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

The Hallowed Beaches of Normandy

The Hallowed Beaches of Normandy

One of the pivotal moments of modern history was written on June 6, 1944, on remote beaches and cliffs of the Normandy coastline in northern France.

 

France-Normandy Caen Peace Memorial.

The Caen Peace Memorial illustrates the events of D-Day.

Today, the picturesque villages along this 85 kilometer (53 mile) stretch of English Channel, with names like Ouistreham, Arromanches, Colleville-sur-Mer and Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, are remembered the world over under very different names. They are evermore immortalized as the places where allied troops from Britain, Canada and the United States landed under fire on beaches code-named Juno, Sword, Gold, Omaha and Utah. This, the largest amphibious assault in history, set in motion the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi occupation and the ultimate resolution of the Second World War.

France-Normandy Beaches

The D-Day Beaches of Normandy are forever remembered by their landing code names.

By now, history books document with chilling clarity the epic scope this opening assault. And famed movies such Darryl Zanuck’s 1962 “The Longest Day” and Steven Spielberg’s 1998 “Saving Private Ryan” are vivid illustrations of the horrific cost of reclaiming lost freedom. But I never fully grasped the extent of the heroism of the 150,000 men of D-Day until my recent visit to “this tiny sliver of sand upon which hung more than the fate of a war, but the course of human history.” (President Obama, at the June 6, 2014 D-Day Anniversary, Omaha Beach, Normandy).

The Caen Peace Memorial

My D-Day itinerary starts at the Caen Peace Memorial. Inaugurated in 1988, the stark memorial complex stands on the site of an old bunker on the northern outskirts of Caen.

France-Normandy Caean Memorial Facade.

The small entrance door in the center the façade of the Peace Memorial symbolizes the Allies’ breach of the “impregnable” Nazi Atlantic Wall.

The main exhibit space, which focuses on the causes and consequences of the Second World War, is entered via a descending spiral staircase lined with photograph panels illustrating a detailed chronology of the rise of Nazism. Exhibits include models of bunkers, battleships and battlefields, artifacts from the French Resistance, a tribute to the Holocaust and outstanding video presentations of D-Day, showing the events from the Allied and German perspectives on a split screen.

France-Caen American Garden.

The American D-Day Commemoration Garden at the Caen Peace Memorial.

A new wing added in 2002 covers the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the attacks of September 11, 2001. (n.b. The Caen Memorial was the first museum outside of the United States to display artifacts from 9/11).

The museum is surrounded by serene gardens that commemorate the allied forces: the Garden of Canada, the American Garden and the British Garden. I find them to be meditative spaces that invite to reflection on the necessity of finding lasting peace.

 

La Pointe du Hoc

France - Normandy La Pointe to Hoc.

Utah Beach seen from la Pointe du Hoc.

Between Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east, the cliffs form a sheer promontory towering thirty meters (100 feet) above a narrow strip of rocky beach. This is the Pointe du Hoc, a strategic point where the Germans had established a network of interconnected bunkers with a heavy artillery battery capable of raking a long stretch of the coastline.

 

France-Pointe Hoc Stone

A giant standing stone at the edge of the Pointe du Hoc cliff honors the memory of the U.S. Second Ranger Battalion.

Although Allied bombardments had repeatedly targeted the position in the weeks leading up to D-Day, there was no guarantee that they had neutralized it. The decision was therefore taken to attack the position at dawn on D-Day. The men of the U.S. Second Ranger Battalion scaled those cliffs under enemy fire only to face heavy fighting in a lunar landscape pockmarked with bomb craters at the top. They took and held the position for two days before they could be relieved. Of the 225 commandoes that stormed the beach, only 90 were still standing, many of them wounded.

La Pointe du Hoc is now a hallowed site that has remained mainly untouched since then. France erected the Second Ranger Battalion Monument, shape like a gigantic menhir (ancient Breton language for standing stone) soaring toward the sky at the edge of the cliff to honor the memory of the US Rangers who fought and died here.

Omaha Beach

France-Normandy Omaha

Omaha Beach is just east of La Pointe du Hoc.

Omaha beach was the hardest fought and the costliest of the D-day landings. A combination of strong defensive positions and rough seas that caused the loss of most of the supporting tanks and artillery saw the first wave of American troops pinned down on the water’s edge. They endured grievous losses but held on as successive waves of reinforcing troops joined in. By nightfall in spite suffering over 2400 casualties, 34,000 men had landed and gained a hold on the beach and one mile of the immediate hinterland.

