Category Archives: Museum visits

Musee d’Orsay – Sat 7th October 2017

It’s about a year since I went to the Musee d’Orsay… at that time I bought the guide-book and read it cover to cover.

So everything, this time, had meaning!

We just viewed the Impressionists and what was really interesting having read the guide-book and progressed through this course… the thing that struck me really forcibly (unlike last time when I thought they were more real than real!) was how visually unreal they are. And how much detail they miss out.

They truly seemed an ‘impression’.

But not an impression in the sense of what we ‘see’… but an impression in the sense of actually being on the spot… as if in a waking dream – giving you just enough visual information to allow to drift away. So you see the scene with your whole body, not just your eyes, and the painting becomes a doorway rather than the room itself.

So, psychologically and emotionally, it’s more real than any photograph or realist painting. They visually mimic the detail of reality. However, because you know they aren’t real you stand outside, isolate your eyes, and look in to ‘read’ the image. For me a photograph is ‘reportage’ not ‘art’.

Two other things struck me this time.

How they were made by specific people at a specific moment in time. Knowing the stories of the artists and just how revolutionary they were and what a struggle it was to get gallery space and patronage. And the whole social sub structure and stories that surround the paintings. The interaction of history and art… with changing artistic conventions… how markets affect production… how there is a struggle for hegemony between the old and new art. All gave a new me a deeper connection with the paintings.

Not wondrous (though they are!) multi million pound artefacts to ‘awe’ at, but real canvases painted by real artists with real bills to pay! The knowledge humanised them and made them real. It allowed me to value them not in the eyes of others and by repute but as if they’d just been painted.

And finally how, once you reach a certain level like Degas or Monet, not only do the paintings lift you to that moment but they also have a personality and a voice. This is much more than stylistic variations. It’s like being with another person. It’s a bit weird to try to explain…

It’s as if, in some strange way you, are not only entering the moment but also the artist themselves. It’s a kind of emotional link… a presence apart from the image.

A lovely museum and a lovely city and one I could happily spend a whole week visiting!!!!




Museum Visits

Following advice from my tutor in my first ‘Formative feedback’ here are photographs of my latest Museum visits from my log book.

In chronological order:

(1) 18/02/2016 (RA: Royal Academy of Arts: London. “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse”).

Overpriced, flooded with people, packed out with sub standard paintings and second rate Monet’s… more a concept to make money than a serious exhibition.

There were a couple of paintings which stood out for me… the Pissaro featuring a cabbage patch which and a wistful Bethe Morisot – I’d not seen any of her work and this was my favourite painting of the exhibition.

Sadly I didn’t take any notes and can’t remember the which of hers it was – but it had an artistic soul that was lacking in 95% of the other paintings, which were technically good but ’empty’ art.

Very disappointing!


(2) 21/03/2016 (LACMA: Los Angeles County Art Museum).

Ten day visit to LA with my son. He popped in the gym with my voice coach so I took the opportunity to nip into LACMA for the morning. Great museum with nice cafe outside. Not busy… space and time to study the exhibits… particularly remember the German Expressionists.

And native Pacific and American Indian Art which I didn’t get time to see.


(3) 23/03/2016 (The Getty Centre: Los Angeles).

This is a stunning museum West of LA in the hills. We got an Uber for about £25 as public transport is fairly useless… beware the lack of signal at the Uber pick up/drop off point, you have to order it at the top then jump on the tram quick. Otherwise you can get stranded.

It’s like the villains mansion on a James Bond film – big chunks of stone without concrete like a medieval castle. The garden a work of art in its own right… the plants perfect with not a slug bite or insect nibble in sight. And strangely silent.

Space inside to see all the exhibits – the shop is great and not too expensive – the cafes serve delicious food. The special exhibition was photography as fine art with luscious stills from Maplethorpe… the talk of LA when we were there.

A must and you could probably visit for a week to see all it has to offer.

We just did a day!


(4) 23/04/2016 (RA: Royal Academy of Arts: London. “In the Age of Giorgione”.)

Very expensive unless you’re a member and the food is massively overpriced. The exhibitions vary so I would always read a review as if you’re watching the pennies this might not be a good investment.

However, the Giorgione exhibition was excellently curated. The text and paintings were very instructional and you really got a feel for a moment in time.

It always seems very packed though and is probably worth trying to find a quieter time as you feel rushed and the stress of throngs of people do take away from the contemplation of the art.

There always seem to be lots of Art Twitchers here too. They go along a wall of paintings photographing them without looking at the painting – flash, flash, flash. And students taking photographs, which is less annoying… there was also a guided tour which stopped at paintings for ages and gave talks which made it hard to focus if you weren’t in the tour, a TV expert talking to a friend with a throng of people pretending not to listen but hanging on every word and the normal RA cram of people.

So, not a ‘socially’ pleasant experience.

But the art was excellent!



(5) 13/05/2016 (Manchester Art Gallery – Mosley Street)

My son’s First Year final show at Manchester Met Film School… we had planned to go to the The Whitworth on our free day but were passing here and popped in and spent half a day here.

A surprisingly good range of paintings – lots of pre-raphaelites which were fascinating to see in the flesh… but I still can’t connect. Lots of cold beauty and precision – no passion.

The staff were lovely and very helpful.

I’d certainly recommend it as an ‘undiscovered gem’.



Manchester Art Gallery: 13/05/2016

(6) 11/06/2016 (Musee d’Orsay: Paris).

I was lucky enough to have a weekend in Paris, after the floods and during the Euros.

What a beautiful city and the street cafes and friendliness so different to anything I’d experienced in England. We watched the opening match of the Euro’s in a tiny bar serving food, coffees and beer full of French young and old, men couples, families… and an old German man.

It’s amazing how you can’t get a real feel of a place from books. The smell… the character… the architecture… the food.

This is relevant as seeing the expressionists in their host city had a profound effect on how I looked at the art. It connected me in a way to the place and time (the impressionist paintings we saw were displayed as collections of rich patrons.)

It’s difficult to explain but they moved from disconnected works of beauty hanging in a temple to art (bottled beauty almost hermetically sealed from their origin) to real paintings made by real artists at a specific moment in time and place. Almost like you could reach back through time and touch them.

And the Musee d’Orsay being in the old train station all added to the effect.

I found found it deeply moving.



…such as Picasso – SO HE IS PART OF ARTISTIC BRIDGE OLD AND MODERN – not isolated!


Museum visits

Just spent five hours catching up with my log book sticking in and annotating museum visits to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), Paul Getty Museum LA, RA ‘In the Age of Giorgione’, Musee d’Orsay (Paris), Manchester Art Gallery and RA ‘Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse’.

This got me thinking about the whole idea of museum visits.

Firstly, write them up at the time!

Memory fades and what was a vivid collection of images and names blurs and fades to a blank canvas. The pictures and programmes can help but there’s nothing to beat contemporaneous notes.

Next, is the way to view an exhibition.

It seems there are three ways… firstly the artistic ‘Twitcher’… they go from gallery to gallery snapping the famous paintings without looking at them and quickly move on like an artistic hoovering machine.

Happy to say that holds no appeal – I don’t take photographs in the gallery. I want to see the paintings with my eyes and experience them with my whole being.

So that leaves me with the experiential and the academic.

The academic would involve reading up on the artist first. Placing him historically and culturally – becoming aware with his ouvre and techniques. Taking a notebook/sketchbook, reading all the notes in the exhibition and probably having the audio description as well.

In terms of art history and in a study of artistic technique I’m sure this is the best method. And having visited the Musee d’Orsay and soaked it up (well a little bit… 3 hours worth) I’m now reading the fat guide and will go back later.

However, I like the experiential approach.

Working on the principle that having the painting in front of me is a rare experience and one that can’t be repeated I want to soak it all in. I want to look and contemplate and experience the majesty… to give the art my full attention without engaging my conscious mind too much in an academic analysis of where it falls in the artistic stream.

And… there’s always the argument that if a painting has to be explained then it’s not working. I don’t (first time) want to read it like a book. I want to see what is has to say to me now – colours, form, intimacy, emotion, narrative… I want to enter the picture and become one with it.

There is absolutely nothing that compares to seeing the real painting on the wall in it’s frame. It’s impact. It’s message. It’s intelligence… and, of course, you’re in a very true sense having direct contact with the artist even more than with the subject he/she is painting.

Having recently seen lots of painting I think it is the vision of the artist not the skill that determines a great artist. In their art they are opening up their soul… a great master will move you… he will connect… a lesser one you stand outside and awe at his skill.

As such lesser artists though are often very skilful (that’s ‘professional’ we’ll say) verge towards the decorative rather than the artistic. ‘Empty art’ is the term I use. The RA exhibition “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse” was jam packed full of Empty Art with just a very few notable exceptions like the Renoir.

Wandering through the Musee d’Orsay in the collections of wealthy patrons not knowing who painted what, letting the paintings speak to me, it was the Monet in every collection that  called me over first.

As we develop as artists (study art history, artistic techniques and make our first faltering steps at capturing what we see) we take all our new experiences and knowledge to the exhibit. So we are not going blind. If we know Giorgione introduced the personal to portrait painting we cannot unknow it.

But, I would argue that museum visits – unless part of a specific study (Research Point) on the course should be an opportunity to commune with the paintings.

To see with the artists eyes we need to abandon ourselves and just look at the painting.