In Orléans, a museum’s serious facelift!

Guido Reni, David holding Goliath’s head, 1600 – 1624, Orléans, Musée des Beaux-Arts © Christophe Camus

I have passed the town of Orléans a million times on my way to the West but I have to admit, I never stopped. It’s only when seeing large ads in the Paris metro on the new lifting of Musée des Beaux Arts d’Orléans that I had the idea of driving there one morning. And this was the most exhilarating surprise of the month. The collections are overwhelming and the director, Olivia Voisin, has at 36,  done a job that many top decorators could not have achieved in revamping the rooms. 

Olivia Voisin is director of the museums of Orléans since December 2015

The museum shows 700 paintings from the XVth to the XXIst century, with a strong emphasis on French, Italian and Flemish art. It was started with the “saisies révolutionnaires”, the paintings and furniture taken from the aristocrats who fled to England in 1789 and was constantly enriched by private donations in the 19 th and 20 th century. It is the most perfect example of a museum which received very little help from the state, a rarity in France.

Louis Le Nain, Bacchus and Ariane, 1635, Orléans, musée des beaux-arts © Christophe Camus

When you first walk to the second floor you immediately run into a few paintings by Michel Corneille,  Guido Reni and his “David an Goliath”, a St Cecile from Bologna and a series of fabulous Dutch works. The quality of each piece is baffling as is an anonymous portrait of an English lady painted on copper at the beginning of the 17 th century.

The salle des Grands formats reminded me of the museum in Hartford, Ct

It is on the first floor that the emotion becomes intense when you enter the huge Salle des grands formats (room for large paintings) with a series of works by Martin Fréminet and four large marble Greek statues from Athens in the 2nd century. They used to belong to Cardinal de Richelieu and were acquired by the Louvre when his castle was dismantled in 1801.

Jean Antoine Houdon, Terra cotta portraits of Voltaire, with Molière, La Fontaine and Rousseau 1781

The room with the Houdon sculptures is another spectacular vision and when I learned that Olivia Voisin had worked at the Comédie Française before coming to Orléans, I understood her talent at staging exhibitions. Trained at Ecole du Louvre and at Paris university with a stint in Dublin, this young curator is specialized in the ties between painting and the theatre. She also focused on painter Achille Devéria, a mid 19 th century artist. She has been asked by the Minister of culture, with the museum of Rouen, to circulate major works of art from Paris in the provinces.

Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, portrait of Madame Lesould, 1780

There is a celadon painted room devoted to Louis XV th and Madame de Pompadour’s era with furniture and objects and a collection of pastels reminiscent of those of the Louvre.

Tamara de Lempicka, Saint-Moritz, 1929, Orléans, Musée des Beaux-Arts © François Lauginie

Downstairs in dreary rooms that have not yet been restored, I saw a Marcel Gromaire, a superb and gigantic  Hantaï and an Oliveir Debré… But the great surprise was a Tamara de Lempicka called “Saint Moritz”! A true pleasure.

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