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Paris museum shows Monet's waterlilies in their natural light

May 03, 2006|Bernard Giansetto | The Associated Press

PARIS — Daylight is again streaming onto Claude Monet's celebrated waterlilies in a Paris museum where eight of the color-drenched canvases are returning to public view.

The Orangerie Museum reopens to the public Friday after a painstaking six-year renovation, paying tribute to Impressionists' love of light by installing a giant skylight and making the building again resemble a greenhouse -- its original use.

Workers tore up the low, drab ceiling that had sliced the museum horizontally, and a vast skylight now opens up above the Impressionist masterpieces for the first time in more than four decades.

Tucked into the Tuileries Gardens, the stone structure once sheltered delicate orange trees in the winter before becoming home to Monet's mammoth waterlily murals.

"The most important part of our work was to give the light back to the waterlilies," Olivier Brochet, one of the architects on the $31-million project, said as the museum was opened Tuesday for a preview.

"These paintings are so close to nature, weather and time that it was a crime to block out the sunlight," said Brochet, referring to a 1960 expansion that slapped a second story onto the museum, above the gallery housing the waterlilies, depriving them of light.

On sunny days such as Tuesday, a new glass roof allows the waterlily room to flood with natural light; a freshly installed system of overhead spotlights will help illuminate the mammoth canvases on Paris' many cloudy days.

For the last three decades of Monet's life, his main subject was his frontyard in the small French town of Giverny, with its lily-filled pond, Japanese bridge and weeping willows. He painted hundreds of works of waterlilies and donated eight large-scale canvases to the French people at the end of World War I.

Monet helped draw up plans to transform the Orangerie, which was used to store equipment and house soldiers during World War I, from a 19th century greenhouse into a gallery. He died a year before the exhibit opened in 1927.

The museum, which still had a glass ceiling, became one of the pilgrimage sites for Impressionist painting. French painter Andre Masson praised it in a widely cited 1952 article as the "Sistine Chapel of Impressionism."

But to make room for a major donation of paintings in the 1960s, architects added a second floor, cutting the space in two horizontally with a concrete slab. Renovators have torn down the offending addition and moved the donated collection, which features paintings by Paul Cezanne and Pablo Picasso, to a new annex -- also illuminated with natural light.

During renovations, most of the collection went on the road as part of a traveling exhibition. Earnings from the tour financed a quarter of the renovation costs.

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