January 28, 2010 / 4:16 AM / 9 years ago

French art treasures see a new light in Australia

CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - A rare appearance in Australia of one of France’s most treasured art collections has Australians queuing in their thousands to experience colors never before revealed, even in its Paris home.

A exhibit from the Musee D’Orsay, which hold the world’s largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces, is in Australia ahead of showings in Tokyo and San Francisco, as the famous Paris museum undergoes renovation.

“There are colors that you wouldn’t see in Paris,” Musee D’Orsay President Guy Cogeval said at the opening of the exhibition, praising state-of-the-art lighting being used at the Australian National Gallery to illuminate the 112 works.

Drawcard paintings like Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night Over the Rhone” and “Bedroom in Arles,” along with Paul Gauguin’s “Tahitian Women on the Beach,” depicting two women on the Pacific Island of Tahiti, are seeing Australians queue for hours in searing summer heat for even a fleeting glimpse.

Cogeval, close friends with the Australian gallery’s director Ron Radford, described the lighting used in Canberra as “a revelation” of colors and textures.

The Canberra lakeside gallery has seen more than 150,000 people pass through its doors since the D’Orsay collection opened late last year, with more than 5,500 gathering on its busiest day last weekend.

“It’s been doing so well that we have added extra dates,” said Kirsten Downie, a spokeswoman for the Australian gallery exhibit, which runs until April 5.

The collection explores the wild changes in the late 19th century European art world and focuses on the avant-garde Post-Impressionists, also including works by Monet and Cezanne.

Shifting the pieces to Australia has been a monumental logistical exercise, to be repeated when the exhibition moves to Japan later this year and then the United States.

“Australia will be the first country to see these works outside France,” Radford said on its opening night, attended by Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

The gallery is expecting more than 250,000 visitors to spend more than $45 million based on the success of two previous exhibitions — ‘Monet and Japan’ and ‘Turner to Monet’ — both in 2008.

$1=1.117 Australian Dollars Editing by Rob Taylor and Miral Fahmy

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