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De gustibus non est disputandum: in matters of taste there can be no disputes. Taste is personal, not objective. This is particularly true when it comes to art. A person’s response to a particular work is always a complex function of their personality and life experiences. One can argue that an artwork is good or bad based on some articulable set of criteria. But whether one finds a work of art interesting or enjoyable is entirely personal. This description of three different takes on the Musée d’Orsay should make one marvel at how different taste can be rather than judging the quality of a particular response.

I visited the the Musée d’Orsay twice over the past week, the first time with C.N. and the second time with Sherard. All three of us care about art, and are strongly moved by certain works, but our tastes vary. I realized from his 2016 stay, for example, that Sherard often prefers street art to great masters. And I knew that C.N. was a lot more passionate about Picasso than I was. Our responses to the Musée d’Orsay further impressed me with how different our tastes were.

We all started on the fifth floor, which presents (to my own taste) perhaps the finest collection of impressionist art in the world. C.N. and I had each seen the collection several times, but Sherard had missed it during his first visit because the museum was closed due to the Great Flood of 2016. I love many of these paintings, with Monet, Alfred Sisely and Cezanne being among my all-time favorite painters. My own project this visit — apart from seeing old friends — was to take a few more shots for my Google Photoset, Impressionism Far and Near. This juxtaposes photos of an entire painting with a close-up of some particular portion, arguing that even a small section of a fine impressionist painting would itself make an appealing abstract work. Here is one pair of images to illustrate:

Cezanne, Apples and Oranges, c. 1899

Cezanne, Apples and Oranges, c. 1899 (detail)

C.N. also took photographs of his favorite paintings, with his much better camera. Sherard didn’t mind the gallery, and appreciated a few specific paintings I pointed out, but wasn’t strongly attracted by anything he saw.

The Musée d’Orsay also featured a temporary exhibition: Black models. From Géricault to Matisse. Sherard and I were keen to see this, but C.N. had no interest in it at all! It proved to be even more fascinating than I had expected. Here are just a few glimpses but I highly recommend that you go if you can (it’s on through July 16, 2019).

Marie-Guillemine Benoist, “Portrait de Madeleine”, 1800

Charles Cordier, “Vénus Africaine”, 1851

Marcel Antoine Verdier, “Le Châtiment des Quatre Piquets dans le Colonies”, 1843 (postdated 1849 by the artist)

Jean-Léon Gérôme, “À Vendre, Esclaves au Caire”, 1873

André Derain, “Jouer de Mandoline”, 1930

On our way down to the Black Model exhibition Sherard noticed an art deco chair in a side gallery. He loves art deco, so we explored. Furniture and furnishings normally leave me cold, but I was quite impressed by this collection. I don’t know whether it was a temporary exhibition or part of the permanent collection, but in either case I recommend it. When C.N. and I visited the museum we didn’t even know about it. Here are some looks at this very different art form:


All three of us had, I think, a healthy appreciation for the statuary in the central hall of the Musée d’Orsay, but I have to admit that I may have lingered longer over some of them than either Sherard or C.N.

Bottom line is that our tastes differed considerably, but our varying perspectives led us on several occasions into a richer appreciation of the museum than we would have had if we had visited on our own.

One last example of this was at the Picasso museum, which I visited with C.N., as we had three years ago, but haven’t seen with Sherard. I’m not a big Picasso fan but I tagged along again because the museum had an exhibition comparing him to Alexander Calder, who I admire. I found the curator’s attempts to link the two artists profoundly unpersuasive, but the Calder pieces were really nice.

A Calder mobile juxtaposed with a Picasso sculpture. The connection seems to have something to do with negative space, but it sounded to me like negative logic.

Cheerful Calder giant through the old glass of the Picasso Museum