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2017 Fall Break Trip to Paris

November 18, 2017

During Fall Break students in ART 400, the methods seminar for History of Art majors, traveled to Paris with Professors Alsdorf, Kitzinger, and Watsky. The trip was an opportunity to explore the many cultural riches of the city with faculty specializing in different art-historical areas: nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European art (Alsdorf), medieval art (Kitzinger), and Japanese art (Watsky). Students discovered the collections of the Musée du Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Guimet, and the Musée de l’Orangerie, as well as several important architectural sites within and outside the city. At the Musée d’Orsay, students heard from Curator Stéphane Guégan, who gave an insider’s history of the museum and shared plans for its future. Then Professor Alsdorf and PhD candidate Carmen Rosenberg-Miller sparked discussions about some of their favorite paintings and sculptures in the collection, including works by Degas, Manet, and Raffaelli. At the Musée Guimet, Curator Michel Maucuer led a private tour of the Japanese collections, and Professor Watsky shared his expertise on a number of topics, including how Japanese folding screens are used — as art and as functional objects — in private homes. At the Musée de l’Orangerie, students were stunned by Claude Monet’s panoramic Water Lilies cycle, and learned that it was a site-specific installation designed by the artist with careful attention to the influx of natural light in the galleries and its changing effects throughout the day. At Place des Vosges (formerly Place Royale) and Place Dauphine students learned from Professor Alsdorf about the major seventeenth-century building programs of Henri IV that transformed Paris from a medieval city into a modern capital. At the Basilica of St. Denis, a short train ride from Paris, Professor Kitzinger generated discussion about the architectural and decorative program of the basilica, inside and out, and how the twelfth-century design has changed over the centuries. Students worked in groups to explore how the stained glass windows distribute colored light throughout the interior, how the funerary sculpture represents the power of the French monarchy, and how the crypt relates architecturally to the rest of the church. A second visit to the Louvre complemented this excursion with a guided discussion of various precious objects from the treasury of St. Denis. A highlight for everyone was an evening of contemporary dance at the Opéra Garnier, the home of the Paris Opéra Ballet and a landmark of opulent nineteenth-century architecture. After studying Degas’s paintings and sculptures of dancers behind the scenes at the Opéra, the performance and the building resonated with the students in various ways. In addition to this full program of visits to museums and monuments, students also explored more of the city’s neighborhoods (e.g. Montmartre, Saint-Germain-des-Prés) and parks (e.g. les Tuileries, le jardin du Luxembourg) on foot, as well as French food at traditional Parisian restaurants, bistros, cafés, open-air markets, and crêperies.