A new way of looking at things
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Musée d'Orsay (Monet, Van Gogh)

Part 1

15 April 2011 

The Gare d'Orsay was transformed into a museum in 1986.


When the spectacular Beaux-Arts railway station on Paris’ Left Bank, the Gare d'Orsay, opened in 1900, the painter Edouard Detaille exulted, "La gare est superbe et a l'air d'un Palais des Beaux-Arts," —The station is superb and seems like a Palace of Fine Arts.

Seventy-three years later, when the Gare d'Orsay closed its doors, it sadly seemed like the end.  But then, the station was only sleeping.  In 1986 it woke up as a “palace of fine arts” indeed, and is now chock-full of Van Goghs, Monets, Renoirs, Cezannes and Manets.


The interior of the Musée d’Orsay


This is the place to go if you want to see French art dating from the years 1848 to 1915, including Millet's Des glaneuses, Manet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe, Renoir's Bal du moulin de la Galette, Cézanne's Pommes et Oranges, Gauguin's Femmes de Tahiti, Degas’ La classe de danse, not to mention works by Bouguereau, Caillebotte, Cassatt, Corot, Courbet, Delacroix, Ingres, Jongkind, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Rousseau, Sisley, van Gogh, and many others.

If the list of painters above is any indication, the Musée d'Orsay is the main stop on the Impressionism line.


Musée d’Orsay, effet du bateau mouche

(a post-Impressionistic take on the museum with a little help from Photoshop)


Claude Monet (14 November 1840 – 5 December 1926), for example, is represented by 86 paintings in the museum’s holdings.  His painting Gare St-Lazare was briefly discussed in a previous blog entry.  Another particularly enthralling painting of Monet’s is La cathédrale de Rouen (Rouen Cathedral; 1892-94).  Perhaps I should say 31 enthralling paintings, because that’s how many versions he made of the cathedral.  The Musée d'Orsay owns five of them, with the others in the series scattered around the world — in Germany, Switzerland, Serbia, Japan, the US, Rouen (of course), and practically next door at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris.

Rouen Cathedral, in northwestern France, is a stunning example of the Gothic style of architecture of the high and late medieval period.  Its profusion of towers and spires, flying buttresses, pinnacles and traceried windows has seized the imaginations of the earthbound for centuries.

To make this remarkable series of paintings, Monet had rented various apartments overlooking the west facade of the cathedral over the course of two years.  He worked on several canvases simultaneously in order to capture the ever-changing play of light on the stone as the days and seasons passed.  He would paint in thick layers to build up textures that expressed the shimmering images of the architectural features as they caught the sunlight at various times of day.  The cathedral, as represented in Monet’s paintings, takes on a radically different character under different lighting conditions, constantly changing our perception of it.  "Everything changes, even stone," Claude Monet observed.


Claude Monet:  La Cathédrale de Rouen. Le portail et la tour Saint-Romain, plein soleil; harmonie bleue et or, 1892-1893, Musée d'Orsay


I might mention that, just as Monet had taken up residence there earlier, entire families of pigeons now lodge in the building across from the cathedral, perching on the ledges above unsuspecting photographers.  A word of advice here (gained through hard-won experience):  when tipping one’s head back to peer through the view-finder of a camera, even if overcome with awe at the impressive cathedral, it is best to keep one’s mouth closed.


rose window, west façade of Rouen Cathedral



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There is another painting of a church at the Musée d'Orsay, this one by the Dutch post-Impressionist painter, Vincent van Gogh (30 March 1853 - 29 July 1890).  While Monet was not so much interested in the church as in the play of light on its surface, van Gogh seemed to be probing into his relationship with the church itself in his painting.

Van Gogh was born in Groot Zundert, a small village in the south of the Netherlands.  His father was a minister and three of his uncles, one named Vincent as well, were art dealers.  With the help of his uncle “Cent,” Vincent van Gogh began working at the age of 16 for art dealers, traveling between The Hague, London and Paris.  But then, being pulled in the other hereditary direction, he briefly studied theology in Amsterdam.  After failing in his studies, he became a missionary in a coal-mining district of Belgium.  Following some problems in that endeavor, Vincent’s younger brother Theo suggested that Vincent pursue art.  Over the next several years, van Gogh drifted from Brussels (where he studied art) to Etten, Drenthe, The Hague, Nuenen, and Antwerp, learning his craft.


A good place to find pommes frites in Amsterdam, the side of the wagon featuring a colorful interpretation of van Gogh’s first major work, De Aardappeleters (The Potato Eaters; 1885) — the original work, at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, was painted during van Gogh’s two-year stay in Nuenen



the recently added wing of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam — this museum has the largest collection of van Gogh paintings in the world



another view of the recently added wing of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam


In 1886, van Gogh moved to Paris where he lived with his brother Theo, now an art dealer, in the Montmartre.  While there, he was exposed to the work of Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.  As a result of this first encounter with Impressionism, he began using vivid colors, adopting certain aspects of pointillism from Seurat, as well as borrowing a heavy impasto technique from Adolphe Monticelli.  After two years and more than 200 paintings, he moved to Arles in the south of France, where he was soon joined by Paul Gauguin.

Many of van Gogh’s most exquisite paintings in his highly recognizable style were made in Provence, each signed with a simple, “Vincent.”



The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (France)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

Other Threads in This Blog: