A June 1990 trip
to Paris by MichaelJM
Quote: We have visited Paris every year for over a decade as we had formed a friendship with a French family. This journal looks at some of the museums that we have visited.
Attraction | "Louvre"
The Tuileries, the garden that was the dream of Catherine de Medici in 1560s, has survived the test of time and retained its formal style over the generations. This was the first garden of this type to become available to the public, and it has remained free to wander round since the mid-1700s. Towards the Louvre we cross over a small ditch – the parterres – which originally acted as the barrier between the public and royal gardens, and I speculate that this was perhaps the first time that Joe Public could have got anywhere near the antics of the royal court. Nowadays, a walk through the gardens to the very centre of the Louvre’s stylised buildings is full of interesting sculptures, water gardens, and finely manicured hedges.
You can’t fail to miss the mini Arc de Triomphe, which was completed by 1810 to celebrate the Napoleonic triumphs of 1805 and is topped by four horses and a chariot. It's a grand affair.
The Cour Carree courtyard is an impressive part of the original Louvre, and here you can view an original Renaissance building at its best, Le Mercier Horloge, and speculate how this would have been as the royal court in the 1600s – much more serene than the multitudes that passed through it in the early 2000s! Outside of the courtyard, it's possible to identify the extent of the original fortress, as there are indications in the paving as to the line of the earliest fortifications.
You can’t fail to admire the splendour of this vast site that started as a small museum as early as 1793 and has grown significantly over the centuries. The Louvre still dominates the Seine river banks, and although the view from the Quai des Tuileries is not as spectacular, it's difficult to walk this route without suffering a bit of neck ache! The building is bordered with a delightful sculptured frieze of angelic cherubs alongside grotesque creatures.
In March 1989, the stunning addition of the now-world-famous Pyramid was opened. It was not without controversy, but I reckon that it’s a feature that strangely enhances the ambience of the Louvre. I’d certainly rate a viewing on a decent day – not sure it would necessarily stimulate the senses if it was being rained upon! Viewed from underneath the intricate web of metalwork, it provided us with some fascinating views of the old museum buildings.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 28, 2005
Musée du Louvre
99, rue de Rivoli
Paris, France 75001
+33 (1) 40 20 51 51
Having limited time, it was really hard to know where to start. We certainly wanted to view the "Mona Lisa," despite the fact that we knew we’d be disappointed in its stature. It is a small painting, but the controversial message allegedly embedded in its form by da Vinci has given it international credibility. There are better paintings in the world, but this is one to view. We lost track of where we were and were about to re-consult the handy map of the museum when we spotted (we could hardly fail not to) hoards of people around a museum "installation." They were indeed in a disorderly queue to see the masterpiece. Heavily protected, the painting is an icon for the world of artists, and it comes complete with its historical sensations.
I would never suggest that the "Mona Lisa" will be the climax of your viewing of the Louvre, because you will be positively bombarded by an extravaganza of artwork. All the major, and indeed minor, artists are displayed here, and as our first family viewing in a major museum, we were all awestruck by the scale of the place. The religious “installations” are there (Boticelli, Giotto, Bellini, and Albani), the grandeur of Canalleto, the fine portraitures of Chardin, Renoir, and Rembrandt, and the country scenes of Turner and Gainsborough. All names I’d first heard about in school and seen photos of but never before “got up close and personal with.” I don’t know what the square footage of the building is, but it covers three floors, and you’d be ill advised to try it without a map.
But remember, not only can you see some of the greatest paintings in the world, but the infamous sculptures also have a home here. "Venus de Milo" is, of course, the most notable, but Michelangelo’s “slaves” are stunning. The Gallery des Grands Hommes has incredibly detailed pieces from the 17th century, and it’s a pleasure to see the flowing locks and regal clothing expressed so finely out of rock.
There’s a large Egyptian antiquities section, including papyrus drawings, fine jewellery, and the expected carved coffin covers and mummies.
We didn’t spend much time viewing the Roman and Greek Antiquities section but had a quick skirmish through the first-floor Richelieu wing to check out the sumptuous furniture in the Napoleon apartments.
The Louvre offers a vast variety of art work, and it’s a place that we will revisit one day.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 28, 2005
Seventy-three years after it had first opened, the hotel was closed and it was perilously close to being bulldozed and replaced with new buildings. But, once again, the government interceded and the desire for Paris to have a museum for modern art (i.e. 1850s onwards) was high on their agenda. The Hotel d’Orsay was perfect – its architecture was "of the period" - and in 1978, it was listed as a building of significant historical importance, opening its doors as the Musee d’Orsay in December 1986.
The museum is spread over three floors, and it’s an architectural delight. Indeed, it is hard to think that it was designed with anything other than its current usage in mind. We are fans of this era of art – much more so that the earlier period as exhibited in the Louvre - and some of our real favourites are hung here.
On the ground floor, you’ll see works painted up to 1870, and they’re hung in small bays in chronological groups: Degas, Delacroix, Ingres and Moreau and Edouard Manet are the "main men," and amongst the installations are Delacroix’s sensational "Lion Hunt," full of amazing movement and savagery, and Manet’s controversial "Olympia."
