Whenever I visit Paris, I tell myself that this time I’m going to go to the Louvre. According to Statistica, it’s the most visited museum in the world. I feel like I should know it. Yet, something about its immensity prevents me from buying a ticket. The Louvre has so many works of art that if you only spent 30 seconds in front of each one, it would take 100 days to get through the place. As a less daunting alternative, I look for smaller galleries and special exhibits on subjects that interest me and there has never been a shortage of phenomenal choices.
Below are some of my favorite exhibits that I visited last month.
The Hatred of the Clans
Perhaps you’ve walked through the impressive cannon-lined courtyards of Les Invalides or visited Napoleon’s tomb beneath the 17th-century structure’s gilded dome. But did you know that this extensive complex, built to serve disabled veterans, is home to several museums? In April, I headed to the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, which holds massive three-dimensional, paper maché maps, used by the French military and dating from the 1600s.
When I arrived, however, I found that my 15 euro ticket included entry to all of the museums in the complex as well as a special exhibit featuring 50 years of religious wars spanning 1559 to 1610. The exposition covers the driving forces behind each of the 8 wars that rocked this tumultuous period in France’s history as well as some of the positive outcomes and protagonists of the era.
Through an abundance of documents, works of art, armaments, and armor, the exhibit conveys the havoc wreaked by feuds between Protestants and Catholics and the threat that the resulting instability posed to the French monarchy. Of particular interest to me were the efforts made by King Henri IV and Catherine de Medici to quell the fighting and establish a society where multiple religious denominations might co-exist.
The Hatred of the Clans runs through July 30, 2023.
I knew that Vincent van Gogh‘s success was largely due to the financial support and posthumous devotion of his adoring brother, Théo. But until visiting the Musée du Luxembourg, located in a wing of the palace that houses the French Senate, I’d never heard mention of Claude Monet’s older brother. Fortuitously, the museum currently features an exhibit about Léon Monet, a prosperous color chemist who gained considerable wealth as the head of a factory near Rouen that produced synthetic pigments.
Fortunately for Claude, Léon was a devoted and affluent patron who not only supported his younger sibling but also many of his friends, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley. In addition to buying many paintings from these young upstarts, Léon also staged exhibits featuring their work and introduced them to other wealthy industrialists who began collecting their radical tableaux. At the time, art critics scorned much of what these artists produced, as did the Académie des Beaux-Arts. The Luxembourg exposition showcases Léon’s impressive collection and documents the close but ultimately fractious relationship between the two brothers.
The relatively small Musée du Luxembourg was established in 1818 by Louis XVIII who wanted to show foreign powers that France was able to produce chef-d’oeuvres. It originally housed the works of living French artists, which were transferred to the Louvre or the country’s provincial museums after the artists’ deaths. Today, the museum presents two noteworthy exhibitions per year. There is no permanent collection. In the future, I’ll be sure to consider their calendar when planning a trip to Paris.
This unprecedented and free exposition on Léon Monet runs through July 16, 2023.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Every trip to Paris should include a visit to the Jardin du Luxembourg. I find it to be one of the city’s most charming parks but another feature that consistently attracts me is the inevitable outdoor photo exhibition mounted on its wrought-iron perimeter. You never know what you’ll find but the photography is sure to be of the finest quality. Currently showing is a series by Christophe Lepetit, called La Beauté cachée de l’industrie.
One way to instill patriotic fervor in a population is by making claims of exceptionalism and downplaying or ignoring the positive contributions of other countries. Another way is by bombarding the population with reminders of the country’s history, culture, and ongoing technological advances. France takes the latter approach, seemingly at every turn. I found this exhibit on high-tech industrial sites—from agriculture to manufacturing—to be brilliant. It not only makes France look like a nation on the cutting edge of mass production but also places a high value on jobs that don’t require a 4-year college degree.
This free exhibit is available 24/7 and runs through July 16, 2023.
Picasso and Faith Ringgold
Among the galleries I visited this spring, the Musée Picasso Paris is probably the most well-known. While it’s much smaller than places like the Musée d’Orsay or the Centre Pompidou, my interest in Picasso had never been strong enough to draw me inside. This year, however, friends I was traveling with wanted to go. So, I joined them and am glad I did.
The museum is currently featuring two exhibits. The first, Célébration Picasso, La Collection prend des couleurs!, commemorates the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death. It is staged by British designer, Paul Smith. Consequently, you’re getting two exhibits in one as you consider both Picasso’s art and the changing settings and atmosphere that Smith installed in each room. The show also features works of contemporary artists from around the world that have reinterpreted or found inspiration from Picasso’s pieces.
This exhibit runs through August 27, 2023.
I found the second exhibit, Faith Ringgold, Black is Beautiful, to be even more compelling. I have to admit that I’d never heard of this American artist and feminist who has been an outspoken activist in the fight for equal rights for decades. The exhibit features many of her disturbing and uncompromising depictions of African-American life.