Sainte Mere l’Eglise

France-Normandy Paratrooper.

A model of Private Marvin Steele hangs from the steeple of Sainte-Mère-l’Eglise.

Located 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) inland from Utah beach, the western-most of the five invasion beaches, Sainte Mère l’Eglise was one of the first villages to be liberated in the night of June 6. US Airborne units parachuted in and around the village shortly after midnight, just as the entire village population was engaged in a bucket brigade to put out a major house fire right across from the church, under the watchful eye of the German occupiers. The paratroopers, clearly visible in the fire-lit sky, suffered heavy casualties. But by 4:30 am the Stars and Stripes was flying over the town. And Private John Marvin Steele had survived the night that was to make him an international celebrity (after it was related in “The Longest Day”). After his parachute lines fouled on the church steeple, he hung over the battleground for two hours before being cut down and taken prisoner. He managed to escape his captors and rejoin his unit a couple of days later.

The village remembers his story by keeping a replica of a paratrooper hanging from the church steeple. Meanwhile, inside the church, the sky-borne liberators are honored with two brilliant stained glass windows dedicated in 1972. One shows the Virgin Mary surrounded by airplanes and paratroopers, the second honors Saint Michael (patron saint of paratroopers).

The Normandy American Cemetery

France-Normandy Omaha

The Memorial features a large mosaic map of the military operations,

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is the most poignant memorial site I’ve ever visited. It stands on a verdant bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, on the ground of the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II, established as a temporary cemetery by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944. It is said to be on the very spot where they first reached the top of the bluff and breached the Nazi defenses overlooking Omaha beach.

France-Normandy American Cemetery.

Of the 9387 graves, 307 hold the remains of unknown soldiers.

The 70 hectare (172 acre) site, granted in perpetuity to the United States by the French government, contains the graves of 9,387 U.S. military dead, most of whom fell on the D-Day landings and ensuing operations, as well as Army Air Corp crews shot down over France as early as 1942. The Memorial consists of a semi-circular colonnade with a loggia at each end containing large mosaic maps and narratives of the military operations.

Then, beyond a long reflecting pool, the burial ground with its endless rows of neatly lined graves marked by white marble crosses and stars of David faces west toward the United States. Along with a long curved wall of white marble inscribed with 1,557 names that borders the semi-circular Garden of the Missing, it is a heart-wrenching reminder of the immeasurable price of war.

Good to Know

    • Getting There – The most efficient way to visit the beaches of Normandy is by car. It’s 340 kilometers (211 miles) via the A13 toll highway from the center of Paris to the Caen Peace Memorial. From there it’s about 130 kilometers (80 miles) meandering westward along the coastal country roads to Sainte Mère l’Eglise. Or it’s a two hours train ride from Paris, Gare Saint Lazare to Caen. From there, a number of tour companies offer various tours with pre-set itineraries of the main sites of the D-Day invasion.
    • Where to Stay – To make the most of my visit, I planned an overnight stay in the area. From hotels and country inns to bed and breakfasts and even camping grounds if weather cooperates, there are options to accommodate all preferences and budget. If in doubt, consult the tourist office site of the town you are considering for your stop over.
    • Visiting – Memorial de Caen, Esplanade du General Eisenhower, Caen. www.memorial-caen.fr. Contact: Tel. +33 (0) 2 31 06 06 45. Consult the site for opening hours as they vary with the seasons. Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer. www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/normandy. Contact: Tel. +33 (0) 2 31 51 62 00. Open daily from 9:00am to 6:00pm. from April 15 to September 15 and from 9:00am to 5:00pm the remainder of the year. Closed on December 25 and January 1.The cemetery receives over one million visitors a year. The site is entered through the visitor center inaugurated in 2006 in a wooded grove just east of the Garden of the Missing.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Paris in One Day?

Paris in One Day?

Because of my life-long connection with Paris, I have been receiving questions from first time visitors as long as I can remember, usually wondering how to make the most of their limited time in the city. Then recently, I have noticed a new trend: “how can I do Paris in one day? I especially want to see…” A long list of the main tourist-magnet sites follows.

Start with a Reality Check

France - Paris Conciergerie

La Conciergery is one of the oldest surviving buildings of the medieval royal palace.