On the top floor you can view some of the great works of the Impressionists, Degas’ dancing lesson and Monet’s hay ricks, poppies, and Rouen Cathedral, alongside other great works by Pisarros, Renoir, Cezanne, and Van Gogh. We will never forget, having visited Arles, Van Gogh’s great La nuit étoilée (starry night), and I just love Monet’s atmospheric Saint-Lazare railway station.
The museum also boasts a fine sculpture section. In my opinion, Degas’ bronze sculptured dancers are supreme, and a lot of people agreed as we clustered around the display cabinet. I’d never seen any work by Dalou until I visited the Musee d-Orsay and have to say that I was transfixed by the poignancy of his 2m high "Large Peasant." This would have spoken volumes in its day and still holds relevance in the 21st century.
This museum is a great setting with some superb examples of modern artwork.
62, Rue De Lille
Paris, France 75343
+33 (1) 4049-4994
Attraction | "Pompidou Centre"
The centre is a sensational looking building, particularly at night as its glass wall, separated by the steel frame gives a strange appearance to the building – almost incomplete in its completeness with its scaffolding suggesting that work is still in progress. It’s the only building, that I’m aware of, that has the main escalator on the outside. It seems to be mimicking the motions of a giant caterpillar as it crawls up the extremities of the structure. The bright colours almost scream at you but I’m assured that each colour is representational: blue for air and openness; yellow electricity and dynamism; green for fluidity of movement; red for flow and lack of restriction. Not sure about that myself, but the starkness of the primary colours certainly has an impact alongside the adjoining buildings and the simplicity of the complex building. The Pompidou centre seems constantly to contradict itself and challenge the senses.
I haven’t seen the building since it re-opened in 2000 – but I understand that its tired inside have been totally re-vamped and loads of new space has been created by moving the administration into another building
From the top floor you get a superb view, across the city’s rooftops, of Sacre-Coeur, the Eiffel tower, and Notre-Dame. Straight below you is the piazza with its static sculptures, water features and a multitude of street entertainers. It’s a busy area and from this height the hoards of tourists and entertainers seem to scurry in orderly fashion, like an army of ants, across the cobbled square.
But I shouldn’t forget the raison d’être of this building. It was conceived by President Georges Pompidou who was determined to establish a modern building in the centre of Paris to display a variety of contemporary and modern arts. Not only inert modern installations but art in its broadest terms – interactive and challenging. So the building itself was meant to challenge the environment and yet offer a real and tangible link with the local and wider community. Here President Pompidou wanted visual arts such as drama, theatre, cinema, and music to be available and he also had a vision that the building itself should be interactive and “talked about”. This man’s vision seems to have worked as millions of people have visited the centre since its official original opening back in 1977.
This is a building that you’ll experience and in all honesty you’ll either love it or hate it. I look forward to visiting it again to check out whether those early messages of freedom and openness are still as strong.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 29, 2005
Place Georges Pompidou
+33 (1) 44 78 12 33
Attraction | "Musee Grevin"
When we visited, a few years ago now, our children were at the stage of wanting to be independent but not quite making it. They strode off confidently in front of us and started to admire a rotund waxwork figure near to the box office. The piercing eyes of this character, we couldn’t place him historically, seemed to follow our youngest and just as he turned his back on the figure it made a loud utterance. My sons both jumped with shock whilst us adults were as amused as the gentleman performing this trickery. Thereafter, our two boys did not stray far from our side!
Parts of the museum we found less than interesting, as it was focusing on notable French personalities, and although I’m sure that they were incredibly well done, we had no idea who they were. Wax works have no impact when you don’t know the person who they are depicting, unless, of course, the characters are acting as three-dimensional demonstrations of an historical event. Grévin “does battle scenes” extremely well! Even if you’re not an historian, I reckon you’ll love the way the Grévin depicts, chronologically, the history of France.
The hall of mirrors was one of the earliest permanent exhibitions at the Grévin and children find this absolutely fascinating with the bright lights firstly attracting their attention and then their bewilderment as they see themselves reflected “every which way”. I guess this was an absolute spectacle when first introduced back in the early 1900s.
A recent addition to the museum enables you to check out the methodology used by the craftsmen at the Grévin to create the wax figures – inspecting the false eyes, smelling the hot wax, and being surprised that all hair used in the models is real human hair and is painstakingly “sewed” into the scalps as individual hairs.
The Grévin also does a great story of the 20th century, the first man on the moon, and they proudly commemorate the 1998 World Cup (surprised it wasn’t the 1966 cup, when the Englanders were victors!). Again, some great recognisable characters are “strutting their stuff”, including Spider Man (didn’t know he really existed!) – but the kids will love him more than the likes of Jimi Hendrix or Louis Armstrong!
Of course we all prefer it when we recognise the faces, and there are some well-known celebrities that are internationally known: Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Elvis, Charles de Gaulle, and many others. They are well done and, I reckon, would compete with Madame Tussauds.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 29, 2005
Grevin Wax Museum (Musee Grevin)
10 Boulevard Montmartre
Paris, France 75009
+33 1 47 70 85 05