AFMO event at the Orsay Museum. Photo: Krystal Kenney

Members of the American Friends Musée d’Orsay (AFMO) were dazzled and delighted as they celebrated the very best that France has to offer at this year’s long-weekend Gala entitled, “A Weekend in Paris.” From the outset, it was clear that AFMO’S “Weekend in Paris” was like no weekend any mere mortal could dream of experiencing.

The fantastic “red-carpet ride” weekend of events kicked off Thursday evening with an invitation to attend a cocktail reception at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, where AFMO members were honoured with a welcome by Ambassador Jamie McCourt, who noted that France is our oldest ally and, “without the French we might still be a colony.”

AFMO event at the Orsay Museum. Photo: Krystal Kenney

AFMO is a befitting acronym for a Franco-American alliance that began centuries ago. Since its inception in 2009 as a non-profit public charity, AFMO has been dedicated to raising public awareness and financial support for the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie. AFMO’S many notable accomplishments have included the conservation of Auguste Bartholdi’s small-scale Statue of Liberty, gracing the nave of the Musée d’Orsay and symbolizing Franco-American friendship, as well as raising funds to support acquisitions, special projects, restoration, education and renovations. Chair of AFMO’S Board, Elizabeth Kehler, stated that, “Our mission is to support the d’Orsay and the l’Orangerie and French culture, and to preserve America’s wonderful relationship with France.” She added that although AFMO is a fundraising organization, “Our aim is to try to keep the fun in fundraising.” And that they did!

Members awoke Friday to a menu of exclusive access to the most prestigious maisons, art collections, and national treasures of Paris. Thanks to the connections and relationships cultivated by AFMO, we were graced with entry to places usually not open to the public. Not only did AFMO provide the entrée, but also access to leadership of the museums and curators as well.

AFMO event at the Orsay Museum. Photo: Krystal Kenney

Morning choices included a private visit to the l’Orangerie with Museum Director Cécile Debray, who guided members on a tour of the current exhibition. Also offered was a “Behind the Scenes” visit to the impressive Reading Room in the Louvre, for an up close and personal view of the Musée d’Orsay’s drawings collection, including Degas, Manet, Morisot, Serat, and Millet. Even Gauguin’s Tahitian journal Noa Noa was opened to our eyes only. At yet another “Behind the Scenes” visit, guests were invited into the Musée d’Orsay Graphic Art and Photography Department to view works by Edward Steichen and Alfred Steiglitz.

Excitement mounted as guests were transported back to the 18th century via a private visit to the National Archives at the Hotel de Soubise, a palatial building constructed in 1731 and considered one of the most prestigious Parisian residences. The mansion became a National Monument at the time of the Revolution to house the official documents of the French Republic. Jaws dropped as guests were shown historical documents once held in the hands of some of the most famous people in history, including the will of Louis XIV, written and signed two days before he died; Marie Antoinette’s last letter to her sister-in-law; and the final letters written by Louis XVI. This was dramatically capped off by a view of the Iron Chest, an enormous vault containing the most important documents of French history, including the first Constitution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

AFMO reception at the Ambassador’s residence. Photo: Krystal Kenney

Equally thrilling was our visit to the private archives of Paul Durand-Ruel, the innovative art dealer who was crucial to the success of the Impressionists. Esteemed art historian Flavie Durand-Ruel, descendant of Paul Durand-Ruel, retraced the steps in the life and career of her great-great-grandfather, and the critical role he played promoting the development of French Impressionism. Offering both financial and emotional support, he helped establish and guide the careers of artists including Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Degas and Casatt. A groundbreaking entrepreneur, he redefined the role of the art dealer, and was a pioneer of the modern art market. Ms. Durand-Ruel stated that, a true visionary, “He was a revolutionary man in the way he defended his artists. He thought art was above all else.”

These incredible morning visits left us in awe, and also hungry. Champagne, tray-passed hors-d’oeuvres, and a beautiful lunch awaited us as we were ushered into the Bibliothèque Nationale de France for a private visit and lunch in the Salon d’Honneur under the gaze of Voltaire.

AFMO reception at the Orsay. Photo: Krystal Kenney

After lunch, the magic continued. We enjoyed Afternoon Tea at the Ritz Hotel, along with a lecture on Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie, Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar UK and author of “Chanel. Her Life.” Then, we were escorted to Chanel’s apartment on Rue Cambon, a secret place in the universe of Coco Chanel, not a museum, not independently accessible, and untouched since she died in her room at the Ritz at the age of 87. We ascended the mirrored spiral staircase, entering the private world of Chanel, through a mirrored door that can’t be seen from the outside.

Fashion aficionados were thrilled to visit Maison Schiaparelli, Elsa Schiaparelli’s iconic couture house, as well as Maison Lesage, one of the oldest embroidery ateliers in Paris, providing old world craftsmanship to haute couture since its inception in the mid-1800s. Becoming part of Chanel’s Métiers d’art in 2002, the company follows the credo of François Lesage, “Embroidery is to haute couture what fireworks are to Bastille Day.”