While it’s conceivable to “do” Paris in one day, and even be able to actually see some of it, it’s physically impossible to visit the all the main sites in this short a time. But don’t despair first time visitor, you can still enjoy your day in Paris. All you need is stamina and a pair of comfortable walking shoes.

Paris started over two millennia ago on a small spindle-shaped island in a bend of the Seine. From there, most of the notable palaces and monuments developed westward along the banks of the river. A six-kilometer (just under four-mile) walk, and an hour-long boat ridge will take you to most of the main historic spots of the city. But Paris hosts over 16 million overnight tourists a year, twice that if you add all the day-trippers. Which translates into huge lines everywhere you go. To actually get inside and do justice to any of the monuments and museums, you’ll need to add roughly half a day per main venue to your schedule, of just pick two and be content to walk by the others.

L’Ile de la Cité

France - Paris Bouquiniste

The Bouquinistes have been selling used books and prints along the Seine for over four centuries.

Start on the island where it all began. Built on the eastern end of the Ile de la Cité, Notre Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris, or simply Notre Dame) sits on top of the ruins of two earlier churches, themselves predated by a Gallo-Roman temple to Jupiter erected on what was first a Celtic sacred ground. Started in 1163, Notre Dame was intended to assert the prestige of Paris as the capital of the French kingdom. Construction took almost two centuries, but the outcome is one of the finest examples of early gothic cathedrals anywhere. Walk around the exterior, admire the countless statues and gargoyles, the spectacular flying buttresses, three monumental rose windows and intricate rooflines, including the two 69 meter (226 foot) tall towers, and the 90 meter (295 foot) spear that was added in the nineteenth century.

France - Paris, First Public Clock

The first public clock in Paris (circa 1418) sits at the corner of the Boulevard du Palais and the Quai de l’Horloge.

Then walk along the Quai past the next two bridges. At the third bridge (Pont Saint Michel) turn right onto the Boulevard du Palais, past the gilded grillwork of the formal courtyard of the Palais de Justice (courthouse). On weekdays, you may even catch a glimpse of the black-robed magistrates going up the grand staircase.

At the corner, a massive rectangular tower, once a watchtower, holds the first public clock in the city (circa1418). Cross the Seine and continue west along the Quai de la Messagerie. Look back on the Ile de la Cité for the best view of La Conciergerie. It is one of the oldest surviving buildings of the medieval royal palace. A former prison, now a museum, La Conciergerie is best remembered for its most famous inmate, Queen Marie-Antoinette, who was imprisoned there before her beheading.

 

Le Louvre

France - Paris Cour Carree

The oldest part of the Louvre dates back to the Renaissance.

Keep walking past the Pont Neuf (or New Bridge, but actually the oldest standing bridge in the city), to the next one, the pedestrian Pont des Arts that had its railings virtually destroyed recently by the weight of all the padlocks left by tourists as a memento of their visit! Please, ignore the bridge and turn right instead through the elegantly arched entrance of the Louvre. You are now in the Cour Carrée (Square Courtyard), surrounded on all side by the oldest part of the Louvre. The Renaissance-style wings were started in the sixteenth century by King François I and added upon by almost every subsequent monarch until Louis XIV’s move to Versailles. Sit on the fountain in the center of the vast courtyard and enjoy the view. On each wing, look for the monograph of the king under which it was built.

France - Paris Musee du Louvre

In the center of the Cour Napoléon, the I.M. Pei glass pyramid entrance to the Musée du Louvre.

Go through the archway at the center of the west wing (also known as Pavillon de l’Horloge or Clock Pavilion). You are now in the New Louvre with its north and south wings and pavilions that extended the palace by some 500 meters (1,600 feet) on either sides of the Cour Napoléon in the nineteenth century. Since 1989 it is the home of the Pyramide du Louvre, the famous glass and metal pyramid designed by Chinese American architect I.M. Pei, that now serves as the main entrance to the The Musée du Louvre. The Louvre is one of the oldest (circa 1793) and with over 38,000 pieces of art displayed across more than 60,000 square meter (646,000 square feet) of gallery space dedicated to permanent exhibits, one of the richest art museums on the planet. Consequently it draws almost 10 million visitors annually, and during the high season lines can stretch for hours in front of the pyramid. But there are two (perfectly legal) shortcuts to access the main entrance hall and admire the pyramid from below. My Parisian friends may shun me if I broadcast them, but I am happy to share with you. If interested, just contact me.

Le Jardin des Tuileries

France - Paris Carrousel

The Arch of the Carrousel commemorates the early military victories of Emperor Napoléon I.

