Covid-19 Recovery

‘A great joy, a breath of fresh air’: Parisians return to museums

Museums re-opened in France on 19th May 2021 as part of an easing of the nationwide lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Museums re-opened in France on 19th May 2021 as part of an easing of the nationwide lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. © AFP/Alain Jocard

Visitors flocked to Musée d’Orsay in Paris on Wednesday, just one of France's many cultural venues to reopen after a six-month closure due to Covid-19 restrictions.

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"It is a great joy for us to reopen today. We have obviously been waiting for this moment for more than six months. We have reopened under exceptional conditions because the priority is to guarantee the visitors optimal health safety conditions, " Guillaume Blanc, the person in charge of visitors at the Musée d'Orsay, told RFI.

The Musée d’Orsay, closed since 30 October last year, reopened its doors on Wednesday with a maximum capacity of 5,000 visitors a day - instead of the usual 15,000.

From 9am the visitors with their "carte blanche" pass (yearly subscription card) and their ticket booked online were allowed to visit the museum after more than six months of closure. 

"This morning, we have the 'aficionados' of the museum, loyal museum-goers who have been waiting impatiently for the reopening, particularly to discover the new exhibitions. Also the visitors come mainly from Paris and its region. It will take a while before we see our international visitors coming back," adds Blanc.

Bertrand is an architect who lives in Paris. He took a half-day off just to go to the museum this morning.

Since November, he has been following the Musée d'Orsay and Musée du Louvre TikTok accounts in order to keep up to date and see the works online. "It's always very nice but it's no substitute for seeing them in person", he says.

"I think that, at the moment, getting closer to what is beautiful is something that does a lot of good for your morale. You also approach a form of timelessness by looking at works. We are sometimes projected into very distant times. It projects us in a slightly different way with a distance to the news and I think with a little more peace of mind," Bertrand explains.

The Musée d'Orsay in Paris, on 17th May 2021, two days ahead of the reopening of the museums in France in the latest step toward the ending of third nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.
The Musée d'Orsay in Paris, on 17th May 2021, two days ahead of the reopening of the museums in France in the latest step toward the ending of third nationwide Covid-19 lockdown. © AFP/Thomas Coex

Patricia, retired, booked her tickets online to see the exhibition The Origins of the World. From 8.45am she was queuing in front of the museum to be one of the first to enter the building.

"I'm going to reopen all the museums as the days go by. This morning Orsay, this afternoon the Orangerie.

As soon as the announcement was made that the museums would reopen on 19th May, I got on my computer. I booked a day and a time slot for all the museums that interested me."

I missed it a lot. For me it's essential, it's a breath of fresh air.

"I missed it a lot. For me it's essential, it's a breath of fresh air."

Like Bertrand, she prefers to see the works in the museums rather than online.

"Many museums have made a lot of effort with virtual tours, but it has nothing to do with the pleasure of sitting in front of a painting. It is incomparable. It's better than nothing but the pleasure is not at all the same."

Patricia still doesn't quite understand the total closure of the museums for more than six months.

"After the first lockdown, the museums had made great efforts to ensure that access was strictly enforced; it's true that I found it a bit incomprehensible that they remained closed for all those months. I think it was much less dangerous than the metro at certain times or the department stores."

The Musée d’Orsay's three exhibitions planned last autumn are extended until 18 July. The exhibition The Origins of the World is already fully booked until this weekend.

"Welcoming the public is what gives meaning to our work. And for the visitors it is a great day to return to the cultural places. Life resumes," concludes Guillaume Blanc.

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