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« Yet More on Art, Porn, Erotica, etc | Main | Hiding a B-17 Bomber Factory »

April 22, 2009

Paris Museums: Which to Visit?

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

In about a month from now, we'll be off to France for three weeks. It's yet another trip set up last fall before the market crashed -- we cashed in frequent flier miles early to be sure of decent flight times along with the almost-free seats. So we're pretty well locked in.

The first week is to be spent in Paris with friends flying in from Los Angeles. Nancy will try to see an early day of the French Open tennis tournament and I'll do my usual bookstore crawl. Since I know the town fairly well, there's no need to hit every four-star attraction. We won't feel guilty doing the flâneur routine or sipping a demi-tasse of strong coffee at cafés on or near the boul' St. Germain.

While I mostly enjoy exploring cities, I don't rule out short visits to museums (I have about a two-hour, max, museum attention span). Therefore I plan to visit some in order to see some art that I've already written about or might write about here in the future.

Judging from guidebooks, Paris has tons and tons of museums. On past trips, I've visited the Louvre (art up to about 1850), the Musée d'Orsay (art 1850-1905 or thereabouts), the Carnavalet (Paris history), Musée Marmottan (Claude Monet), the Orangerie (Monet water lillies) and the Musée de l'Armée (which has little in the way of art).

Not being very interested in sculpture, I've never bothered seeing the Rodin museum. As for the Centre Pompidou, I think I'll check out its bookstore's postcard rack to see if there are any paintings worth viewing in person. (I visited the Museum of Modern Art enough in the 1960s to have seen much noteworthy Modernist painting, and I'm not sure Pompidou beats MoMA in terms of quality and relevance to art history.) While I admire Picasso's self-promotional abilities, I don't admire his art enough to want to visit the Musée Picasso. For similar reasons, there's a Salvador Dalí museum I can easily skip as well.

So, art mavens and Paris fans, besides revisiting some of the above, what's worth seeing once I and any other Paris-bound 2Blowhards readers run out of bookstores and other points of interest?

Oh. Speaking of such, are there any bookstores you know of that have out-of-print art books published between, say, 1970 and 2000. That is, books with fairly good color reproductions and that aren't expensive. Text can be French or English.

Thank you for your tips.

Later,

Donald

posted by Donald at April 22, 2009




Comments

If you're willing to risk the modern Saracen hordes, you could always visit Charles Martel's tomb up in Saint-Denis. Most of his family is there (though not grandson Charlemagne), along with many other French royals. (BTW, the locals are called les dionysiens.)

One can find sculpture and pay homage to the dead at one of the city's cemeteries. Truffaut and Stendhal are in Montmartre, which I visited in 1992. Citroën is in Montparnasse.

Unfortunately for Donald, the National Automobile Museum is way out east, in Mulhouse. That's quite a day trip, even if the TGV went there.

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on April 22, 2009 4:11 PM



A tip for another time: we did some open-top bus tours a few years ago, in late March. Lovely weather and no leaves on the trees, so that the views of the buildings were superb.

Posted by: dearieme on April 22, 2009 4:39 PM



Musee Nissim de Camondo- the delightful townhouse of a French Sephardic Jewish banking family with a great 18th century art and furniture collection. The last generation of the family was killed during WWII.

I also recommend the Montmartre cemetery. Truffaut’s grave is nice, and so is Berlioz’s.

The best “single artist” museum in Paris is probably the Musee Gustave Moreau, which was actually his town house and studio. The museum has also preserved his girlfriend’s boudoir and bedroom, which are very charming.

If shopping, eating great food, watching old movies in cinemas and the Louvre’s collection aren’t enough for you, and you’d like to see wax reproductions of tubercular lesions, then go visit the Musee Fragonard in the Alfort Veterinary School, which is reachable by metro. It’s an 18th century anatomy museum, and it’s worth the 1 ½ hours it takes to get there.

For art books, I go to the 2nd floor of La Hune on 170 blvd St. Germain right between the two famous cafes. New art books and rarities are shelved together by subject.

Posted by: CL on April 22, 2009 6:20 PM



I second the advice to visit St. Denis. For over 1,200 years the French buried their kings there. It was defiled during the revolution, but most of the interior is in good shape and the ambience is very impressive, as is the quality of the tomb sculpture. The tombs of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI are very touching. Be sure to visit the lower levels.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on April 22, 2009 7:17 PM



My favorite museum in Europe is the Musée de Cluny.

I will do an awful job just trying to express why I love it so much. JUST VISIT IT.

Posted by: thehova on April 22, 2009 7:28 PM



The Louvre and the d'Orsay are really worth a second visit...or five.

Seriously, why not decide in advance that you'll concentrate on a very limited number of artists that the Louvre features in a way no other museum in the world approaches: Fragonard; Delacroix; Ingres; Corot...or Bougereau!

Same for the d'Orsay: Caillebot (sp?); the "tall" impressionist who was remarkable but died young, can't think of his name and...wait for it...Bougereau!

Posted by: ricpic on April 22, 2009 8:51 PM



Paris, which museums to visit? Boy, I wish I had your problems!

Posted by: Lester Hunt on April 22, 2009 11:43 PM



Admission to the lovely sculpture garden of the Musée Rodin is only €1.

If you like the rayonnant gothic architecture of St Denis, consider visiting la Sainte-Chappelle, around the corner from the Hotel de Ville.

Two classic arty destinations where I have had what seemed like apprehensions of the numinous are the unicorn tapestry room at the Cluny and the pews of the Sacre Coeur.

Posted by: robert61 on April 23, 2009 3:59 AM



Try the Hotel de Rambouillet, a 17th-century hotel particulier, i.e. a grand town-house, in Paris. It's easy to find and gives an idea of what aristocratic life was like away from Versailles, and is much less crowded. I think - and my memory may be off on this - that it contains a number of interesting old artifacts and documents relating to early France as well.

Clio

Posted by: aliasclio on April 23, 2009 11:13 AM



If you speak French well enough to follow a tour, Napoleon's wife's house Malmaison is interesting, too.

Posted by: robert61 on April 23, 2009 5:23 PM



The gift shop/bookstore is by far the best thing at the Pompidou.

Posted by: beloml on April 23, 2009 5:30 PM



Ah I love this thread, I'll be in Paris for a little less than a week come september. I saw only a fraction of what I wanted to see last year, but a few things I liked: The Montmarte graveyard, I'm a classical music guy so I went for Berlioz, but really everything there is worth the trip. Saint Pierre de Montmartre, the other church on Montmartre, the modernist stained glass windows are phenomenal. And the church was so uncrowded you could enjoy them. And if you haven't visited the Orangerie since its reconstruction finished, you really do need to see it again.

Posted by: acs on April 24, 2009 6:16 AM



If I may be so presumptuous, I am forwarding a portion of some marching orders from a relative who has visited Paris several times (moi, just once 35 years ago). She found out that my wife and daughter were going to The City last year, and got in touch with her inner tour guide. Thing is, no one in my household would ever be this regimented/efficient, but it might be just the thing for an ex-demographer. Who knows?

"...the museum pass is essential. It will get you into not only the Louvre and the Musee D'Orsay without standing in very long lines, it will also get you into many other museums - ask for a list. I think that there were different passes for one, three, five, days, etc., but has to be consecutive days. The first time you use the pass, it starts. Try to use the passes on days that you have the most free time and see as many museums as you can to maximize your value.

These are the two small museums that we loved - Nissim-de-Camondo and Jacquemart-Andre. They are in the same neighborhood and near the Parc Monceau. When we went in May all the flowers were in bloom and it was spectacular. But you are too early for that. There is a lovely restaurant at the Jacquemart-Andre. This would make a great day - start at Nissim (1 and 1/2 hours), then walk to Jacquemart (2 hours), then have lunch there. After lunch, walk through the park.