Go to the triple-arched Arc du Carousel to your left across the road from the Louvre (mind the traffic!) and stand in front of the center arch. From there you get a great view clear through the Jardin des Tuileries, the Obelisk in the center of the Place de la Concorde and all the way up the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. You are now in the Jardin des Tuileries created by Catherine de Medicis in the sixteenth century on what was then a clay quarry surrounded by roof-tile factories (or tuileries). A century later, the Tuileries were redesigned by André Le Nôtre, the landscape architect and royal gardener of Versailles who made the formal Jardin à la Française famous throughout Europe. Parisians have been strolling here since 1667. The garden has been renovated many times, most recently in the 1990’s, but Le Nôtre’s formal design remains intact.

La Place de la Concorde

France - Paris Tuileries.

The Tuileries garden has retained its orignal Le Nôtre design of Jardin à la Française.

At the far end of the Tuileries, you arrive Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris (8,6 hectares, or 21 acres), created in 1755 as Place Louis XV, after the then reigning monarch. At the north end, two superb identical building, prime examples of Louis XV Rococo architectural style, sit on either side of the Rue Royale. The one on the left side is now the famous luxury Hôtel de Crillon, named after its previous owner.

 

 

France - Paris Obelisk.

The Obeilsk was offered to France by the Egyptian government in 1829.

During the Revolution, the square was renamed, you guessed it, Place de la Revolution. It became the scene of many well attended public executions including King Louis XVI (grandson of the original namesake of the square), Queen Marie-Antoinette, a number famous noblemen and revolutionaries alike and some 2500 others were guillotined here. The square was renamed Place de la Concorde in 1795, as a gesture of national reconciliation after the turmoil of the Revolution.

The giant Egyptian obelisk inscribed with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of Pharaoh Ramsesses II that stands at center of the Place de la Concorde was offered by the Egyptian government to the French in 1829. The 23 meter (75 foot) high column of yellow granite is one of a pair that marked the entrance of the Luxor Temple. It was erected at its current spot and flanked by two neo-classical fountains in 1836.

Les Champs Elysées and Le Grand Palais

France - Paris Grand Palais

The Grand Palais barrel-vaulted glass roofs viewed from the Alexandre III bridge.

Once you get across the Place de la Concorde, you are at the bottom of the Champs Elysees. Stay on the left side of it and enjoy the view up the avenue with the Arch of Triumph at the top, until you get to the Avenue Winston Churchill on your left. There are two large “palaces” facing each other across the Avenue Winston Churchill.

France - Paris Grand Palais Quadriga

The south quadriga by Georges Récipon represents “The Triumph of Harmony over Discord”.

On your right, the Grand Palais is a unique Belle Epoque exhibit space built for the 1900 Universal Exposition. With its Ionic-columned façade topped by a colossal Art Nouveau glass roof, it is currently the largest existing ironwork and glass structure in the world. It hosts over 40 major art expositions and international events per year in three separate exhibition areas, including the central nave with its 13,500 square meter (145,000  square foot) floor space topped by the largest glass roof in Europe. But the Grand Palais is equally famous for its striking exterior executed by over 40 artists of the time. Notable artworks are the massive mosaic frieze behind the colonnade of the façade, and the two quadrigas (four-horse-drawn chariots) that top the front corners.

Le Petit Palais

France - Paris Petit Palais.

The central entrance hall of the Petit Palais.

By now you have walked about five kilometers (three miles) and you probably feel ready for a break. Cross the Boulevard Winston Churchill to the Petit Palais. Like its big brother across the street, it is a Beaux Arts style extravaganza built to hold a major exhibit of French art during the 1900 Exposition. It was meant to be a temporary structure but Parisians loved it and mercifully refused to let it go. It became a city-owned museum in 1902. Think of it as a mini-Louvre without the lines. Entrance to the permanent collection is free. If there is a high profile temporary exhibit (in which case there will be a line going up the stairs to the main entrance), walk around to the door under the right side of the staircase and tell the security guard you are here for the permanent exhibit only. I especially like their Art Nouveau and Art Deco period permanent collection, but my favorite part of the building is the exuberant interior garden, relatively peaceful and with an above average cafeteria-style coffee shop. In good weather there are bistro tables around the vaulted gallery surrounding the garden, or you can take your tray and sit in the garden for a quiet picnic in verdant surroundings right in the heart of Paris.

Le Pont Alexandre III

France - Paris Alexandre III

The Alexander III Bridge.

Also built in time for the 1900 Exposition, this is the most spectacular bridge in Paris, dotted with giant candelabra-like lampposts and flamboyant sculptures of cherubs and nymphs. Both ends are punctuated gilded winged statues on 17 meters (56 feet) high granite pillars. Admire, but don’t cross the bridge. Rather go down the stone stairs to the bank of the Seine and continue westward for 10 minutes to the dock of the Bateaux Mouches.

 

Les Bateaux Mouches

France - Paris Eiffel Tower

The Bateaux Mouches cruise by the Eiffel Tower.

The oversized glass-enclosed boats, with their long open roof terrace depart at least hourly year-round and more frequently during the high season. Just sit down and let the city come to you. The cruise goes upriver from the Eiffel Tower to beyond Notre Dame and back to its starting point in about 70 minutes. You get a close look at the bridges, both banks of the river and all the historic monuments, including some you’ve already seen at street-level, from a different perspective, with a recorded commentary in multiple languages. The Bateaux Mouches began cruising the river over six decades ago. Since then a number of other companies have begun offering similar services. I prefer the Bateaux Mouches because their height and open roof deck give me the best photo opportunities.

 

 

La Tour Eiffel

France - Paris Palais de Chaillot

The Palais de Chaillot and the terraced Trocadéro Gardens viewed from the Eiffel Tower.

If you still have enough energy once you get off the boat, walk across the Pont de l’Alma to the Eiffel Tower. By now it’s probably getting late and the lines may have subsisted sufficiently for you to consider going up the iconic Paris landmark. You’ll be rewarded with the ultimate view of the city. Elevators can take you all the way to the top (third floor) although service from the second to the third floor may be suspended in case of high winds.
Enjoy your day in Paris. Should you decide to follow this itinerary, please share your thoughts so we can keep refining it for future visitors.

Good to Know

  • The Jardin des Tuileries is open daily from 7:30am to 7:30pm from the last Sunday in September to the last Sunday in March and from 7am to 9pm for the remainder of the year.
  • The Petit Palais is open year-round, Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Like all City of Paris Museums, it is closed on Monday, as well as some national holidays. The coffee shop closes at 5pm.
  • Les Bateaux Mouches are docked at the Pont de l’Alma. http://www.bateaux-mouches.fr/en. Contact: tel. +33 1 43 25 93 10.
  • La Tour Eiffel is open year-round. From mid-June to early September, elevators run from 9am to 12:45am. Last ride up is at midnight for the first and second floors and at 11pm for the top. The remainder of the year, elevators run from 9:30am to 11:45pm. Last ride up is at 11pm for the first and second floors and at 10:30pm for the top. http://www.toureiffel.paris/en.html.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Notre Dame, Paris, France

A Pioneering City of Art – Lille

A Pioneering City of Art – Lille

Lille has long been a city of great art museums. Open in 1809, its world-famous Palais des Beaux-Arts (Palace of Fine Arts), one of the first museums to be established in the aftermath of the French revolution, holds the second largest collection in France after the Louvre. In recent decades, the greater Lille metropolitan area has upheld its pioneering history with the opening of two additional museums that are fast becoming landmarks of the international art scene as well as monuments of contemporary French architecture.

LAM – A Unique Cultural Space

France-Lille LAM

The Metropolitan Lille Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art and Art Brut) designed by French architect Roland Simounet .

The Lille Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne, d’Art Contemporain et d’Art Brut (Metropolitan Lille Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art and Oustider Art), LAM for short, has its genesis in the donation in 1979 by Jean Masurel, a local industrialist and life-long collector of Modern and Contemporary art, of its monumental (close to 4000 pieces) collection to the Lille urban community. A dedicated museum designed by prominent French architect Roland Simounet is inaugurated in 1983 in a suburban Lille parkland setting of Villeneuve d’Ascq.

 

France - Lille LAM Braque

Georges Braque, 1908, Maisons et arbre (Houses at l’Estaque),

Then in 1985, L’Aracine, an association of artists and collectors of Art Brut (Outsider Art) gives its collection to the museum. For this, the largest public collection of its type in France (over 3,000 works), a striking extension is designed by Manuelle Gaudrant. Five galleries faced in white precast perforated concrete now wrap around the eastern end of the original building. LAM reopens in 2010 after four years of construction and renovation work. Today, with over 4,000 square meters (43,000 square feet) of exhibit space and a permanent collection of over 7,000 works, LAM is a unique cultural space that brings together Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art. And offers over a quarter of a million yearly visitors the opportunity to appreciate a condensed history of art in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in one collection of international standing.

