American Friends Musée d’Orsay (AFMO) is a non-public charitable organisation whose mission is to raise public awareness and financial support for the Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie. Since its inception in 2009, AFMO has embodied the best of American philanthropy while playing an important role in strengthening Franco/American ties.
Recently celebrating its 10+ year anniversary with a sold-out weekend gala, AFMO now boasts more than 300 members.
The journey began in 2010 when co-founders Sherry Johnson and Seonaid McArthur organised the first, well-received gala at the Musée d’Orsay. At the time, philanthropic associations like American Friends were somewhat new to the French museum sector.
Ms. Johnson recently reflected on the rewarding experience of being involved in the continued success of AFMO, stating, “It was a wonderful experience for all of us and certainly an honour and a privilege to be so involved with such a great museum. In celebrating this, our 10th gala, I think back to the first gala when we hosted 300 people who paid $75 each for an evening at the museum. Both the excitement and enthusiasm were extremely high then, and that enthusiasm and support for the Musée d’Orsay has continued to this day.”
This year’s sold-out fête, “AFMO Weekend in Paris”, reconfirmed the camaraderie of the participants and the joy they expressed to be in the museums again. AFMO Board member Susan Harrington said, “It is wonderful to be part of an organisation that goes from strength to strength.”
Verena Thornton, executive director of AFMO, said, “With an increase of 40% new attendees, the excitement is palpable. We welcome guests from across the United States, London and Paris – many of them new to our organisation – who come to Paris for the gala weekend or to join us for the gala evening at the Orsay to celebrate art and friendship. They are the success of AFMO. We welcome everyone with joy.”
There’s a real joy in reuniting at the gala weekend and sharing the love of art and French culture, but there’s also the thrill of experiencing Paris in a way that most people will never experience. Indeed, this year’s menu of events was nothing short of fabulous.
The weekend of events kicked off Thursday evening with an elegant cocktail reception at the residence of the American Ambassador. Members were thrilled to meet the new President of the Musée d’Orsay and l’Orangerie, Christophe Leribault, and listened as he expressed gratitude for AFMO’S work and generosity directed to both museums.
Friday’s events included privately curated tours of both the Orsay and Orangerie. Along with these private visits, the morning included behind-the-scenes access to the Musée d’Orsay’s storage spaces for a rare insider’s view of the museum’s unexhibited treasures. AFMO member Karen O’Haire commented, “Very few people are allowed to see the inner workings of the museum. We gained greater appreciation for the efforts and challenges faced restoring damaged artwork in order to present the best pieces to the public.”
The morning continued with more exciting offerings including a rare visit to the High Jewelry workshops at Cartier, where the maison crafts its most exceptional one-of-a-kind pieces. AFMO guests caught a glimpse into the exquisitely delicate process as they watched the creation of a jeweled alligator necklace requiring 1,500 hours to produce.
Also on the menu were private visits to a hidden universe of artists’ studios and homes, including a visit to view the impressive art collection of interior designer Jacques Grange, who opened up his home, the former apartment of legendary writer Colette.
Topping off the morning’s choices was a behind-the-scenes tour of the legendary Belle-Epoque cabaret, the Moulin Rouge. Standing on the famous stage of the cabaret, those who participated could almost conjure up the thrills and frills of the French can-can.
Luncheon at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs could only be described as an epic event. Guests were received in a salon replete with gold leaf and sparkling chandeliers, and served à la française – white-glove service reserved for dignitaries and heads of state.
Fashionistas’ dreams were satisfied as well, with a private afternoon visit to the Foundation of the incomparable designer Azzedine Alaïa. Carla Sozzani, President of the foundation, opened the treasured collection and library for exclusive viewing.
Those who preferred a different type of sensorial and educational experience enjoyed a unique moment in the iconic Hemingway Bar at Le Ritz Paris. Guests learned the philosophy of cocktails and the secrets behind them, and were able to enjoy them as well!
Friday evening, members gathered to enjoy a cocktail and private evening visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie’s exhibition “David Hockney, A Year in Normandie.” Strolling through the main gallery of the Orangerie, invitees appreciated the unique ambiance of having the museum open exclusively to themselves.
To add to the embarrassment of riches from the previous day, guests on Saturday morning were privy to a visit to the Fondation Louis Vuitton for a private, curated tour of the talked-about exhibition “The Morozov Collection. Icons of Modern Art.”
A little further afield, guests enjoyed an intimate tour of the Château de Versailles, historic residence of the Sun King. The stunning architecture, interiors and garden design evoke the splendour and excess of the Ancient Regime.
Returning to the pleasures of the 21st century was not difficult as guests donned their best evening attire to attend an elegant gala evening at the Musée d‘Orsay, including private visits to the museum’s special exhibitions. The atmosphere was festive and celebratory as guests sipped champagne, mingled and enjoyed their privileged access to the museum’s exhibitions. The dinner was catered by Alain Ducasse Receptions.
AFMO’S “Weekend in Paris” culminated Sunday morning with a farewell brunch at Le Bristol Paris, and one additional treat, a privately guided tour of the historic Parc des Buttes-Chaumont with garden guide Amy Kupec Larue.
Enjoying buttery croissants in a lovely room at Le Bristol Paris, guests emoted about the strong bonds and renewed camaraderie felt by all who shared this magical weekend. AFMO board member Sue Dumke summed it up succinctly: “AFMO keeps getting better and better. It opens doors to Paris like no other – and all these members have become my good friends.”
Over 10 years ago, AFMO’s founders had a vision and a purpose, to support the Orsay and Orangerie museums, champion French culture, and strengthen Franco/American relations. Judging by the many accomplishments of the American Friends, both in the United States and France, AFMO is succeeding in doing just that.
Details on membership can be found by visiting the website: aforsay.org