One large room houses a series of 12 quilts, called the French Collection, in which Ringgold tells the story of an African-American woman (an alter-ego?) who goes to Paris to study art in the 1920s. The series was inspired by a trip to France that Ringgold took in 1961.
The Ringgold exhibit runs through July 2, 2023.
LOUIS XVI, MARIE-ANTOINETTE AND THE REVOLUTION
Yes, some of the best things in life are indeed free. The French National Archives currently features a free exposition on the troubling fate of the royal family during the French Revolution. The only thing I found less than stellar about this exceptional exhibit was the crowd. On a Sunday afternoon, a space that I assumed few people knew about was absolutely packed.
Perhaps I should have assumed that the story of how Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and their entourage spent their last 1000 days would be of keen interest to many. The show documents their daily lives from shortly before they were forced to leave Versailles, until the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the first French Republic. A spectacular assortment of paintings, drawings, ledgers, diaries, letters, engravings, even furnishings, render palpable the tensions and false hopes of the royal family’s lengthy confinement.
There was so much to unpack, I was unable to delve as deeply as I wanted in the 3 hours I’d allotted to spend before the place closed. I would happily return but unfortunately, that Sunday was also my last day in Paris.
This exhibit runs through November 6, 2023.
Thanks for the tips. I hope to visit some of these next month.
You’re welcome. They are well worth the time. More to come…
I have been there done that friend of the Louvre but passed by yesterday did not go in rather visited my old home of Versailles!
I appreciate your Versailles posts. It’s another place that is overwhelmingly grand. Your pieces bring smaller portions into focus and make me want to return.
Thank you for your kinds words. Indeed lots of memories there. Cheers
Great selection of galleries and museums! I enjoyed your comments and all the pictures.
Good to know! Thanks.
Excellent choices. Très bien. Did you visit le Musée de l’Armée?
(And yes, Luxembourg is quite pleasant… I spent my first two years of College nearby, by the Panthéon… You couldn’t step on the grass then… )
I’m saving Musée de l’Armée for another trip. Haven’t yet ventured in.
It is quite remarkable. More so in today’s current state of affairs. The WWII part is particularly well put together… (And the rest too…)
Now about the Louvre, my recommendation is to visit only a part at a time… Then come back and again. and again…
Definitely. That’s what I’ve been intending to do. I always check to see if there is a special exhibit underway at the Louvre that piques my interest and gets my feet in the door.
The trick is figuring out what part of the permanent collection I want to see. It’s certainly a doable assignment but with all these smaller exhibits vying for attention, they attract me first.
I visited the Louvre when I was 14 and when I was 18. My attention span back then was not quite what it is today and my memory now only includes La Joconde and Vénus de Milo. But technically, I’ve been there.
So your interest for France goes back a little while. Très bien… You travelled with your parents? Mona Lisa is now unaccessible. There is serpentine queue… And they have moved the Vénus de Milo. It used to be in a corner corridor. Now in full view…
My mother took me and my sister to Europe when I was 14 and France was one of the countries I liked least. I returned to France immediately after taking four years of high school French and that’s probably what got me hooked. But as an engineer, I didn’t use any of my French for a few decades so forgot almost everything.
“Liked least”? Haha! It takes a while. Now going back must remind you of your mother sometimes…
High school French is like anything else “High school”. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Integral calculus is something I enjoyed very much, I don’t think I could solve an equation now. LOL.
Glad you picked it back up.
Yes. France definitely reminds me of my mother. Like me, she didn’t start studying French in earnest until she was well into middle age. Unfortunately, our competencies never overlapped since she began studying after I left high school and died several years before I resumed my studies. I would have loved speaking to her in French.
BTW: what do you recall about living next door to a tiger?
Yes, yes, I do remember your mentioning your mother and not coinciding… It would have been nice.
The little tiger? Though I was only 3 years old, I have a very vivid memory. See here:
Thanks for the link. I love the story!
De rien. ravi que ça te plaise…
I must have gone 15, 20 times, there’s probably some parts I haven’t seen yet…
(My favourite section is ancient Egypt, Greece
Good to know. Thanks.
It figures Paris would have more to see than a person could even remotely find time for during a normal trip. And I always worry about place being too crowded. All one can do is go in the off season, whenever that is, and visit popular sites first thing in the morning.
France is genuinely a technological leader in some areas, like nuclear power. Can’t blame them for touting their accomplishments.
Yes, a weekday morning would have been an entirely different experience.
I don’t blame them either. The thing that I like is that “show” rather than “tell”. I suspect that a majority of French people know that Baudelaire was a poet and Balzac was a great author, even if they’ve never read the former’s poems or the latter’s novels. If you ask the average American who Longfellow and Faulkner were, they have no idea.