Christian Dior – Designer of Dreams

Christian Dior – Designer of Dreams

The main event of this fall’s fashion season didn’t happen in the rarified runway atmosphere of the Paris Couture Week. It’s been going on through the summer and will continue until the end of the year in the Rohan and Marsan Wings of the Palais du Louvre, home to the prestigious Musée des Arts Décoratifs. And it is a stunner!

Paris-DC red

Some thematic layouts explore the many facettes of fashion.

Billed as the largest fashion exhibition ever staged by the museum, Christian Dior, Couturier du Rêve (Designer of Dreams), is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the creation of the House of Dior with a lavish retrospective featuring more than 300 couture gowns by Dior himself and the six designers who led his house after his death in 1957. All are represented in the show, in a layout that is both chronological and thematic, to weave the story of the man, the house, and couture within the broader concept of art and culture.

Christian Dior, The Man

Paris-CD art gallery

The exhibition begins with an evocation Christian Dior’s early years and his Avant Garde art gallery,

Step through the double doors of a glass interpretation of the façade of the townhouse at 30 Avenue Montaigne, the iconic home of the House of Dior, and the exhibition begins with the making of Christian Dior. Documentary photographs, video clips, sketches, letters and trinkets compile a visual digest of a young man who was born to a bourgeois family in Grandville, on the Normandy seashore and came of age in the Paris of the Roaring Twenties and the Avant Garde art world. Symbolically, the starting point of the exhibition is a bust by Salvador Dali and a photographic reproduction of the progressive art gallery Dior ran from 1928 to 1934, showcasing works by the likes of Calder, Giacometti, Cocteau and Max Jacob.

Paris-CD Margaret.

In a series of wall-size black-and-white photos of women, here a young Princess Margaret, wearing Dior. As the image dissolves, the original gown appears behind the picture.

In turn those artists attended Christian Dior’s fashion debut in 1947, eager to see what this man of eclectic artistic taste would do for a fashion industry devastated by the Second World War. The juxtaposition of Dali and Dior suggests that while they both pushed the boundaries in their respective fields, they also shared tastes for things as outmoded as Art Nouveau and the 18th century. Throughout the exhibition we are reminded that Dior thought of himself as a reactionary, rather than the revolutionary he is widely credited to be. His work as a fashion designer was guided by the romantic influences of his youth. The voluptuous femininity of his designs was his reaction to the drab frugality of the wartime years. In that, he was coincidentally innovative.

The Golden Age of Couture

Paris-Dior daytime debut.

A classic daytime dress from the 1947 Christian Dior debut collection.

The actual couture display begins with a classic daytime dress from 1947. Wasp-waisted, with soft shoulders over a fitted bodice and a full pleated skirt, in a brilliant crimson wool crepe, it stands like a beacon against the gallery’s black-lacquered walls. This is Dior’s “New Look,” the silhouette that brought him instant fame and spread throughout the world of fashion the new post-war ideal of hourglass femininity.

Paris-Dior Colorama.

The “Colorama” gallery is a rainbow of jewel-toned couture treasures.

The visual extravaganza begins with “Colorama,” a treasure-trove labyrinth of dresses, both in full size and miniature, hats, shoes, bags, jewelry and all manners of accessories arranged in a graduated rainbow of colors. It’s a jewel-tone representation of the fashion universe that Christian Dior set in motion with his agreements to start licensing the Dior name and image as early as 1947. Some of the windows are so overflowing with riches that it would take an hour to take in every detail.

Paris-Dior Versailles.

This 18th century Versailles-inspired exhibit illustrates how Dior’s designs chartered the course for his successors.

