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Waterlilies see sunlight again

Renovations have revitalized Paris' L'Orangerie, where natural light shines on Monet's masterwork.

May 21, 2006|Susan Spano | Times Staff Writer

Paris — THE scaffolding that has enfolded the Orangerie Museum since 2001 has been removed. The heavy equipment is gone, and ash trees on the terrace have been newly trimmed.

Paris monuments seem to be in a continual state of transition and touch-up, but the changes at the southwestern corner of the Tuileries Gardens heralded something special: the long-awaited re-opening last week of L'Orangerie, home of Claude Monet's Impressionist masterwork of waterlilies.

Monet painted the series at his home in Giverny, northwest of Paris. He promised them to the French state at the end of World War I but couldn't bear to part with the paintings before he died in 1926. Special oval rooms, bathed in natural light, were designed for them in the 19th century building overlooking the Place de la Concorde, where they were installed in 1927.

For many years after that, the Orangerie was a must-see Paris attraction. But around 1960, the waterlily rooms were reconfigured and roofed-in to accommodate the addition of the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume Collection of early Modern art. Then the Pompidou opened, followed by the Musee d'Orsay across the river, housing a nonpareil collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. In 1989, the nearby Louvre got a show-stopping glass pyramid designed by I.M. Pei.

Meanwhile, L'Orangerie moldered and visitation dropped.

Finally, in the late 1990s, the French government decided to undertake a massive renovation of the Orangerie, aimed at returning the multi-paneled waterlilies display to its former glory, in naturally lighted rooms, giving the impression, as the artist had hoped, of "an endless image, without horizon or shore." Work stalled in 2003 when vestiges of a 16th century wall built by Charles IX were discovered during excavations, but then recommenced.

Monet's masterwork has been reinstalled in continuous panels near the entrance, allowing visitors to take in the whole ensemble.

New galleries near the garden are devoted to the Walter and Guillaume collection, which includes works by Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Utrillo and Modigliani. A bookshop, refitted reception hall, audio-visual room and display space for temporary exhibitions have been added.

"Orangerie, 1934: Painters of Reality," the new museum's first special exhibition, is scheduled to open Nov. 21. It recalls a landmark show on French painting in the 17th century that featured the work of Georges de la Tour.

L'Orangerie, a former winter hothouse for the Tuileries' orange trees, and the Jeu de Paume, its near twin on the western end of the gardens, were built in the 1850s. They hold a place of pride in central Paris, within sight of the Louvre, D'Orsay, the Place de la Concorde, the National Assembly and the Seine.

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The Orangerie Museum, in the Tuileries Gardens, is open 12:30-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Mondays; evening hours Friday until 9. Entrance about $8.

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