The collection of the Musée de l’Orangerie retraces certain unique facets of 20th century art, from the large-scale Water Lilies decoration by Claude Monet, the ultimate and founding masterpiece of abstraction and immersive works, to the painting collection of Paul Guillaume and Domenica Walter, characterised by the tension between modernity and figuration, from Renoir to Matisse, from Cézanne to Picasso, from Douanier Rousseau to Modigliani and Soutine.
The new presentation of the Musée de l’Orangerie collection, in renovated spaces, creates a closer connection between the two parts of the collection – Water Lilies / École de Paris [School of Paris] in the early 20th century – with an elegant spatial and visual coherence within the building and a fluid, educational and stimulating visitor circuit. The visit begins with a striking entrance to the collection with a large polyptychs by Joan Mitchell (loan from the Musée national d’Art moderne) on the one hand, and large-scale works by the modern "primitives” - Picasso, Douanier Rousseau, Derain, Modigliani, Matisse, etc. on the other - based on the vision of the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. The monographic galleries offers the public a new, more up-close and comfortable perspective of the works.
The exceptional loan of a set of African and Oceanian sculptures, previously in the Paul Guillaume collection, by the musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, as well as several drawings and archives, enrich the tour. The two new galleries - one dedicated to close-ups of the collection (three per year) and the other to contemporary counterpoints to the Water Lilies - contribute to the dynamism and constant renewal of this prestigious collection.
Action financed by the Région Île-de-France
"Paul Guillaume was one of the first to be touched by modern revelation." André Breton, 1923
"Before his great enthusiasm for Negro art, Paul Guillaume put together a collection of fetishes while taking an interest in artists who were not yet well known, like Modigliani and Soutine. I am not talking about his private collection, in which one could admire the most revealing paintings by Matisse, Derain, Henri Rousseau and Picasso. Passing away prematurely, he came and went like a meteor." That was how art dealer Ambroise Vollard described Paul Guillaume (1891–1934), a young art dealer who Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918) trained and advised.
The poet, who spotted this young lover of ‘primitive art’ as early as 1911, introduced him to avant-garde art circles and guided him in his choices when he opened his first gallery in 1914. Driven by an artistic environment that was paradoxically dynamic during the First World War, Paul Guillaume brilliantly gave the poet’s tastes concrete form. The two towering figures of French modern art – Matisse and Picasso, whose works he exhibited in a 1918 artistic dialogue that stayed famous – formed the heart of a modern Paris school.
From there, two trends began. First, there were isolated figures like Utrillo, Modigliani and Soutine, who put forward the idea of "modern primitivism", embodied by Henri Rousseau and by African and Oceanian art. Second, the works of André Derain, Marie Laurencin, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse in the 1920s revived figurative art. They explored the rediscovered late works of the impressionist masters: Cézanne, Monet and Renoir.
The collection in the Musée de l’Orangerie therefore reflects a precise moment in modern art in Paris, that of the periodical Les Arts à Paris, which Paul Guillaume founded in 1918, and of the ‘modernist representations’ in his gallery, with recitals from composers Eric Satie, Georges Auric and Claude Debussy, readings of Blaise Cendrars and Guillaume Apollinaire, and presentations of metaphysical paintings by Giorgio de Chirico. Up to his death in 1934, Paul Guillaume never stopped evoking the tutelary influence of the poet, who passed away prematurely, in his collection project and his plans for the first museum of modern art: "His clear-sighted passion and crusading spirit expressed as lyrical beauty, combining a profound science and graceful charm, made him one of the most brilliant promoters of emerging works."