Strong Impressions

On Wednesday, after four years, I was able to return to the Musée d’Orsay. Many of the interior aesthetics have changed in the past four years because of renovations and reorganizations but the art, as always, remains the same. For a long time, Impressionism has been my favorite period of art, and my appreciation of the period, the artists, and the specific pieces has grown as time has passed and as I have learned more about the period.

Many of the people on the program can probably attest that I was (perhaps) irrationally excited to return to the museum. When people tried to figure out what they wanted to visit in Paris, I routinely suggested the museum. However, as I went into the museum, I was afraid that the reality of the place would not be able to live up to 16-year old Emily’s memories. But when I walked in the doors, I loved it as much as I did four years ago. It might be unusual or even weird, but museums are some of my favorite places; there is something about their seeming permanence and design that I find peaceful and comforting (that is, as long as they are not being invaded by groups of noisy school children, a circumstance that we have had to experience frequently throughout this trip).

As I walked through the museum, I found myself, to my deep dismay, becoming emotional and dare I say, even romantic. The people who know me well will most likely agree that to avoid feeling anything beyond ambivalent appreciation I will default to a sarcastic response. Nevertheless, I began to have so many thoughts about the art that I began typing them into my phone, thus resulting in Vince, Henry, or Anthony having to call my name to make sure that I kept up with them.

As I walked and admired their collections, I began contemplating why I enjoy Impressionism so much. To me, in terms of broad forms of art, realism dictates what I see and how I should interpret it. Modern art, on the other hand, relies on a subjective experience and personal interpretation of colors and images. Impressionist paintings depend on the artist’s ability to capture his or her fleeting impressions of light or shadows on canvas. These paintings encapsulate moments only experienced by the artists; the paintings’ durability, however, arises from the lasting impressions that the paintings grant each viewer. Each person looks at the same image, for example a woman in a field by Monet, a mountain by Cézanne, or a group of dancers by Degas. But their interpretation of and experience with the painting can widely differ.

The Musée d’Orsay and its neighboring museum, the Musée de l’Orangerie, host fantastic collections of Impressionist art in galleries designed so that people can best appreciate and understand the art. When I walked into the room to see a collection of Monet’s famous water lilies, I stared as the light changed and different shadows seemed to appear, making me feel as though I was in the gardens themselves rather than in the heart of Paris. Each shadow seemed to create a different painting; one moment it was colorful and joyful, and the next it was somber and melancholy. And yet, that interpretation and those moments were my own. Neither the painting nor fellow viewers told me what to think or how to feel. Just as the moments Monet painted the water lilies were his, so the moments I viewed the paintings were mine.

Later, as I continued to walk around Paris, my thoughts continually returned to those paintings. In my opinion, they best capture life. People do not experience a standardized life experience. Instead, each of us experiences life differently and values different moments above others. My experience of Paris was itself comprised of impressions. As I think back on those few days in Paris, I am left with glimpses of important moments and feelings: the time I leaned outside my window to view the glowing lights from the café on the corner; walking along the Seine at sunset; or smelling the rain as we walked along the river’s banks.

By painting impressions of light, shadows, and faces, the Impressionist artists were able to communicate feelings that are instantly relatable, and thus appreciated. By visiting the two museums, I was able to compare, view, and appreciate a wide variety of Impressionist works in a wonderfully organized and maintained environment, thus maximizing my enjoyment of and admiration for the Impressionist works of art.


Google has begun a project to digitalize key works of art in high-definition so that the public to view them online for free. Individuals are able to create their own “galleries” with art that they love. I created a ‘gallery’ with some of the most fascinating works I saw in Paris; the link should hopefully take you there.

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