Works of art are made to be seen by all, to travel across the world and across the ages. The universal nature of masterpieces precludes any one person owning them. They belong to everyone. The role of a museum is to preserve and maintain the works, to see that they are shared and circulated.
To this end, the Musée d’Orsay has for many years organized ambitious projects. For 2010, during the major renovation program of some of its galleries, the museum has organized a traveling exhibition of part of its collections in several countries that have long-standing associations with France, especially at a cultural level. Exceptionally, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have decided to host two successive exhibitions, thus creating a veritable “Orsay Year” in San Francisco.
The first exhibition presents the sources, the birth, and the transformations of Impressionism around 1874, the date of the inaugural exhibition of the group that included Eugène Boudin, Cézanne, Degas, Monet, Berthe Morisot, Pissarro, and Renoir. The exhibition begins and ends with Manet, recalling the influence of Spanish art, the part played by the École des Batignolles, the legacy of Courbet and Millet, the Impressionist adventure, and the evolution of academic art, and it aims to reconstruct the unity of this period.
The second exhibition presents the stylistic development of the great Impressionist painters after 1886, the date of their last collective exhibition, and evokes the turning point that occurred around 1900, when the avant-garde encountered the renaissance of decorative murals. The works of Monet, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Seurat, Le Douanier Rousseau, Bonnard, and Vuillard bear witness to this revival.
Each of these two shows brings together masterpieces that, once they return to the Musée d’Orsay, will almost certainly never be lent out again for exhibition all together. I hope that they will excite the interest of the American public in order to strengthen further the links between our two countries.
President of the French Republic