Notable Museums of Lyon

Notable Museums of Lyon

First a major Gallo-Roman center of trade, then a financial and industrial powerhouse of the Renaissance Lyon has long been a fertile ground for museums. From fine arts to the history of silk, and from Gallo-Roman civilization to the invention of the cinema, there are over 20 museums in Lyon to satisfy the most diverse interests.

Musée des Beaux Arts

France- Lyon Fine Arts Veronese.

Bathsheba at her Bath, by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)

Created in 1803 in a magnificent seventeenth century abbey in the heart of the central Presqu’Ile neighborhood, it is one of the premier regional museums of fine arts in France. Think of it as a human-size version of the Louvre without the crowds. With 70 galleries of exhibit space, it woos visitors with rich collections that offer an outstanding view of the evolution of art, from ancient Egypt to contemporary times. The paintings section alone section occupies 35 galleries where all the great European Schools from the Renaissance to the twentieth century are represented.

 

France-Lyon Fine Arts Chavannes.

The Sacred Forest Beloved by the Arts and Muses by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898).

While the museum is justifiably proud of its masterpieces by the likes of Tintoretto, Veronese, Rembrandt, Rubens and Poussin, the stairway murals by Lyon native Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, a forbearer of the Symbolism movement, are also well worth a second look. His murals, by the way, also grace the grand staircase of the Boston Public Library as well as the main amphitheatre of the Sorbonne in Paris.

 

Democritus meditating on the seat of the soul by Léon-Alexandre Delhomme (1841-1895).

Democritus Meditating on the Seat of the Soul by Léon-Alexandre Delhomme (1841-1895).

At the heart of the abbey, the former cloister is now a public garden with a central fountain created from an antique sarcophagus. This serene space shaded by ancient trees also serves as a sculpture garden, with works by nineteenth century French masters Rodin, Bourdelle, Maillol and Delhomme.

 

 

Musées des Tissus

France-Lyon Textile Museum.

Housed in a gracious eighteenth century mansion, the Musée des Tissus holds one of the richest textile collection in the world.

This unique Museum of Textiles has its genesis in the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, the first in a series Universal Exhibitions of culture and industry that would become popular in the nineteenth century. It inspired the visiting Lyonnais manufacturers to create a museum to showcase the superior technical and artistic capabilities of the city’s silk industry. Opened in 1864, it originally offered an encyclopedic view of samples and drawings, until the 1890’s when its scope broadened to cover the history of textiles.

 

Lyon-Textile Museum Fashion.

Entire galleries illustrate the synergy between Lyon silk and Paris fashion.

Today, the museum holds one of the most important collections of textiles in the world, with close to two-and-a-half million pieces covering four millennia of production, housed in the lovely eighteenth century Hôtel de Villeroy, in the center the Presqu’Ile. From rare third century Coptic caftans to magnificent twelfth century Sicilian silk tapestries woven with gold threads made from intestine membranes coated with gold leaf, each unique item has its own fascinating story.

 

 

Lyon-Pompadour fashion.

Mid-eighteenth century court gown in the “à la Pompadour” style.

There is a doublet worn by famous historic figure Charles de Blois, Duke of Brittany (1318-1364). Made of rare Persian silk, this ceremonial quilted jacket was intended to fit under a suit of armor, so the Duke could just shed the metal garment and go straight from battle to festivities.  Stunning Lyon silks especially created for Marie Antoinette’s gowns are here, along with the rose and green tapestries she left behind in her bedroom during her ill-fated escape attempt from Versailles. Entire rooms of gowns and other ceremonial attire spanning several centuries illustrate the synergy between the development of the silk and French fashion. I could lose myself for days in here!

 

Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Lyon - Applied Arts Regny.

Original period rooms are preserved intact at the Museum of Applied Arts.

Originally part of the Museum of Textiles, this applied arts institution was spun off as a distinct collection in the adjoining Hôtel de Lacroix-Lavalle in 1925. In addition to its wealth of decorative objects from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance to contemporary times, the museum also offers the opportunity to walk through a number of period rooms, mainly from the eighteenth century, donated with their entire contents, including wall paneling, with the provision that they remain intact. Here, it is possible to appreciate in situ the artistry of furniture and textile craftsmen of the period.

