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Musée de l'Orangerie - Monet's Water Lilies © Jon/Flickr
Musée de l'Orangerie - Monet's Water Lilies © Jon/Flickr

The History Of The Musée De L’Orangerie In 1 Minute

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 17 December 2016
Constructed in 1852 to shelter the citrus trees of Emperor Napoleon III from the harsh Parisian winters, the Musée de l’Orangerie now houses arguably the most exquisite collection of 19th and 20th century art in the world. André Masson, the French surrealist painter, famously described the rooms containing Claude Monet’s final Water Lilies series as ‘the Sistine Chapel of Impressionism.’

After the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, the building continued to serve as a greenhouse until 1922. That year, Monet formally gifted his last great work to the French people. He painted the water lilies of his Giverny garden for almost thirty years – producing upwards of 250 works – but 1914 marked the ultimate stage of his creative obsession. On the day after the 1918 armistice, Monet offered his work in progress as a symbol of peace.

Two oval rooms, together forming the mathematical symbol for infinity, were designed to hold eight panels, each two meters high and with a cumulative length of 91 meters. Diffused natural light enters through the ceiling as the sun tracks the east-west axis of Paris over the Louvre and Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, a passage reflected in the shifting hues of the canvasses. Never satisfied, Monet continued working on them until his death in 1926 and they finally went on public display on May 17th, 1927.

The acquisition of the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume collection in 1959 and 1963 solidified l’Orangerie’s reputation. Guillaume was an ardent collector of impressionists and post-impressionists including Renoir, Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse. In order to accommodate the 146 paintings donated by the twice widowed Domenica Walter, two levels were added to the building, which obscured the light entering Monet’s exhibit. The museum reopened after six years of renovations on May 17th, 2006, with the upper levels relocated to a new basement and Monet’s chambers returned to their original state.

The Musée d’Orsay may host a larger collection of the same era but the Musée de l’Orangerie boasts the most enthralling art experience in the world, rivaled perhaps only by the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. Monet wanted to create ‘the illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore’ and his venture in immortality awaits anyone wishing to be immersed in all its splendor.

📅 Open daily: 9am-6pm. Last entry at 5:15pm. Closed Tuesdays.