You also might want to invest in a metro pass - it's easy to get around once you figure it out. But whenever possible, walk - Paris is such a beautiful city. I have never been at this time of year. I am eager to hear about the weather - I would like to go again next year and the prices are much better at this time of year. I have been to Paris 3 times, but always in the spring or summer.

Try to plan your activities based on the section of the city you want to see each day. You can never see everything and should always assume you will come back again.

All of the major museums have restaurants and cafes and are an excellent place to have lunch in a nice atmosphere and usually a reasonable price for good quality. I would try and get an early start each day, be at the door at opening time and by lunch you will be ready for a break. The various museums have different days/times so be sure to plan around that. My Michelin guide is old, but these were the times when my book was published.

Louvre - closed Tuesday - 9 AM to 7 PM
Musee D'Orsay - closed Monday - 10 AM to 6 PM
Nissim de Camondo - closed Monday and Tuesday - 10 AM to 5 PM
Jacquemart-Andre - daily 10 AM to 6 PM


Opera Garnier - the old Opera House - go to any type of event there if you can - if not, see about taking a tour of the building. This is the "Phantom of the Opera" building. Spectacular.

Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle - you can go to Mass at Notre Dame on Easter Sunday - then walk over to Saint Chapelle (it may be on the Museum pass). St Chapelle is beautiful.

Musee Rodin and Les Invalides and Eiffel Tower - all in same area. All can't miss.

I assume you have a guide book, if not buy one - Michelin is excellent. You also need a map - it doesn't have to be big, in fact, there are several maps in the Michelin. You will only have time to see the city center. I wouldn't try to take any day trips on my first visit to Paris. There is too much to see.

We have always combined a museum in the morning, then lunch, then just strolled around the city. But with teenagers, I am not sure how I would plan it. You want to hit the high spots and leave them wanting to return. I think they would really like Nissim - it is small, it was someone's home and it is not a typical museum - you actually see the house with it's furnishings, the kitchen, etc. Jacquemart was also someone's home and also furnished, but much more lavish. That always appeals to me, much more than just paintings hanging on walls, after a while it starts to blur. You can't go to Paris without going to the Louvre, but take a guided tour, so the kids don't get bored. [name withheld to protect *me*] loved Musee Dorsay because of the collection of impressionist paintings. It is the old train station and so is interesting for that reason. It is smaller and you could spend the morning and have lunch there - the restaurant is beautiful."

Posted by: bald cypress on April 24, 2009 1:10 PM



Unfortunately I was too young and to a degree ignorant about art beyond the basics to really enjoy the Paris museums then as I would now. However I did visit the Louvre(tp) and I would recommend that you take your wife there. Versai(tp) is nice as well from what I’ve read(not a museam) Make sure your wife doesn't wear her stilettos because that area is cobblestone city. There is nice vintage shops in that area as well. Please take your wife to Pretemps(tp) as that is a very nice huge department store with a range of prices. Even better than anything department store in NYC.
Paris is beyond beautiful and you'll be shocked to see very few men with American style guts. The women are very slender. I saw very few women who were larger than a size 10 and I can count on one hand the number who were larger than a size 18.

Posted by: chic noir on April 25, 2009 5:31 PM



Forgot to mention that there is a very nice flea market that is on the outskirts of Paris IIRC. I think it's the largest in Paris. don't forget to barter since most of the venders are willing to do that with you. I still shead a stear over a very nice bag I passed up. The flea market is in a mostly Arab/African section of the city but you'll be safe(mixed crowd of shoppers). You can take the metro there and walk over a few blocks. It's almost impossible to get lost in Paris since there is a metro/subway on every cornor. The Paris metro makes using cabs a waste of money.

Unlike the US, you can't catch a cab just anywhere. There are cab stands where you have to go to catch a cab so be mindful of them in case you are too beat to take the subway.

Posted by: chic noir on April 25, 2009 5:35 PM






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