American Friends Musée d’Orsay (AFMO) once again showcased the beauty and grandeur of Paris at this year’s spectacular long weekend Gala entitled “A Weekend in Paris.” From Thursday, October 17 to Sunday, October 20, AFMO offered its members exclusive access to prestigious places, cultural icons, and unique exhibitions that would top anyone’s bucket list.
Starting with an absolutely exquisite invitation printed by Christies and designed by Fashion Illustrator Marc-Antoine Coulon, the tone was set. The artist’s rendering of a gold overlaid Belle Époque clock enhanced by ethereal ballerinas performing “grands jetés” literally off the cover raised anticipation for the magnificent adventures awaiting AFMO members.
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, known around the world for its unsurpassed collection of Impressionist paintings, 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 has stated: “Our mission is to support the Orsay and l’Orangerie and French culture, and to preserve America’s wonderful relationship with France.” By promoting collaborations between the two Musées and American institutions, AFMO demonstrates a mutual commitment to the arts and to creating a bridge between our cultures. “AFMO offers art lovers and people passionate about Paris very privileged access to the best of what Paris has to offer”, adds Executive Director of AFMO, Verena Thornton.
The exceptional weekend of events kicked off Thursday evening with an elegant cocktail reception at the residence of the American Ambassador, with catered hors-d’oeuvres by Nicolas Sale, the two Michelin-starred chef of the Ritz Paris. It was thrilling to be honoured with a special welcome to this historic residence. Members listened as AFMO was honoured for its work and generosity that help preserve precious 19th century art, while ensuring the Orsay and l’Orangerie continue to innovate in a changing world.
On Friday, AFMO members awoke to experience a full-day menu of exclusive access to the most prestigious maisons, art collections, private archives, and national treasures of Paris, including a private visit to the iconic symbol of France – the Eiffel Tower. 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.
Members were eager to attend these privately curated visits, including “Degas at the Opera”, a major exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay, presented in collaboration with the Opéra National de Paris to celebrate its 350th anniversary. Curator Marine Kisiel explained that “Degas put a lens on the artificiality of the Opera.” Edgar Degas was fascinated by the culture of performance, whether ballet, music or opera. In the wings of the opulent Palais Garnier, Degas found a world devoid of the grace and beauty of the ballet. Degas portrayed his subjects not as lovely ballerinas, but in terms of their reality, emphasizing their status as professionals doing a job.
Other privately curated museum tours were on the menu as well, including the exhibition of Félix Fénéon (1861-1944) “The Modern Times: From Seurat to Matisse” at the Musée de l’Orangerie, showcasing an exceptional array of paintings and drawings by Seurat, Signac, Degas, Bonnard, Modigliani, Matisse and others. Also on the morning menu, a privately curated visit of the “Before the Impressionists” 19th century French art exhibition at the Musée du Louvre, exploring this landmark period of visual arts in the journey toward modernity.
Exclusive visits to private studios rounded out the morning choices, among which were private visits to Le Corbusier’s newly reopened studio-apartment at the Fondation le Corbusier, the studio of Yan Pei-Ming, a Franco-Chinese painter, and the private archives of Paul Durand-Ruel, the innovative art dealer who was crucial to the success of the Impressionists. AFMO members sat spellbound as 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.
These incredible morning visits left us in awe, but nothing prepared us for our magical private visit and luncheon at the Iron Lady herself. AFMO guests agreed that this was truly a dream come true. We were provided with amazing access to the Eiffel Tower, the most visited monument in France! We fell in love with this quintessentially Parisian landmark while we enjoyed a beautiful lunch prepared by two Michelin-starred Chef Thierry Marx. Dining 190 feet above ground with a panoramic view of Paris on a spectacularly clear and sunny day was absolutely spellbinding. AFMO Board member Susan Schoenfeld- Harrington enthused: “As I gaze upon Montmartre and the Grand Boulevards below, I am literally breathing in the life of Paris.”
