Entering the grand nave of the Musée d’Orsay one immediately notices Lady Liberty, Auguste Bartholdi’s small-scale version of the colossal statue gracing New York Harbor. The conservation of this world-famous icon, which was deteriorating and subject to vandalism in the Luxembourg Gardens, as well as Liberty’s restoration, including a recasting of the flame, was one of the first achievements funded by American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay (AFMO). Her prominent presence on a pedestal in the entrance of the museum, known around the world for its unsurpassed collection of Impressionist paintings, is but one of the many notable accomplishments of AFMO and symbolizes the organization’s mission to promote and strengthen ties between two renowned cultural institutions (Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie) and Americans on both sides of the Atlantic.
AFMO, an American organization that was created in 2009, is a non-profit public charity whose mission is to raise public awareness and financial support for the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie. A membership to AFMO offers those who are passionate about art and French culture rare access to the Orsay’s collections and the pride of supporting two museums. Executive Director of AFMO, Verena Thornton, states, “The organization is keen to promote Franco-American friendship through the arts and to attract Americans who think beyond national borders, which benefits everyone.”
Since its inception, the organization has had a clear goal to promote the culture and art of the museums through special projects. “AFMO is set up to encourage, restore, and pay for extraordinary projects that the museum cannot pay for,” states Co-Chair and Board Member, Peter J. Solomon. These projects include AFMO’S participation in funding the refurbishment of the lighting of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie, as well as the restoration of paintings and frames, acquisition of art and paintings in the arts and decorative arts, support for exhibitions (many of which travel to the U.S.), grants, and translation of catalogues into English.
There are great advantages to membership in AFMO that significantly enhance one’s experience. Members are granted priority, no-wait access to both permanent collection and temporary exhibitions at the Orsay and the Orangerie. Members may also benefit from complimentary Patron’s Pass Tours, giving private access to exhibitions guided by museum curators when the museums are closed to the general public. Add in access to private homes such as the home and atelier of Luis Vuitton, artists’ studios, private collections, places such as the Hermès Roof Garden, invitations to exclusive events, and the appeal is very evident. Also attractive is the fact that all donations are U.S. tax deductible.
As a member of AFMO, one can truly experience the best that Paris has to offer. Board Member Capera Ryan enthusiastically agrees, “AFMO is a wonderful organization connecting Americans with not only the Musée d’Orsay, but France! It gives behind-the-scenes opportunities to members travelling to France and events in the U.S.”
I was very fortunate to get a taste of these opportunities during a recent weekend of exclusive, spectacular events sponsored by AFMO to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Musée d’Orsay and to honour patrons Marlene and Spencer Hays, who recently made the largest foreign donation of paintings to the museum since the Second World War. (The 600 exceptional works include pieces by Degas and Rodin.) The festivities kicked off with a cocktail reception at the residence of the American Ambassador, with catered hors d’oeuvres by Michelin-starred chef Eric Frechon. It was thrilling to have the doors open to this beautiful residence, and to share the evening with sophisticated art enthusiasts and francophiles.
On Friday, members were offered a full-day programme with a menu of choices, including private curated tours of the Musée Rodin and l’Orangerie, lunch at the unique and lovely Pagoda Paris (La Pagode), and culminating with a choice of visits to the renowned jewelry houses of Maison Mellerio and L’École Van Cleef & Arpels, or a delicious peek inside the kitchens at the L’École Ritz Escoffier, or a private tour in the recently restored Decorative Arts Galleries of the Louvre museum.
In the evening, we donned cocktail attire, as members were invited to a private tour, reception and dinner at the Musée d’Orsay. There was something truly magical about entering the great open space at night, and seeing Lady Liberty standing proudly underneath the high glass ceiling, enhancing the elegant ambience.
Saturday included more private visits and was capped off by the grandeur of a gala event at the Elysée Palace, official residence of the President of the French Republic (and attended by Monsieur Hollande), honoring esteemed patrons Marlene and Spencer Hays.
On the final morning, members were feted at an exclusive breakfast at the Ritz Hotel, recently reopened after a $400 million renovation that lasted nearly three years– followed by a private visit to the Park and Chateau de Bagatelle.
With all these exceptional events, AFMO has cultivated a dedicated following of American supporters and its ties to the U.S are getting stronger. As a member, one can enjoy such exclusive experiences, while being part of the continuing renaissance of the world’s premier Impressionist museum. Memberships are yearly, and benefits vary by level, starting with Young Patrons (ages 21-40) at $200, and rising in rank to President’s Circle at $20,000. Details on membership can be found by visiting the organization’s website: www.aforsay.org.