Musée Lumière

Lyon-Lumière Archive.

Archive frame from the first film: “La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon” (Workers leaving the Lumiere Factory)

For movie buffs, this is where is all began, the birthplace of le cinématographe, the nineteenth century ancestor of the camcorder invented by two brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumière. Here, on March 19,1895, they recorded a 46 second film of employees leaving their family’s photo-plate business. Next door, the grand Art Nouveau mansion where the family lived is now a museum that features their famous cinématographe, along with a number of early film-making devices, including Edison’s boxy wooden kinetoscope. In the garden, a hangar is all that remains of the factory. It is now a movie theater with a dynamic program of international film classics.

Musée Gallo-Romain de Lyon-Fourvière

Lyon-Fourviere Gallo-Roman Mosaics.

The permanent collections feature fine Roman mosaics.

Partially buried into the Fourvière hillside next to the Roman Theatre archeological site, the museum offers a journey back into ancient history with its concrete spiral ramp descending and branching out into display galleries. The permanent collections feature Roman, Celtic and pre-Roman artifacts, including fine mosaics, sculptures, jewelry, ceramics and everyday objects as well as an enigmatic Celtic calendar. There is also a relief map of the ancient town as well as scale models of its major monuments, including the Theatre and the Odeon.

Musée des Confluences

Lyon-Confluences

The futuristic Musée des Confluences is Lyon’s latest.

Built at the very southern tip of the Presqu’Ile, on a peninsula that was artificially extended a century ago at the confluence of the Saône and the Rhône rivers, the sprawling glass and steel structure brings to mind a spaceship that has just gone through a hard landing. Opened in December 2014 with the ambitious mission to “tell the story of man from its origins to modern days,” this new anthropology and science museum left me a bit dazed. Going from the skeleton of a 155 million year old Camarasaurus from Wyoming to the smart phone, and from the vision of after-life in indigenous cultures around the world to the exploration of Antarctica in a couple of hours can feel a tad disorienting.

Good to Know

  • Musée des Beaux Arts20 Place des Terreaux, Lyon, 69001. Open Wednesday through Monday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Open until 10:00 on the first Friday of the month except August. Closed on Tuesday and national holidays. Contact: Tel. + 33 (0) 4 72 10 17 40.
  • Musée des Tissus et des Arts Décoratifs 34 Rue de la Charité, Lyon, 69002. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. Closed on Monday and national holidays. Contact: +33 (0) 4 78 38 42 02
  • Musee Lumière – 25 rue du Premier-Film, place Ambroise Courtois, Lyon, 69008. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:30 pm. Closed Monday. Open all holidays except January 1, May 1 and December 25. Contact: Tel. +33 (0) 4 78 78 18 95.
  • Musée Gallo-Romain de Lyon-Fourvière17 Rue Cléberg, Lyon, 69005. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed Monday and national holidays. Contact: Tel. + 33(0) 4 72 38 49 30
  • Musée des Confluences – 86 quai Perrache 69002 Lyon, 60002. Open every day and most national holidays – schedule varies throughout the week. For exact opening hours, check their website or contact: Tel. +33 (0) 4 28 38 11 90.

Location, location, location!

Musée des Beaux Arts

Written on the Wall – the Story of Lyon

Written on the Wall – the Story of Lyon

The story of France’s third largest city, Lyon, is written, or rather painted on its walls, in giant trompe l’oeil frescos that cover entire buildings to illustrate its evolution through the centuries. It began in 1987, when a cooperative of artists, CitéCréation, decided to “play” with the restoration of the Croix-Rousse, the historic hillside neighborhood once home to the Canuts, the artisans who, over five centuries, made the city the Capital of Silk.

La Fresque des Canuts

France-Lyon, Canut Fresco Detail

A detail from the Silk Workers’ Wall pays homage to the Canut past of the Croix Rousse.

Commonly known as Le Mur des Canuts (Silk Workers’ Wall), the city block-size trompe l’oeil fresco covers a 1200 square meter (13,000 square foot) blank wall. It illustrates the history and development of the neighborhood and the daily life of its inhabitants. At its center, a long stairway street emblematic of the Croix-Rousse environment gives a startling depth to the work. On both sides, apartment buildings with the tall windows characteristic of the weavers’ homes depict the current life of the area while reminding the viewer of the harsh nineteenth-century existence of the artisans whose life centered around the giant looms. One of the largest trompe l’oeil frescoes in Europe, the Silk Workers’ Wall has become a Lyon landmark

La Fresque des Lyonnais

In 1994-1995, following the success of the original fresco, the city commissions another project to honor its most illustrious citizens though the ages. The ideal canvas, an 800 square meter (8,600 square foot), seven-story blank wall along the right bank of the Saône River, is proposed by the residents of the Presqu’Ile neighborhood.

France-Lyon ,Fresque Lyonnais.

The Fresque des Lyonnais honors illustrious sons and daughters who left their mark on the city.

The Fresque (or Mur) des Lyonnais honors thirty illustrious native sons and daughters who left their mark on the city. From Sainte Blandine, a young early-Christian slave martyred during the reign of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and the Patron Saint of Lyon, to Paul Bocuse, the world-famous French chef and leading figure of the Nouvelle Cuisine movement, from one balcony to the next, the wall is a stage. The higher you look, the further you go back in history. On the third floor, I spot Juliette Recamier, the celebrated society leader whose Parisian salon drew the foremost literary and political figures of the early nineteenth century.

France-Lyon Fresque Abbee Pierre.

L’abbée Pierre and Paul Bocuse share the spotlight on the Fresque des Lyonnais.

André-Marie Ampère the eighteenth century physicist who founded the science of electrodynamics and gave his name to the unit of electric current (Amp. for short) is on the second floor. Well-loved contemporary figures are on the street level, including L’Abbée Pierre (1912-2007), a Catholic priest, active member of the Resistance during World War Two and founder in 1949 of the Emmaus movement to help the poor, homeless and refugees; and Bertrand Tavernier (noted film director and producer of such award-winning films as “Mississippi Blues” and “Life and nothing but”).

Did you Know?

France-Lyon Jacquard.

Joseph Marie Jacquard, inventor of the loom that bears his name.

Some Wall residents are now household names, like Joseph Marie Jacquard (second floor), the early nineteenth century weaver and merchant who developed the earliest known programmable loom. Which, by the way, played an important part in the development of other programmable machines, including an early version of the digital compiler used by IBM to develop the modern day computer.

 

 

France-Lyon Lumière.

The brothers Lumière and their moving pictures invention.

Then there are the brothers Lumière, Auguste and Jean, late nineteenth century inventors with over 170 patents to their name. The Lumière brothers played a major role in the history of photography and moving pictures. And yes, in French, the word for light is lumière.

 

 

Saint Ex and the Little Prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, pioneer aviator and author with his word-famous Little Prince.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, pioneer aviator and author with his word-famous Little Prince.

And let’s not forget Antoine de Saint-Exupéry on the second floor, side-by-side with the yellow-haired hero of his famous Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), one of the most translated and best-selling books ever published. Although most widely remembered for this novella, Saint-Exupéry was a pioneer commercial aviator before the Second World War, working airmail routes in Europe, Africa and South America. He later joined the Free French Air Force in North Africa and disappeared during a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean in July 1944. Although Saint-Ex, as he is lovingly known in France, is not technically a household name, if you fly to Lyon, you will land at Saint-Exupéry Airport.

Le Mur des Ecrivains

France-Lyon Writers.

Over 300 authors who were born or lived in and round Lyon figure on the Writers’ Wall.

Just around the corner, La Bibliothèque de la Cité, better known as the Wall of the Writers, evokes a giant library filled with the works of authors who were born or lived in and near Lyon. Over three hundred of them are on file, representing all literary genres and periods from the Renaissance to the present, excerpts and quotes included. They range from Rabelais and Voltaire to Frédéric Dart (who under the pen name San-Antonio, after his famous character, is arguably the most famous contemporary mystery writer in France). Saint Ex and his Little Prince are here too, of course. The street-level consists of three trompe l’oeil storefronts and a mailman near a mailbox. The mailbox, however, is real.

Good to Know

  • The frescoed walls of Lyon are famous for their originality and artistry. To date, the artists of CitéCréation have produced over one hundred of them in Lyon and surrounding areas alone and close to 600 around the world. To find a list of their major works, check: CitéCréation , and for a comprehensive itinerary of the walls in central Lyon: Murs Peints.
  • Visiting – Fresque des Canuts, 36 Boulevard des Canuts, at the corner of Rue Denfert Rochereau. Best visited as part of a walking itinerary, it can also be reached by public transportation: Métro station Hénon (line C). Fresque des Lyonnais, 2 Rue de la Martinière, at the corner of 43 Quai St. Vincent, on the right bank of the Saône River. Best visited as part of a walking itinerary, it can also be reached by public transportation: Métro station Hôtel de Ville-Louis Pradel. Multiple Bus lines also service this area. Mur des Ecrivains, 6 Rue de la Platière, at the corner of the Quai de la Pêcherie, just a few steps away from the Fresque des Lyonnais.
  • Getting there – Lyon is easily reached by rail, with several direct TGV (high speed trains) connections throughout the day from Paris (2 hours), Lille (3 hours), Strasbourg (3 hours and 30 minutes) and Marseille (1hour and 40 minutes) as well as Geneva (2 hours). Lyon Saint-Exupery airport, with connections to Paris, Geneva and other major European cities, is located 20 kilometers east of the city. The Rhonexpress light-rail link offers easy access to the centre of Lyon in just 30 minutes. Note: Lyon has two main train stations. All TGV high-speed trains come into the new Lyon Part Dieu station, on the east side of the Rhone. Some continue, along with many local trains, to the old main station at Perrache, on the Presqu’ile, one kilometer south of the main square in the city, Place Bellecour.

Location, location, location!

La Fresque des Canuts

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

Written in Stone – Two Thousand Years of Lyon History

Written in Stone – Two Thousand Years of Lyon History

The Romans called it Lugdunum and made it the capital of Gaul. Today it’s Lyon, the third largest city in France and a unique metropolitan center with a 2,000-year history as a commerce, banking and industry powerhouse. Along the way, every phase of its evolution left substantial marks on its architectural and cultural heritage. From Roman ruins to Renaissance mansions to contemporary skyscrapers, few cities anywhere can boast such diversity in their urban structure.

Take it from the Top

France-Lyon Panoramic view

A panoramic view of Lyon, seen from the top of Fourvière hill.

Like the Romans before me, I head for the best vantage point in the area, the top of Fourvière, the steep hill that dominates the town and overlooks the confluence of the Saône and Rhone rivers. High above the west bank of the Saône, they founded the city they called Lugdunum, as a nod to Lug, a Gallic Zeus-type whose temple they appropriated for their urban development project. From here, the spectacular view over the red-tiled roofs of the city seems to go on forever. It illustrates clearly the march of history that shaped Lyon, from its Roman hilltop downward to the river then across it to the Presqu’ile district, the narrow peninsula that separates it from the Rhone, before continuing its eastward expansion.

France-Lyon Basilica

The Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière.

Today, on the spot where the Roman Forum once stood, the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, a nineteenth century architectural extravaganza where neo-Byzantine style meets Gothic revival, looks like a distant relative of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Castle. It was built with private funds from the local population, to thank the Virgin Mary for protecting the city from a Prussian invasion during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. The interior is a testimonial to the full extent of their gratitude. Venetian-style gold mosaics, gilt, marble work and soaring stained glass windows cover every inch of the structure. The Basilica is considered (for better or for worst) Lyon’s most emblematic monument.

France - Lyon Roman Theater

The Grand Roman Theatre.

A few minutes’ walk south of the Basilica, the Grand Roman Theatre, built in 15 B.C., is the oldest of its kind in France. Excavated and restored in the early twentieth century, it is now used through June and July for the Nuits de Fourvière (Fourviere Nights) Music Festival.

 

 

 

Downward through the Ages

The Palais des Gadagne, today Museum of Lyon History is a prime exemple of Renaissance architecture.

The Palais des Gadagnes, today Museum of the History of Lyon is a prime exemple of the city’s Renaissance architecture.

From the Basilica I wander down toward the Saône into the Vieux Lyon (The Old Lyon), one of Europe’s largest (424 hectares or 1.63 square mile) and best-preserved Renaissance neighborhoods. Because the area is tightly constrained between the river and the steep Fourvière hillside, architects of the time must build upward. They develop for their predominantly Italian banker patrons a unique style inspired by the Florentine Renaissance palazzi. The resulting multi-storied mansions open onto narrow internal courtyards with open spiral staircases leading to arched galleries and loggias that make the most of light and air circulation.

Secret Passages

France-Lyon Traboule

A traboule leads to the interior coutryard and the well  of the mansion commissioned by Antoine Bullioud.

The streets of the Old Lyon are few, narrow and running parallel to the hillside. To facilitate traffic and save time, another unique architectural feature develops: the traboules (from the Latin trans-ambulare or walking through). These warren-like arched corridors run mainly perpendicular to the river. By linking houses through their shared interior courtyards, they allow pedestrians to easily pass from one street to the next.

These Renaissance homes are still inhabited and the traboules still in use. Some of the passageways and courtyards are open to the public (maps are available at the Tourism Information Center), offering to visitors a rare glimpse at their remarkably well-preserved architectural heritage.

France-Lyon Rue Juiverie

The Rue Juiverie still retains the signs of long-ago artisans.

Nowadays the maze of narrow cobblestone streets of the Old Lyon, which still bear the names of their medieval past like Rue du Boeuf (Ox Street) or Rue des Trois Maries (Three Maries Street), are closed to traffic. Storefronts have mainly been taken over by businesses catering to the throngs of tourists, but it still makes for a pleasant stroll. In addition to window-shopping, every upward glance reveals facades with grinning figureheads, elaborate garlands or other historic details. One of my favorites is the Rue Juiverie with its many ancient signs recalling the shops of long-ago artisans.

The Cathedrale Saint Jean

France-Lyon Astronomical Clock

The Cathedrale Saint Jean’s astrological clock.

Eventually my roaming leads me to the Cathedrale Saint Jean. Built in the course of three centuries starting in 1165, it has a Romanesque apse and choir, while the nave and façade are gothic. But arguably the most unique feature of the cathedral is the towering fourteenth century astronomical clock located in the north transept. A spectacular feat of technology, it springs into action at noon, 2:00 pm, 3:00 pm and 4:00 pm, with a cockerel singing, angels heralding, the archangel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Marie and God blessing the whole performance. Adjoining the cathedral, the Manécanterie (choir school) is notable for its twelfth century Romanesque façade.

The Bouchons Lyonnais

Following the thread of history is hungry work, and by now I have developped Bouchon-worthy appetite. The Bouchon is a quintessential part of the Lyonnais cultural heritage.

France-Lyon Bouchon

Salad of red cabbage with lardons is a typical Bouchon fare.

Named after the bunch of twisted straw that designated restaurants at the time, the first Bouchons originate on the Croix-Rousse hill, where the silk industry flourishes in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. They are small eateries that cater to the workers with hearty meals based on local staples and washed down with a pitcher of wine. The wife is at the stove, devising thrifty ways to prepare the most humble cuts of the ubiquitous pork meat and put yesterday’s leftovers to good use, while the husband sees to the patrons and manages the wine cellar.

Le Bouchon des Filles

Today, there are hundreds of Bouchons scattered around the city, of varying degree of quality and authenticity. This being my first visit to Lyon, I follow the recommendation of a local acquaintance and head for Le Bouchon des Filles.

France-Lyon Bouchon des Filles

Le Bouchon des Filles is a favorite with locals and tourists alike.

Opened a decade ago by two women chefs who wanted to “bring a lighter touch to authentic Bouchon fare”, this cozy little place tucked on a side street at the foot of the Croix-Rousse is definitely a keeper. Its stereotypical crimson walls, ancient beamed ceiling and checkered napkins are a perfect backdrop for the copious four-course set menu served at the friendly price of 26 Euros per person. The first course is a trio of generous shared salads: red cabbage with lardons, curried lentils, and carrots with pickled herrings on the day of my visit. Then the main course choices include local specialties like andouillette (tripe sausage) and boudin grillé (grilled blood sausage) or, for the less adventurous palate, pike croquette in crayfish cream sauce or hanger steak with peppercorns. With cheese and dessert yet to follow, I remark that if this is Bouchon Light, I can’t imagine ever considering Bouchon Classic!

Good to Know

  • Getting there – Lyon is easily reached by rail, with several direct TGV (high speed trains) connections throughout the day from Paris (2 hours), Lille (3 hours) Strasbourg (3 hours and 30 minutes) and Marseille (1hour and 40 minutes) as well as Geneva (2 hours). Lyon Saint Exupery airport, with connections to Paris, Geneva and other major European cities is located 20 kilometers east of the city. The Rhonexpress light-rail link offers easy access to the centre of Lyon in just 30 minutes. Note: Lyon has two main train stations. All TGV high-speed train services come into the new Lyon Part Dieu station, on the east side of the Rhone. Some continue, along with many local trains, to the old main station at Perrache, on the Presqu’ile, one kilometer south of the main square in the city, Place Bellecour.
  • Getting around – Lyon’s public transportation system, known as TCL is regarded as one of the most efficient in the country. There are four metro lines (A to D), five tramway lines (T1 to T5) and over 100 bus lines that cover the entire Lyon metropolitan area.
  • What to do – With so much to see and do within the city of Lyon, it is a good idea to start with a visit to the Office de Tourisme (Tourism Information Center), Place Bellecour. Located at the southwestern corner of the square, it is open daily open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. Contact: E-mail: info@lyon-france.com, Tel: +33 (0) 4 72 77 69 69.
  • Where to eat – Le Bouchon des Filles, 20 Rue Sergent Blandan, Lyon, is open every day from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm as well as Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 to 1:30 pm. Reservations a must. Contact: Tel. +33 (0) 4 78 30 40 44.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Old Lyon

Beyond the Louvre – The Other Museums of Paris

Beyond the Louvre – The Other Museums of Paris

There are close to 200 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

Aix-en-Provence Baroque Landmark Reborn as Art Center

Aix-en-Provence Baroque Landmark Reborn as Art Center

In Aix-en-Provence, where a stroll along the narrow streets of the historic center reveals a gem of French Baroque architecture at every turn, the Hôtel de Caumont still stands out as a unique treasure.

France-Aix Caumont Garden

A classic Jardin à la Française welcomes visitors of the Caumont Art Center.

That was exactly what François Rolland de Réauville, Marquis de Cabanes, had in mind when he commissioned Robert de Cotte, the principal architect of King Louis XIV (think the Royal Chapel of the Versailles Palace and Grand Trianon) to design a mansion that would befit his position as President at the Court of Auditors of Aix-en-Provence. The first stone was laid on April 4, 1715, in the center of the fashionable new Mazarin district.

 

A Baroque Masterpiece Reborn

France-Aix Caumont Foyer

The entrance foyer

Construction was to span three decades and ownership change a couple of times until the end of the century when the superb mansion became the property of Pauline de Bruny, Marquise de Caumont. Born in 1767, during the reign of Louix XV, she had grown up at the court of Versailles and acquired its taste for luxury. The mansion, by now known at Hôtel de Caumont became the setting for lavish receptions, plays and concerts. Then the aftermath of the French revolution extinguished high society life.

France-Aix Caumont Facade.

The sober stonework of the facade and the elaborate gilded ironworks are prime exemples of Aix-style Baroque.

Fast-forward a century and a half during which the property experienced varied fortunes, including serving as a sanctuary for members of the French Resistance during the Second World War. It was then purchased from its last private owner by the city of Aix in 1964 to house the Darius Milhaud National Conservatory of Music and Dance. Finally in 2010 the mansion, by now a historic monument since 1987, was acquired by Culturespaces, a foremost private organization for the management of French monuments and museums.

The Caumont Art Center

France-Aix Caumont Music Room.

The exhibits space is entered through the music room.

Several years of planning, 18 months of intensive work and 12.6 million Euros later, the newly minted Caumont Art Center was revealed in all its restored eighteenth century glory on May 6, 2015. The ground floor with its soaring central foyer houses to its right a remarkable bookstore and gift boutique reminiscent of the libraries and cabinets of curiosities that were de-rigueur in such homes at the time. To the left, the inviting formal dining room leads to the upper terrace of a classic jardin à la Française (formal French garden). The grand three-story central staircase of the 2,500 square meter (27,000 square foot) mansion leads to Pauline’s recreated apartments that mark the entrance of two stories of temporary exhibit spaces.

Turner and Color

France - Caumont Calais

JMW Turner, 1830. Calais Sands at Low Tide.

The current exhibition, on view until September 18, 2016, is a breathtaking retrospective of the giant of nineteenth century English painting, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). This exceptionally rich exposition of over 120 watercolors, sketches and oils includes over thirty paintings from London’s Tate Gallery that were bequeathed to Britain by the artist, as well works from the London Royal Academy of Arts, the Oxford Ashmolean Museum and the Dallas Museum of Art, plus a number of rarely if ever seen pieces from private collections.

France-Caumont Vermillion Towers.

JMW Turner, 1934. Vermillion Towers.

Here the exploration of Turner’s works adopts a unique new point of view. Although still mainly chronologic, it invites the viewer to discover the evolution of this self-taught genious’ relationship with color, from his early days influenced by the great colorists of the past, from Rembrand to Poussin and Titian to Claude Lorrain, to his ground-breaking use of newly synthesized pigments (such as the whole range of yellows that had just become available through the isolation of the metal Chromium).

Journeys around Europe

France - Caumont Ball San Martino

JMW Turner, 1846. Going to the Ball (San Martino).

An important section illustrates Turner’s journeys around Europe through his travel sketches and watercolors as well that the ensuing paintings. Another thread of the exposition follows his relationship with the coastal village of Margate in Kent, which he had discovered as a child. He would then pass most of his later years there and realize his most incandescent color experimentations. It is especially eye-opening for me to detect in his bold use of color the seeds of the Impressionism movement that would flourish a few decades later.

Cafe Caumont

The Café Caumont terrace is a serene retreat on a beautiful Provence afternoon.

The serene Café Caumont terrace is a favorite with visitors.

After a dazzling afternoon in the company of Turner, I linger in the mini-Versaille vignette of the Café Caumont. The weather being its usual Provence gorgeous, I forgo the elegant eighteenth century atmosphere of the dining room for tea-time on the upper terrace, in the shade of a white canvas umbrella within earshot of a discretely gurgling fountain.

 

Good to Know

  • Getting There – Aix-en-Provence is easily reached by train, with several direct TVG (high speed train) connections throughout the day from Paris (3 hours) and Lyon (1 hour) as well as Geneva (3 hours) and Brussels (5 hours). The Aix TGV station is located 15 kilometers (9.5 miles) southwest of town, with a shuttle running every 15 minutes between the station and the bus terminal in the center of town. The MarseilleProvence airport is 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) southwest of Aix, with numerous flights from Paris, London and other major European cities. It is served by the same shuttle bus as the TVG station.
  • Getting Around – To explore the historic city, walking is definitely the way to go. Road signs at the approaches to Aix direct motorists to large facilities where they can park their vehicles for a nominal daily fee that also includes free round trip bus tickets to the center of town for all their passengers.
  • Each year, the Caumont Art Center features two large-scale temporary exhibitions. In parallel, a 20-minute film depicting the life of native son Paul Cezanne (1839–1906) is shown at intervals throughout the day in the basement projection room. From May to September, Café Caumont also features occasional Jazz evenings performances.
  • Visiting – Caumont Art Center, 3, rue Joseph Cabassol, Aix-en-Provence. Caumont Art Center. Contact: message@caumont-centredart.com. Tel: +33 (0) 4 42 20 70 01. Open daily from May 1 to September 30 from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, with late opening hours on Friday until 9:30 pm during temporary exhibitions, and from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm for the remainder of the year. From May to September, Café Caumont remains open from 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm from Tuesday through Saturday and offers a wine and light snacks menu. It’s the perfect place to stop for a drink in a serene al fresco atmosphere just minutes away from the bustling Cours Mirabeau.
  • If you miss this landmark exhibition, which was realized in cooperation with the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate, don’t despair. After Aix-en-Provence, the exposition will be on view there from October 8, 2016 to January 8, 2017.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Caumont Art Center