Impressionism, In a New Light: See the Musee d'Orsay's Colorful $28.4 Million Renovation

 For its 25th anniversary, the Musée d'Orsay has had a full face-lift. After its reopening was delayed by an employee strike, the museum is now welcoming the public to see its €20.1 million ($28.4 million) renovation that was financed by the museum itself (63 percent), the French state (33 percent), and the Elior company (four percent). Architecture, lighting, displays — nothing was left untweaked, and the museum has made some daring choices, such as painting its walls in shades of bright red, eggplant, and deep blue.

Half of the museum's space was renovated and 1,000 of the 1,850 works exhibited were rehung. In the 27,000-square-foot Amont Pavilion — the Orsay's biggest architectural gamble — the architects turned the former train station's unused industrial areas into splendid exhibition spaces. Visitors can now reach the museum's heights by escalator, which creates the sensation of almost being able to reach out and touch the museum's huge glassed roof while looking dizzily down on the sculpture gallery far below.


Most strikingly, the museum has abandoned its MoMA-inspired white walls and embraced the color principle, bringing in a whole range of shades selected to complement each different artistic movement being shown. Architect Dominique Brard designed the new spaces to be bathed in natural light with walls in deep, matte color. "A Courbet painting or a Manet canvas require different backgrounds than Impressionist painting, which is lighter with faster strokes," Musée d'Orsay president Guy Cogeval explained in a statement. "Also, the gold frames, especially those intended for Salon exhibitions, regain their visual and emphatic function on a background of color."

On the ground floor, two large-scale works by Courbet, "The Painting Studio" and "The Deer Hunt" are shown to spectacular effect. Levels two, three, and four are devoted to the decorative arts. A little bridge connects rooms with Art Nouveau furnishings to a new space for Nabi painting by artists including Vuillard, Bonnard, and Denis. On the fifth floor, before entering the new Impressionist galleries, visitors can stop in an unadorned area that showcases one of the old train station's monumental clocks. Alongside the structure's metallic beams, you get a different view of Paris through the huge windows.

At the Impressionist gallery's entrance, visitors encounter Henri Fantin Latour's canvas "Un Atelier aux Batignolles," which depicts Manet painting a portrait while figures including Zola, Renoir, and Monet look on. Not far, an unusual large-scale Monet work depicts a brightly-colored flock of turkeys. The new installation establishes a dialogue between Monet and Sisley, with a group of winter landscapes and ocean scenes. In the exhibition rooms, small works alternate with medium-sized ones, such as Cézanne's apples and Monet's chrysanthemums. Renoir's voluptuous women fill almost an entire wall. Designer Tokujin Yoshioka's "water blocks" — glass benches in organic shapes — provide updated seating for admiring Monet's "Water Lilies" and other Impressionist works. To complete the picture, architects Fernando and Humberto Campana have created a new restaurant with playful contrasts of colors and materials.