From there, a succession of thematic galleries are dedicated to the diverse periods and places that inspired the master and charted the course for the designers that came after him. From 18th century Versailles to ancient Egypt and from Masai Africa to Goya’s Spain, everything is anchored by related paintings and artifacts. By now, I have stopped glancing at the discrete captions explaining which dresses are by Dior himself or Gianfranco Ferré or John Galliano. Some are easily recognizable as they play off each other, like the extravagant ball gowns of Dior’s Trianon collection and Galliano’s surreal gold corset and bustle. I go in a dizzying state of sensory overload from gem-encrusted, silk velvet, Ballets Russes-inspired kimonos to the pure lines of a long, Palladian-style sheath of white pleated silk with an intricately embroidered bust, and a startling white taffeta coat gown as a canvas for Hokusai’s Great Wave.

A Dazzling Journey

The  Bar Suit, of the 1947 Sping-Summer collection became the embodiment of the New Look.

I reemerge into the central hall, feeling I’ve been wandering through a world where over-the-top is just the beginning, only to be confirmed that it is. The soaring space is dominated by one creation, sitting right in the center of it in a slick glass case: the seminal Bar Suit, the black and white ensemble with its soft shoulders, nipped-in waist and the undulating corolla skirt that came to embody the New Look. And beyond it, at the entrance of the second half of the exhibit (yes, all of the above is only half of it!), a towering three-tiered glass case displays various iterations of the look that triggered a golden age of fashion.

Paris-CD YSL trapeze.

The 1958 Spring-Summer Trapeze collection by Yves Saint Laurent. It was the 22-year old designer’s first collection for Dior.

The journey continue, chronologically this time, with a succession of six exhibit rooms, one for each of the designers who followed Monsieur Dior: Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and most recently Maria Grazia Chiuri. Here the focus is on analyzing how their designs contributed to the evolution of the house while staying faithful to Dior’s vision of haute couture.

Through the Looking Glass

Paris-CD toiles.

An entire hall is dedicated to the toiles of over 100 creations throughout the decades

The next space is a narrow, soaring hall with mirrored walls and ceiling, covered with a multi-level display of the original white toiles of over a hundred creations, their ghostly reflections fading into infinity.

Paris-CD finale.

Gowns are displayed under a rolling video stream of the celebrities that wore them.

As for the grand finale, it is staged in the ultimate ballroom, the cathedral-like nave of the palace with its arched 50-foot high ceiling, and an elaborate light projection that evokes the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. The sheer number of sumptuous gowns, some of which have been worn by famous customers, is surreal. At the far end of the gallery, video screens project a rolling stream of royalties from Princess Grace of Monaco to Princess Diana, and film stars from Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Taylor to Charleze Theron and Jennifer Lawrence, who wore these dream gowns.

 

Good to Know

  • Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams , is on view through January 7, 2018 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, 107, rue de Rivoli , 75001, Paris. Opening hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm and Thursday until 9:00 pm. Closed on Monday. Contact: +33 (0) 1 44 55 57 50. On-line ticket purchase (in French only)
  • The exposition is enormously successful. The queue for those without advance tickets can stretch into hours on some days. The line for those with advanced tickets is significantly shorter (about 20 minutes on the day of my visit).

Location, location, location!

Musée des Arts Decoratifs

Paris – Vermeer at the Louvre

Paris – Vermeer at the Louvre

The Louvre requires no introduction. With a world-famous collection ranging from Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century, the once royal palace on the right bank of the Seine turned public museum in 1793 is a central Paris landmark that attracts close to ten millions visitors annually. I resolved long ago to refrain when ever possible from being one of them.

A Rare Landmark Exhibition

Paris-Louvre, Vermeer Woman at Virginal.

Johannes Vermeer, A Young Woman Seated at the Virginal. Oil on canvas. 25.2 x 20 cm. (9 7/8 x 7 7/8 in…), New York The Leiden Collection.

But there are times when accommodations must be made, and crowds braved. The entrancing new temporary exhibit: “Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting “ is one such moment. This landmark event offers the largest and most dazzling selection of Vermeer works I could even hope to see in one place. Twelve in all are on display, or one third of Johannes Vermeer’s entire known output. Among them are The Milkmaid, on loan from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and poster image for the exhibition, the elaborately composed Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid, from the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, and the exquisite miniature-like Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, from a private collection in New York.

 

The Masters of Genre

Paris-Louvre, Metsu Woman Letter.

Gabriel Metsu, Young Woman Reading a Letter. Oil on wood panel 52,5 x 40,2 cm. (20.7 x 15.8 in.), Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, (Beit Collection)

More than 70 works by Vermeer’s fellow “Masters of Genre Painting” of the Dutch Golden Age, including Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Gabriel Metsu, Caspar Netscher, Samuel van Hoogstaten, Frans van Mieris and Jan Steen are also included. These “Genre” painters were a group of artists who rejected the grand classic subjects of epic kings, Olympian myths, bloody battles and gory martyrdoms of traditional art to take us instead into the homes and everyday life of Dutch merchants of the time. With women as their central characters, they immortalized with delicate precision the mundane moments of domestic life from the servants’ perspective as well as their mistresses’.

 

 

The Genius of Vermeer

Paris-Louvre, Vermeer Lady Writing.

Johannes Vermeer, A Lady Writing. Oil on canvas, 45 x 39.9 cm. (17 3/4 x 15 3/4 in.), Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art.

By juxtaposing works related in theme, composition and technique, this exhibition also demonstrates how these artists inspired and rivaled each other. And it provides a unique opportunity to understand what makes Vermeer stand out from his Golden Age peers. For me, the genius of Vermeer is in his unique use a sensuously cool palette, the lapis blues and pale golden yellows, and the silvery northern light that gives his subjects an enigmatic mood. The other painters in this magnificent display represent similar scenes with exquisite artistry: women writing letters, playing the harpsichord or the lute, and servants engaged in domestic chores. But to me, only Vermeer looks beyond the concrete world depicted by his contemporaries, to create a more insightful mood that hints at the inner life of his subject. Several of them seem to interrupt their writing or music-playing to engage me and make me part of the moment.

Paris-Louvre-Vermeer Pearl Necklace,

Johannes Vermeer, Woman with a Pearl Necklace. Oil on canvas. 55 x 45 cm. (21 5/8 x 17 3/4 in.), Berlin. Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

Others seem fully absorbed in their own world. I find myself wondering: what is she thinking, this young woman in her elegant chamber, holding up a pearl necklace as she looks intently at herself in the mirror? Is she putting it on or removing it? What does this necklace mean to her? Or even more poignantly, who is this young milkmaid in the austere kitchen? In the gray light of dawn, her downcast eyes and expressionless face suggests tired concentration as she cautiously pours milk from an earthenware jug to prepare breakfast before the rest of the household begins to stir. I see the story of a long-ago life behind every Vermeer painting, a life I want to know more about.

 

 

Good to Know

  • Visiting – The  Musée du Louvre, 75001, Paris, France, is open Wednesday through Monday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, with night openings until 9:45 pm on Wednesday and Friday. It is closed on Tuesday, and on January 1, May 1 and December 25. Contact: tel. +33 (0) 1 40 20 53 17, e-mail. info@louvre.fr.
  • Getting there –There is easy public transportation from anywhere in Paris to the museum: metro station Palais-Royal/Musée du Louvre (lines 1 and 7) or bus stop right in front of the Pyramid ( lines 21, 24, 27, 39, 48, 68, 69, 72, 81, 95, and the Paris Open Tour bus).
  • Admission to Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting – This temporary exhibition, which runs from February 22 to May 22, 2017, requires a special admission ticket for a specific date and time. It must be purchased in advance through the museum’s on-line ticket office: on-line ticket office
  • If you miss the Paris viewing – Don’t despair. After its Paris star debut, the exposition, which was realized in partnership with the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, will travel to the partner venues: National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, from June 17 to September 17, 2017, and National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. from October 22, 2017, to January 21, 2018.

Location, location, location!

Musée du Louvre

Not Just Another Paris Bistro – L’Accolade

Not Just Another Paris Bistro – L’Accolade

There are literally thousands of neighborhood bistros all over Paris, dishing out meals that go from banal to “can’t-wait-to-tell-my-friends”. It’s a French thing, the telling. When you discover a new swoon-worthy eatery, you are honor-bound to tell your friends. L’Accolade, the newly opened restaurant of Chef Nicolas Tardivel is a clear winner in the “tell” category.

Paris-L'accolade lamb.

The caramelized lamb shoulder is vacuum cooked at low temperature for twenty hours.

This latest stroke of gastronomic good fortune begins with a timing setback, when the place I had in mind turns out to be closed for a private event. At the suggestion of a friend who “hasn’t eaten there yet but has heard good things about it,” I make a short notice reservation at L’Accolade.

 

 

 

An Omen of Delights to Come

Paris-L'arcolade menu

Our server, Malik, discusses the blackboard menu with the gusto of one who has tasted and loved it all.

I know at Bonjour that I am onto a good thing. The instantaneous welcome is cordial and attentive. Then come the olives, promptly, with our drink order. Olives? I refrain the urge to turn my nose. Not that I actively dislike this ubiquitous Mediterranean staple, but I tend to dismiss it as the food equivalent of Muzak. These olives, however, play a much different tune. Speckled with herbs and glistening in their white porcelain ramekin, these little black nuggets, somehow, beckon. The first tentative bite reveals a sweet, mildly exotic taste I can’t quite identify. My dining companion and I enthusiastically polish off the dish. “The chef makes his own marinade,” our server volunteers when he comes back to discuss the menu, which I now peruse with added eagerness. A man who can do this to olives has to be a culinary wizard.

The Market’s Seasonal Best

No printed menu here. The blackboard changes every couple of months, but can be tweaked any time to take full advantage the market’s seasonal best. It is kept to five appetizers, five main courses, three desserts and a cheese board. But with every single item oh so intriguing, choice is still a dilemma.

Paris-L'Accolade tomato salad.

Heirloom tomato salad with basil ice cream.

My tomato salad starter is a platter of juicy slices of heirloom tomatoes (I identify at least five varieties), drizzled with Sauce Vierge, and enhanced by a scoop of basil ice cream. My friend’s large black tiger prawns are thinly wrapped in a sheet of crunchy phyllo dough and served with a spicy tomato mayonnaise. Alas, choosing also means renouncing. I can only hope the salad of girolles (golden chanterelles) with garden pea ice cream will still on the menu on my next visit.

Paris-L'Accolade cod.

Poached cod with passion fruit and coriander sauce.

Because my friend has her heart set on the slow-cooked caramelized lamb shoulder on a bed of mini-ratatouille, also my main course first choice, I opt for the cabillaud instead. The flaky slab of delicate cod is served with an al-dente stir-fried medley of seasonal vegetable and a tangy passion fruit sauce. An unusual harmony where tradition meets creativity for dazzling results.

The Sublime Mille-Feuille

Paris-L'Accolade mille-feuille.

Chef Nicholas’ signature mille-feuille.

By the time we reach dessert, we are both approaching the euphoric state of the blissfully satiated. It matters not that there are only three options, since one of them combines two of my guiltiest pleasures, mille-feuille and caramel au beurre salé (Napoleon and sea salt butterscotch). The portion is generous enough that it can be shared without afterthought, and so high and flaky that it can’t be done without making a finger-licking mess. In the process, I notice a thin layer of meringue within the layers, a new twist on the puff pastry classic that makes it extra light and crunchy.

Passion fruit Bavarois ravioli with sautéed pineaple and mango.

Passion fruit Bavarois ravioli with sautéed pineaple and mango.

The elegant passion fruit Bavarois ravioli with diced sautéed pineapple and mango on my friend’s plate is a delicate and refreshing creation. But it will always be the mille-feuille for me, as long as Chef Nicolas cares to keep it on the menu.

 

 

 

 

The Man Behind the Magic

Paris-L'Accolade Tardivel.

Chef Nicolas Tardivel.

Nicolas Tardivel is a man with two passions: rugby and cooking. He follows the former first. But after an early career as a wingman with the major league PUC (Paris Université Club) rugby team, he decides in his late twenties to pursue a culinary career. For the next decade, he hones his skills by assuming ever-increasing responsibilities in several noted Parisian restaurants. Along the way, he finds his mentor in Chef Christian Etchebest, one of the pillars of Bistronomie, the culinary movement started a quarter of a century ago by young classically trained Parisian chefs who wanted to bring haute cuisine down to earth. Applying their own creative talent to the highest quality products from the French heartland, they created simple dishes that brought bistro fare to new heights.

Chef Nicolas has mastered the lesson well. Now that the barely forty-something chef is at the helm of his own restaurant, he personally selects his local artisan suppliers. Then, using only the best of their seasonal bounty, he develops his own imaginative creations, juxtaposing flavors and textures in unconventional dishes that surprise and delight the palate.

L’Accolade’s wine list follows the same mindset: just over thirty labels, favoring handpicked small producers, with an emphasis on Burgundy, Chef Nicolas’ native region. Nine wines, well paired to the menu, are also available by the glass.

I look forward to a return visit to L’Accolade on my next stopover in Paris. I have already invited the friend who “hasn’t gone yet” to join me, as my thanks for steering me to this gem.

Good to Know

  • L’Accolade, 208, Rue de la Croix Nivert, Paris, 75015, is open Tuesday through Friday from 12:00 noon to 2:30 pm and 7:00 pm to 10:30 pm. It is open for dinner-only on Saturday from 7:00 pm to 10:30 pm, and for lunch-only on Monday from 12:00 noon to 2:30 pm. It is closed on Sunday. Contact: e-mail laccolade2016@gmail.com, tel.  +33 (0) 1 45 57 73 20.
  • Getting there – Located on a side street of a residential neighborhood near the convention center of the Porte de Versailles, at the southern end of Paris’ fifteenth arrondissement, L’Accolade is easy to reach by Métro from anywhere in Paris: stations Convention or Porte de Versailles (line 12) or Boucicaut (line 8).
  • In addition to its a-la-carte menu (average € 35 to € 50 per person excluding beverages), there is a fixed-menu lunch option (two courses for €19.5 or three courses for € 24.5 excluding beverages). Every night except Saturday, there is a table d’hôte four-course fixed-menu option at € 35 per person.
  • This cozy bistro with a relaxing contemporary flair can accommodate up to 35 guests. While it is still a word-of-mouth kind of place at the time of this writing, the word is deservedly getting around fast. Reservations are strongly recommended any time and are a must on weekends.

Location, location, location!

L'Accolade

A Gift to Paris – the Legacy of Henri Cernuschi

A Gift to Paris – the Legacy of Henri Cernuschi

It’s a sultry late summer day in Paris. The kind of weather that has tourists wilting under every bit of shade to be found in the Tuilleries Garden. What better time to retreat to the cool comfort of one of my favorite well-kept-secret museums?

Paris - Avenue Velasquez grillwork

Elegant grillwork marks the entrance of the Avenue Velasquez.

Located on the secluded Avenue Velasquez, in a remote enclave of the posh eighth arrondissement just a few steps away from the Parc Monceau, the Musée Cernuschi is a unique gift from its namesake, nineteenth century Renaissance man Henri Cernuschi, to the city of Paris.
 

Who is Henri Cernuschi?

Paris-Cernuschi ceramic urns.

Monumental Chinese and Japanese ceramic urns set the tone in the main foyer.

The history of the museum is indissociable of that of the man. Born in1828 into a wealthy Milanese family, Enrico Cernuschi is an Italian patriot who flees to France in the wake the 1850 collapse of the Rome revolutionary government, and in time acquires French citizenship. In Paris, he becomes a prominent economist, banker and passionate Asian art collector who makes his fortune during the Second Empire (1852-1870).

Paris-Cernuschi Chinese Bronzes.

Henri Cernuschi’s Chinese bronze collection ranges from the Neolithic to the thirteenth century.

 

An ardent republican, he actively supports efforts to create the French Third Republic, which once again puts him in a precarious political situation during the violent socialist uprising known as the Paris Commune (1871). He wisely decides remove himself to the Far East, where during a seventeen month journey through Japan and then China, he amasses well over 4,000 works of art, mainly ancient bronzes and ceramics.

 

 

Paris - Cernuschi Mansion Museum.

The bequest of Henri Cernuschi turned his private residence into one of the foremost Asian art museum in Europe.

Upon his return in 1873, Cernuschi commissions the neo-classical Parisian architect William Bouwens der Boijen to design his private mansion on the Avenue Velasquez, where he lives surrounded by his continuously expending art collection. Upon his death (1896) he bequeaths the mansion and its contents to the city of Paris, with arrangements for it to be turned into a museum. Inaugurated in 1898, the Cernuschi Museum is now the second largest museum of Asian art in France after the Musée Guimet.

An Evolving Treasure Trove

Paris - Cernuschi Buddha.

The eighteenth century bronze Amida Buddha dominates the soaring central hall.

The museum has retained the atmosphere of the grand private residence it once was, noted especially for its Chinese collection that range from the Neolithic age to the thirteenth century, including rare mingqi (tomb figures) from the Han dynasty, 206 BC–220 AD. However, its most striking piece is the 4.4-meter (14.5-foot) high eighteenth century bronze Amida Buddha displayed in the soaring central hall. Purchased from a small temple in the Meguro neighborhood of Tokyo, it is also known as the Meguro Buddha.

Over the past century, the collection has grown steadily through donations and purchases to its current holdings of over 12,000 pieces, 900 of which are permanently on display. Today, in addition to showcasing one of the leading collection of Chinese art in Europe, the museum also features fine Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese works. And for the past century it frequently holds temporary thematic exhibitions of international stature. One more reason to periodically revisit this exquisite treasure trove of Asian art.

Getting to Know Zao Wou-Ki

The purpose of my recent visit to the Cernuschi Museum, other than escaping the scorching heat, is the opportunity to view a recent donation of works by another exceptional exile, the recently deceased Chinese-born French artist Zao Wou-ki.

Paris-Cernuschi Zao Donation.

The recent donation of works by Chinese-born French artist is the object of a major temporary exhibition.

Born in Beijing in 1920 and raised in Shanghai where his father is a banker, Zao Wou-ki’s precocious talent earns him admission at the age of 15 to the prestigious Hangzhou National College of Art (now the China Academy or Art). There, in addition to traditional Chinese drawing, painting and calligraphy, he is introduced to western perspective and oil painting, and develops an enthusiastic interest in Post-Impressionism. Drawn by the work of leading European artists, especially Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso he travel to Paris in 1948, a move intended to be temporary but soon becomes permanent due to the communist takeover of China. Within a few years he begins to develop the luminous style of abstract art that becomes evident in his bold large-scale paintings

Paris-Cernuschi Zao abstracts.

Budding artists experiment with ink on paper in front of a grouping of major abstracts works by Zao Wou-ki.

The works in the donation illustrate this key early period as he transitions from figuration to abstraction. It includes a number of his experiments on paper with charcoals, watercolors and inks. Then there are abstract ink compositions from the 1970’s to 2000’s as well as a striking series of late works on porcelain (2006-2009) that illustrate clearly the evolution of his artistic journey.

My visit concludes with the screening of Zao Wou-ki : Lumières et couleurs sans limites (Zao Wou-ki: lights and colors without boundaries), an enlightening hour-long documentary that puts into context the life and work of this fascinating artist widely recognized today as one of the foremost Chinese painters of the twentieth century.

Good to Know

  • Visiting – Musée Cernuschi, 7 Avenue Vélasquez, Paris. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed on Monday and national holidays. Contact: Tel. +33 (0) 53 96 21 50. The entrance of Avenue Velasquez is located between n°111 and 113 Boulevard Malesherbes.
  • Getting there – There is easy public transportation from anywhere in Paris to the museum: Métro stations Villiers or Monceau (line 2) or Villers (line 3) 
or Bus stop Malesherbes/Courcelles (bus numbers 30 and 94).
  • It’s Free! As is the case with all the City of Paris-owned museums, entrance to the permanent collection of the Musée Cernuschi is always free of charge. Temporary exhibits have a nominal entrance fee.

 

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Cernuschi Museum

Beyond the Louvre – The Other Museums of Paris

Beyond the Louvre – The Other Museums of Paris

There are over 125 museums within the Paris city limits, illustrating every imaginable topic. Yet, ask any visitor to the City of Lights and the first, often the only one they will name is the Louvre.

The Louvre Always Comes First

France-Paris Louvre Venus of Milo

Aphrodite, better known as the “Venus de Milo” is one of the most visited treasures of the Louvre.

No surprise here. As one of the oldest (circa 1793), and with over 38,000 pieces of art displayed across more than 60,000 square meters (646,000 square feet) of permanent exhibits space, the Louvre has long captured the imagination of tourists everywhere. It attracts 10 million visitors annually, often mainly intent on catching a glimpse of three legendary women: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and two ancient armless Greek beauties, the Venus de Milo and Nike of Samothrace (also known as Winged Victory). During the high season, lines can stretch for hours in front of the Louvre’s central entrance glass pyramid.

Another Crowd-Pleaser

France-Paris Musée d'Orsay View

In addition to its rich art collection,the Musée d’Orsay is graced with a terrace that offers a spectacular view of the Seine.

A short walk across the Seine, the Musée d’Orsay is another crowd-pleaser that also draws sizeable lines. Its collection spans the years 1848 to 1914, an exceptionally inspired time that saw the birth of impressionism, postimpressionism and art nouveau. All the giants of the period are represented, from Dégas, Manet, Monet and Renoir to Pissaro, Cézanne and Van Gogh. Fittingly, their home is a superb example of Belle Epoque architecture, the former Gare d’Orsay, a train station built to coincide with the 1900 Paris World Fair.

But long lines are not a prerequisite for an enjoyable museum experience in central Paris. Within a fifteen-minute walk radius of the Musée d’Orsay, three of my personal line-free favorites immediately come to mind. And in addition to stimulating exhibits, they offer welcoming exterior spaces where you can enjoy a quick meal or just relax, away from the constant din of the city.

Musee du Quai Branly

France-Paris Branly Vegetal Facade

In addition to its lush gardens, the Museum also features a luxuriant vegetal façade designed by botanist Patrick Blanc.

Inaugurated in 2006, the newest of Paris’ major museums, the Musée du Quai Branly is dedicated to the indigenous art and cultures from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Its collections include almost 370,000 works ranging from the Neolithic period to the twentieth century, only one percent of which are on display at any given time either in permanent or temporary thematic exhibits.

Equally remarkable for its architecture and surroundings as it is for its collections, the Musée du Quai Branly sits on the left bank of the Seine, just a five-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. As you step into the high translucent glass enclosure that isolates it from the busy riverside drive, you are embraced by an exuberant 18,000 square meter (4.5 acre) wilderness created by noted French landscaper and botanist Gilles Clement. You may want to lose yourself in its detours, or enjoy a picnic break on one of the benches tucked into its many shaded spots before finding your way to the discrete entrance of the exhibit space.

A Jean Nouvel Masterpiece

France -Paris Musee Branly Main Gallery

The bridge-like main building appears to rest on the treetops.

For the main building, which contains the galleries of the museum, world-renowned French architect Jean Nouvel created a 210-meter (690 foot) long bridge, anchored at both ends with concrete silos. Its center is held 10 meters (33 feet) above the garden on 26 steel columns. The maturing trees are beginning to hide the columns, giving the impression that the building is resting on the treetops. Inside, a winding ramp leads to the 200-meter (650-foot) long main gallery, a beautifully staged space evocative of mysterious primeval forests with only the barest amount of natural light filtering through. Direct lighting focuses only on the displays of the collection. Two mezzanines dedicated to temporary exhibits look down on the gallery.

A Marquesas Islands Journey

France-Paris Quai Branly Matahoata.

A display of ancient ceremonial drums of the Marquesas Islands.

What brings me to the Quai Branly today is a stunning exhibition: Matahoata, Art and Society in the Marquesas Island. The Marquesas, a major source of inspiration for post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin and his final resting place, form one of the most remote archipelagoes of French Polynesia. The exhibit traces the development of the sophisticated Marquesan artistic tradition through the times preceding the incursion of westerners at the end of the nineteenth century. From this baseline, it leads the viewer through the cultural mix that ensued, and illustrates how the islanders managed to preserve the main codes of their ancestral culture while incorporating the outsiders’ perspective. A remarkable feat that not only enabled the traditional culture to endure, but also paved that way for the current revival of traditional arts. Overall, a virtual journey so inspiring that it has propelled the Marquesas to the top of my travel wish list!

Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

France-Paris Art Moderne Dunant

The gold-lacquered Art Deco panel (circa 1935) by Jean Dunant originally dominated the décor of the first class smoking lounge of the SS Normandie.

Just across the Seine from the Quai Branly, the City of Paris Museum of Modern Arts offers one of France’s richest and most vibrant reflections of the contemporary art scene. With about 10,000 works in its collections and a vast permanent exhibition space where works are rotated periodically, it is a dynamic representation of all the artistic currents that shaped the twentieth century and the present art scene. All the great names are represented in this context, from Picasso, Modigliani, Derain, Picabia and Chagall to today’s Boltanski, Parreno and Peter Doig. There are also several temporary themed exhibits per year. A recent visit allowed me to discover Paula Modersohn Becker, a remarkable German early expressionist, regrettably deceased at 31.

An entire hall is dedicated to La Fée Electricité by Raoul Duffy.

An entire hall is dedicated to La Fée Electricité by Raoul Dufy.

The building itself is emblematic of the architecture of the 1930’s, with a vast terrace and reflecting pool overlooking the river. Its soaring interior spaces enable the museum to feature unique permanent installations such as the first, unfinished version of The Dance by Matisse, and Raoul Dufy’s monumental fresco, La Fee Electicité   (The Electricity Fairy) originally commissioned for the entrance hall of the Pavilion of Light and Electricity at the in Paris 1937 International Exposition.

The Petit Palais

France-Paris Petit Palais Cloister.

A cloistered garden retreat in the heart of Paris.

Le Petit Palais is a Beaux Arts extravaganza built to hold a major exhibit of French art during the 1900 Exposition Universelle. Think of it as a human-scale Louvre without the lines. All of its works have been donated by various collectors and range in time from Greek antiquity to the end First World War. I especially enjoy their rich Art Nouveau and Art Deco exhibit. But my favorite part of the Petit Palais is its lovely vaulted cloister and lush central garden that offer an unexpectedly secluded retreat right in the heart of the city.

Good to Know

 

  • It’s Free! Entrance to the exterior spaces of the Musée du Quai Branly, the Musée d’Art Modern and the Petit Palais is free. All three have above average cafeteria-style restaurants where you can grab a tray (or if you prefer, bring your own) and enjoy a relaxing lunch or snack in a gorgeous environment. Additionally, like at all other City of Paris-owned museums, at the Musée d’Art Moderne and Petit Palais, entrance to the permanent collection is always free of charge. Only the temporary exhibits have an entrance fee.
  • Visiting – Musée du Quai Branly, 37 Quai Branly, 75007 Paris. Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm and Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm. Closed Monday. Contact: Tel: +33 (0)1 56 61 70 00. Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 11 Avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris.Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed Monday. Contact:  Tel: +33 1 53 67 40 00. Petit Palais, Avenue Winston Churchill, 75008 Paris. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed Monday. Contact:  Tel: +33 (0)1 53 43 40 00.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Museum of the Quai Branly

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