Autumn in Paris: A Fabulous Fest with American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay

Autumn in Paris: A Fabulous Fest with American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay

Once again the American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay (AFMO) hit it out of the park with a spectacular weekend full of unparalleled private access to exhibitions and homes, providing rare opportunities for art lovers and francophiles alike.

Last year I was privileged to accompany AFMO guests to many of these events as they celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Musée d’Orsay, and honoured Spencer Hays, a “grand ami” of France, and his wife Marlene, patrons who gave the single largest foreign art donation to the Musée d’Orsay since 1945. Mr. and Mrs. Hays set a landmark in French cultural history for their fervent support of the Musée d’Orsay.

Photography by Krystal Kenney

This year I had the great good fortune to celebrate “Autumn in Paris”, the 2017 AFMO gala weekend honouring Board Member Jeffrey Katzenberg, a distinguished personality in the art world as well as a beacon in the film industry.

AFMO, an American organisation 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. The organisation celebrates the importance of art and the Franco-American alliance, and bridges the long years of our history with a contemporary touch. As Mr. Katzenberg stated, “We have much to learn from France. The French enlightenment was crucial to our war for independence.” 

Photography by Krystal Kenney

Centuries later, AFMO has shaped the lives of the Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie, and it is one of the most vibrant associations with these museums among the foreign benefactors. “AFMO shares a vision with the French, not only for art, but art de vivre. AFMO offers art lovers and people passionate about Paris very privileged access to the best of what Paris has to offer,” states Executive Director of AFMO, Verena Thornton.

Returning again this year, I witnessed this celebration of art and friendship as AFMO opened doors to places and experiences that one could only dream about, and could not individually access.

Photography by Krystal Kenney

“Autumn in Paris” started with a celebration of Spencer Hays at a private Fine Art gallery steps from the Seine, with works by some of his favourite artists including Vuillard, Bonnard, and Vallotton. The evening continued with a private reception at the Ministry of Culture at the Palais Royal, a sumptuous palace built in the early 7th century for Cardinal Richelieu. Enjoying an enthralling Parisian sunset from a balcony overlooking the inner courtyard, and watching the sun’s fading glow over Buren’s black and white columns was an awe-inspiring beginning to a phenomenal weekend.

The next day, guests were offered a menu of choices which were even more fabulous than last year, including private tours of the Dada Africa exhibit at the Musée de l’Orangerie, or a private tour of Gauguin the Alchemist at the Grand Palais, or a private tour to gaze upon and learn about the splendour of the Golden Galerie at the Banque de France, built in 1635.

Photography by Krystal Kenney

The afternoon continued with an unforgettable and intimate private tour of Les Invalides. AFMO guests entered through the Dome containing Napoleon’s tomb, and were escorted behind the altar to a huge church, and shown Les Invalides in a way that has never been accessible to ordinary tourists. To top things off, a private gourmet lunch was served in the Salle Turenne, a 17th century refectory whose stunning murals depict the glory of Louis XIV’s military campaigns, and reflect the magnificence of the “Great Century”. Already enthralled, those present were stunned to be invited to try on medieval armor housed at Les Invalides.

Les Invalides. Photography by Krystal Kenney

Concluding the afternoon, guests were faced with three more exciting choices:  the first was a private look at U.S. Ambassadors’ portraits at the U.S. Chancery, along with a riveting history of the most memorable experiences of these men and women who have represented the United States in France over the last 240 years.

Two other choices took place at the legendary Ritz Hotel Paris. AFMO guests were privileged to meet Anne Vitchen, Dame Des Fleurs, and to experience a Parisien floral design atelier, or given private access to the iconic and uber-cosy Hemingway Bar, which Virtuoso classified as the “Best Bar in the World” six weeks ago. Executive Bartender Colin Field, a delightful host as well as talented alchemist, walked us through some of his famous concoctions. I had the pleasure of experiencing this beautiful bar and ended my afternoon on quite a high note!

Floral workshop at The Ritz Paris. Photography by Krystal Kenney

We rallied for the evening and were invited to a private cocktail reception at a “hotel particulier” built in 1619 for the nobleman who was secretary to King Louis XIII. Lavishly decorated and renovated, this magnificent 17th century building stunned all who attended.

The following day included more visits to private (and previously unseen by the public) art collections, and a trip to a medieval town and chateau outside of Paris. Excitement grew as guests donned their best cocktail attire to attend the Gala Evening at the Musée d’Orsay honouring Jeffrey Katzenberg, as France welcomed him into the Legion d’Honneur. Known as a devoted philanthropist, he graciously quoted Kirk Douglas, who said, “You haven’t learned to live until you’ve learned to give.”

Guttklein Gallery. Photography by Krystal Kenney

Before dinner, guests sipped champagne and were invited to walk privately among the paintings of the Impressionists – an experience that on its own was life changing. At dinner, while seated in the magnificent, gilded ballroom, Board Member Susan Schoenfeld Harrington enthused that, “This is not just an appreciation of art. There is a different feeling and a certain bonding to be in a room full of people who are patrons of the arts and share this love of the Arts and Paris in all its pieces.”

Hotel Claude Passart. Photography by Krystal Kenney

The next morning, this emotion was echoed by all attending the warm and welcoming breakfast at Le Bristol Paris. Enjoying flaky croissants in a wood paneled room filled with gorgeous red roses, a real camaraderie was felt by all who shared the glamour and magic of this gala weekend. 

Fortunately, members of AFMO can renew these sentiments regarding art and friendship throughout the year at the many events, along with privileged access offered by membership in AFMO. Guests certainly did not want this year’s gala to end!

Details on membership can be found by visiting the organisation’s website:

Hotel Claude Passart. Photography by Krystal Kenney

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A native of Los Angeles, Barbara is the France Today Ambassador for L.A. She graduated from UCLA with a BA degree in Political Science, and also received her JD degree from UCLA School of Law. While at UCLA, she spent her junior year in Grenoble, France. From that time on, she has been an avid and passionate Francophile. She has visited almost every region in France, and still pursues French language courses in Los Angeles. She has an apartment in Paris and continues to visit France every year.

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  • Yvonne Hudacek
    2017-11-09 01:11:11
    Yvonne Hudacek
    Envious, of course. To visit Paris each year - what a delicious dream for the rest of us. Nice though to travel through, courtesy of France Today magazine in my In Box.