The Louvre, Paris 9.10.05
Posted by Lisa Hill on February 6, 2006
After our last visit to Paris in 2001, when all the public museums and galleries were on strike for the whole week, I was a bit anxious. As far as I’m concerned, if the museums and galleries are shut, there’s nothing much to do in Paris once you’ve checked out the Eiffel Tower. Montmartre is nice on a sunny day, but Versailles is merely a bigger and more crass version of the ostentation you can see in palaces anywhere. The Botanic Gardens are shabby and you can’t get near the Arc de Triomphe for the traffic. It’s a good thing the Picasso and Salvador Dali museums (both privately owned) were open, and that I found an English language bookshop, or our stay would have been a total loss.
So we were pleased and relieved to see the 9.00am queue snaking down the road to the Louvre. Having pre-booked our tickets from Australia and had them delivered to our hotel, we sauntered past the hordes and went straight in. After the disappointment of last time, it was all I could do not to shout out loud ‘We’re in! In the Louvre!’ Tim (as you can see from the photo) managed to retain his dignity.
It really is huge. Everyone says so, but it’s not until you get inside that it becomes comprehensible. There’s no way anyone could even circumnavigate it all in one day, even without stops to look and gawk and marvel…
We started off with French painting from about 1250-1800 – so interesting to see how the same period in Britain was done differently. French artists created more massive paintings with classical references – like the colossal ones by Le Brun of Alexander the Great, designed to appeal to Louis XIV who liked to be compared to the great conqueror. References in their still life painitngs were often to the five senses and the four elements, sometimes with some objects indicating impending death. There were also some great portraits, with very expressive faces, but from what I could make out from the info panels (in French) these were often criticised for being too flattering so they probably weren’t very lifelike really.
I liked the mistresses: not quite royal but laden with fleur de lys and royal rings, they looked quietly triumphant and very dignified. I also liked the religious themes depicted in renaissance landscapes, with all the sumptuous details of everyday life in the background. I do wish I knew more about painting…I should have prepared better.
We had a delicious lunch in the Louvre Cafe and set off again. We found the Mona Lisa, and up close and personal too – once the Japanese group had gone, it was less crowded than some of our Melbourne exhibitions at home. It’s a lovely painting, worth all the fuss. The colours are more subdued than in reproductions, but the landscape seems clearer and her smile does seem to follow you around the room.
Napoleon’s rooms were what I expected: ornate, gilded, massive chandeliers & all very impressive – except for his bed. It was surprisingly small – perhaps he was? Curious too, was that it was surrounded by a kind of altar rail and chairs, as if an audience might watch the royal ‘performance’?
In antiquities, we saw the Winged Victory of Samothrace looking very impresssive at the top of a flight of stairs, and the Venus de Milo, who has such a saucy smile, a real 21st century girl! These statues were wonderful -my favourites were the Roman emperors Augustus and Trajan, with all the carvings on his tunic. What else? Lovely Eqyptian treasures, a portrait of a Roman girl that I remember from my studies at Melbourne University, a mosaic from a Roman villa and another one all of birds – all of them so exquisite, and oh! so old! Seeing the actual artefact instead of a reproduction in a book makes antiquity real: it’s the difference between knowing something in your head as an abstract idea and knowing it in your soul. There were even textiles, quite well preserved fragments, and an intriguing statuary group of men holding up a fountain which has sadly been lost.
I thought things couldn’t get any better, but on our way out, we heard singing, and there under the arches was a young woman with a glorious voice singing Ave Maria and something from Mozart. She had a CD player for accompaniment, and she had the crowd transfixed. I wonder if we have heard a Joan Sutherland of the future? A wonderfully Parisienne moment.
We took a stroll through the gardens where Paris comes out to play, and I saw more children in 15 minutes than I did all week! They were riding bikes and rollerblades and playing soccer while people sat in the sun and read books or newspapers and even marked test papers. It must be where people who live in apartments go because they don’t have gardens of their own, but it seemed very companionable.
We found a terrific fin de siecle bistro for dinner, not far from our hotel. Le Grand Cafe Boulevarde des Italienne is all decked out in art nouveau nymphettess and silky textiles. The waiters are really sweet, the seafood is scrumptious, and the Pommeroy champagne is just the restorative needed after a long but very satisfying day.