Spending a day at the museum is one of the most popular things to do in Paris—even for the Parisians, which means exhibitions are usually full, with long waits and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds that can make it difficult to see the art. Which is why I thought I had entered a parallel universe when I recently found myself totally alone in a room with Claude Monet’s iconic Nymphéas (Water Lily) paintings in the Musée de l’Orangerie.
The silence was magical as diffused light flooded in from the glass rooftop, bounced off the broken-white walls and filled the large oval space with indirect luminosity, exactly as the artist had intended. The effect is astounding; you can almost feel the color vibrating into the center of the room, emanating a sense of peace and well-being, also as the artist had intended. It is a feeling difficult to perceive on an average day when the room is filled with dozens of other visitors, and a remarkably magical moment.
How did I get so lucky? I was the guest of American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay (AFMO), and I was on one of the exclusive, private Patron Pass trips it offers its members throughout the year. The Orangerie is under the d’Orsay umbrella, so the trips may be held at either venue but always on the day that the museum is closed to the general public, so a small group can feel like real insiders as workers scurry about, building sets for the next show, rearranging collections or reviewing the security systems.
If that weren’t enough, AFMO guides are celebrities—curators, collectors or specialists one rarely gets to meet in daily life. Our guide was the newly appointed director of the museum, and the current rock star of the local art scene, Madame Laurence des Cars. Mme des Cars is overwhelmingly enthusiastic about her new challenge, bouncing a bit in her loafers as she shares her ambitious plans for the Orangerie: changing the displays, enriching the current collection and enticing some exciting temporary exhibitions were just a few of the ideas she can’t wait to add to the framework. Her enthusiasm was contagious, making us all excited for the future of the Orangerie.
Exactly how does one become a friend of AFMO so he or she can also attend these exclusive events and perhaps even help reshape the future of the Orangerie? Visit the organization’s website and become a member. It’s for a good cause, as the AFMO supports art exchanges between the United States and France, education and capital improvements and acquisitions and conservation. Membership starts at €200 per year and includes benefits like priority access to the museums, reduced prices in the gift shop and restaurants, and two free Patron Pass trips. Memberships with more-generous benefits include VIP entries, invitations to the AFMO annual gala and previews of exhibitions. Nonmembers are welcome, too, and can sign up online to attend the extraordinary Patron Pass trips for a €35 fee.
American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay