cares?” stare from Zef the Art Buff? You might have guessed it: anything by Marie Laurencin. He just couldn’t get behind her washed out colors and dull color palette. I can’t blame him. They’re probably the dullest pieces in this otherwise star-studded collection.
After a little more than an hour, it was time to go. Zef quickly settled down for a nap as I pushed his stroller across the Seine and through the 7th arrondissement. A perfect end to a great first day at the museum.
Musée de l’Orangerie
Jardin des Tuileries, Place de la Concorde. Metro: Concorde
Tel: +33 (0)1 44 77 80 07 or +33 (0)1 44 50 43 00
Open from 9am until 6pm (last entry at 5:15pm). Closed Tuesdays.
Entrée : 9€ (reduced tarif : 6,50€), Free the 1st Sunday of the month)