With feet back on the ground, and spirits soaring, this fantastic day continued while AFMO members were regaled with more incredible choices. Many enjoyed an opportunity to tour the brand new Post-Impressionist Galleries at the Musée d’Orsay with Laurence des Cars, President of the Orsay and Orangerie Museums.
Fashion aficionados were ecstatic when presented with a chance to visit the fabled archives of the visionary designer Dior, accessible to only the privileged few. The archive exists for the study of Dior designers and their designs from the past up to the present day. Viewing up close pieces like the original shoes that Wallace Simpson wore and sketches from the first collection hand drawn by Monsieur Dior, it became clear that the roots of Haute Couture are more important now than ever.
Yet more choices included a behind-the-scenes visit at the Manufacture des Gobelins, where guests viewed the process of the French national tapestry manufacture, and finally, the Institut de France, a 17th century palace and home to the five Academies, including the Academie Française.
Friday evening provided another treat, a private and almost Phantom of the Opera-like experience of the legendary sites and secret spaces of the Opéra National de Paris, the Palais Garnier. Celebrating its 350th anniversary, the Palais Garnier, a stunning Belle Époque masterpiece, remains one of Paris’s most celebrated monuments. Members were thrilled to view up close and personal this sumptuous opera house that symbolizes the opulence of the Second Empire.
The following day offered a selection of more private visits including the Maison Susse, a 19th century Art Foundry famous for more than 250 years of sculpture making from Rodin and Chagall to Picasso and Henry Moore. Still another choice presented was the De Bayser Gallery, a leader in 16th to 20th century drawings. These options were capped off by an incredible private visit of the Château de Chantilly, a fairytale castle amidst a lake and magnificent gardens. The Château houses an impressive collection of 15th to 18th century paintings, and evokes what it was like to be nobility in pre-revolutionary France.
Saturday evening, anticipation peaked as guests donned their finest cocktail attire and entered the grand nave of the Musée d’Orsay to attend a private visit of the special exhibition “Degas at the Opera”, and the sold out “Diner en Or” Gala dinner created by Alain Ducasse Receptions. Guests were welcomed by Elizabeth Kehler, who noted: “It’s official. AFMO supports the #1 Museum in the world according to Trip Advisor.” Seated inside the Belle Époque salle, adorned in gold and deep purple, guests felt as though they were transported to the turn of the century. It did not seem possible that the evening could get any better – but it did! We were invited by Mme des Cars to privately visit the new and superbly well-organized 5th floor Post-Impressionist Galleries displaying Van Gogh and Gauguin, among other renowned artists.
On the final morning, members were feted at an exclusive buffet breakfast at Le Bristol Paris. After delighting in golden, flaky croissants and an array of French pastries, we were offered a look behind-the-scenes of the hotel’s “chocolate factory”, bakery and wine tasting cellar. Over the moon about the entire AFMO experience, guests emoted about the strong bonds and camaraderie felt by all who shared this magical weekend. AFMO member Mary Mabry summed it up quite succinctly, stating that “Dreams come true!”
We enjoyed our last outing, a private tour of the Parc Montsouris, an English landscape garden created by Napoléon III, with garden guide Jacky Libaud, who shared his passion for gardens and plants.
With all these exceptional events, AFMO has cultivated a dedicated following of American supporters. 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 l’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.
Those attending this year’s gala experienced a truly unforgettable weekend. With so many new members this year, Honorary Board member Sherry Johnson commented, “AFMO is a draw. Between the people, the great energy and the activities, it just keeps getting better and better!” Fortunately, by becoming a member of AFMO, you too can enjoy this celebration of art and friendship, as well as the many year-round events that take place both in Paris and the U.S. Invitations to exhibitions include Frieze in Los Angeles, major art fairs in London, and FIAC in Paris. Members experience having doors opened and the pride of supporting Franco-American friendship, while being part of the continuing transformation of the world’s premier Impressionist museum.
Details on membership can be found by visiting the organisation’s website, www.aforsay.org.