Early evening provided another treat, a private after-hours visit to view the exhibition “Picasso. Masterpieces!” at the Musée National Picasso, where we received a special welcome and introduction by Museum President Laurent Le Bon. We viewed key works (some of which are being shown in Paris for the first time) and took a fresh look at the historical context that helped make each Picasso piece an icon of art.

AFMO reception at the Ambassador’s residence. Photo: Krystal Kenney

The following day included more choices including a visit to the newly opened Giacometti Institute, showcasing the world’s richest collection of works by Alberto Giacometti, and housing a stunning reconstituted version of his atelier. Another selection was a short pilgrimage to Meudon, a suburb of Paris, to visit Rodin’s museum, home atelier and garden. Guests were surprised to find his tomb in front of the house directly underneath the Thinker statue, and were amazed by the immense studio showing his sculptures in successive stages of his creative process. A final choice was a private visit to the famed Kraemer Gallery, where, since 1875, the most beautiful 18th century furniture and art objects in the Louis XIV, XV, and XVI styles have been exhibited. The Kraemer family opened the door to their Art Gallery and home in a stunning private mansion, and demonstrated how each exquisite piece has been rigorously selected. From the outset, the Kraemers’ clientele included the most illustrious names: Rothschild, Camondo, and J. Paul Getty, to mention a few. Some of their pieces are currently exhibited in major museums such as the Louvre, the MET, and the White House.

AFMO at Le Bristol. Photo: Krystal Kenney

Anticipation built as guests donned their finest cocktail attire to attend a private visit of “Picasso, Blue and Rose” and the sold out Impressionist-themed Gala Evening at the Musée d’Orsay, with an exceptional dinner created by Gabi Shafir, Executive Chef of the Moroccan Royal family and Member of L’Equipe de France de la Gastronomie et des Maitre du Service. We were honoured to be in the presence of Franck Riester, Minister of Culture of the French Republic. The Minister recognized AFMO’S tremendous commitment to the Musée d’Orsay and l’Orangerie, noting that, “This Friendship is supported by profound admiration and mutual respect, and AFMO is indispensable to making the museum more alive.” He enthused that, “By supporting the Orsay and Orangerie, you support our entire culture.” The event sponsors were Christie’s, the New York Times, Bollinger, La Maison du Chocolat, Annenberg Foundation, the Ritz, the Bristol and the Crillon.

Musée d’Orsay President Laurence des Cars followed, and referring to the recent Trip Advisors Travellers’ Choice ranking of the Musée d’Orsay as the Best Museum in the world, was thrilled to announce, “It’s now official! AFMO supports the Best Museum in the world!”

AFMO Executive Director, Verena Thornton wholeheartedly agreed, noting that, “The Musée d’Orsay represents the beginning of modern Paris, and people can feel it. The Impressionists established an emotional connection to this transformation, which was one of the gifts the Impressionists gave us.”

Le Bristol Paris. Photo: Krystal Kenney

AFMO has taken this emotional connection to the next level and beyond. The next morning, enjoying a lovely buffet breakfast and tour of the art collection at Le Bristol Paris, members emoted about the strong bonds and camaraderie felt by all who shared this magical weekend. Board Member Audrey Spangenberg spoke of the friendships that AFMO has fostered because, “We are all here for the love of art, and of course the love of Paris.”

We enjoyed our last outing, a private tour of the Jardin des Plantes, with garden guide Amy Kupec Larue, who shared her passion for gardens and plants. While strolling, the impact of this weekend non-pareil set in, and Board Member Maureen Higdon enthused that she has met “fascinating, interesting, global people, with whom I share a common denominator as a member of AFMO.”

Jardin des Plantes with garden guide Amy Kupec Larue. Photo: Krystal Kenney

Members are already more than eager to attend next year’s Gala event celebrating the 350th Anniversary of the Opera Garnier, coordinated with the “Degas and Dance” exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay.

Fortunately, by becoming a member of AFMO, you too can enjoy privileged access and the many year round events that take place both in Paris and the U.S., while at the same time, perpetuate Franco-American friendship, support the world’s Best Museum, share ideals and appreciation of French culture, and experience Paris beyond your dreams!

Details on membership can be found by visiting the organization’s website: www.afmo.org

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Barbara Gerber
A native of Los Angeles, Barbara is the France Today Ambassador for L.A. She graduated from UCLA with a BA degree in Political Science, and also received her JD degree from UCLA School of Law. While at UCLA, she spent her junior year in Grenoble, France. From that time on, she has been an avid and passionate Francophile. She has visited almost every region in France, and still pursues French language courses in Los Angeles. She has an apartment in Paris and continues to visit France every year.

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