Modern Art

France - Lille LAM Calder.

The LAM Sculpture Garden is an ideal setting for the Calder mobile.

This is where the Masurel collection can be seen in all its jaw-dropping magnificence. Expressionists, Cubists, Fauvisists, Surrealists and all the other “…ists” that shaped twentieth century arts are represented here, in the works of their greatest painters, arranged by their particular style: Braque, Derain, Kansinsky, Klee, Miro, Picasso, Van Dongen. An entire room is dedicated to Fernand Leger, another to Modigliani. And best of all, although predictably popular, the galleries are never too crowded, allowing me to enjoy the moment in a serene atmosphere.

Contemporary Art

France - Lille LAM Modigliani 1

During a recent visit, Modigliani steals the limelight, as with his 1915 Portrait de Chaim Soutine, on loan from the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.

This section features, along with Bernard Buffet, Dodeigne and Eugène Leroy, some lesser known but just as influential French and foreign artists. Important abstract painters and sculptors from the second half of the twentieth century are also represented by the likes of Daniel Buren, Richard Deacon, Gérard Duchêne, Pierre Soulages and Jean Dubuffet. An artistic itinerary that illustrates the evolution of art, the major artistic movements, trends and current themes in the contemporary art scene.

Outsider Art

Defined by a regrouping of pieces created by non-professional artists, without artistic reference and working outside of the aesthetic norm, Outsider Art is exhibited at the museum via a prism of well-known artists, such as Aloïse Corbaz, Joseph Crépin, Henry Darger, Auguste Forestier and Carlo Zinelli.

Amedeo Modigliani Retrospective

France - Lille LAM Mod. Blue Dress

Amedeo Modigliani, 1918, Seated Woman in Blue Dress, on loan from the Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Beyond the treasures of the permanent collection, what brings me to LAM on this latest visit is an exceptional temporary retrospective of the work of Modigliani (on display until June 6, 2016). Although the museum holds one of the finest French public displays of his work in its Masurel collection: six paintings, eight drawings and a rare marble sculpture, this rich exhibit shows the artist in a totally different light (at least for me). Through 23 drawing, five sculptures and 49 paintings, I am introduced to his antique, African and other non-western influences, as well at works by his contemporaries, such Brancusi, Picasso, Chaïm Soutine, Moïse Kisling and Henri Laurens, that nourished his inspiration.

 

 

 

 

The Louvre-Lens

France - Louvre Lens

The Louvre-Lens building, by Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, is itself a work of art.

With the opening of its satellite in Lens in 2012, the Musée du Louvre is no longer confined to its palatial Parisian digs. The building, by Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, is itself a work of art. Located on a 20-hectare (50-acre) former coal-mining site reborn as parkland, it is an ethereal creation of glass and brushed aluminum that reflects the flat landscape and pale skies of northern France. The core of the 360-meter (1,200-foot) long structure is a transparent, oblong 3,600-square meter (39,000-square foot) hall that is the starting point of the various galleries.

The Gallery of Time

France - Louvre-Lens Ancient.

The Gallery of Time illustrates the development of contemporaneous ancient civilizations.

The museum’s semi-permanent exhibition is housed in the 120-meter (400-foot) long Galerie du Temps (Gallery of Time). It showcases 250 pieces representing five millennia of art history, from the origins of writing in various civilizations to the nineteenth century. The displays are freestanding, to be viewed from all angles as I wander through time. Although chronological, the artifacts are arranged by themes, to better illustrate the Egyptian influence on Greek sculpture for instance, or how civilizations evolved simultaneously (such as Egyptian Pyramid Period and Mediterranean Cycladic Culture).

France - Louvre-Lens Claude Lorrain.

Landscape with Paris and Oenone, 1648, Claude Lorrain (Gellee).

My stroll through the history of art goes by “St. Mathew and the Angel,” an awesome Rembrandt that already foretells of Impressionism, and an incandescent “Landscape with Paris and Oenone” by Claude Lorrain, a preview of the JMW Turner skies to come two centuries later, before ending with pieces from the Romantic period. Each year, one third of the collection is rotated back to the Paris mother ship and replaced by new pieces. Side galleries also hold two themed temporary exhibits per year.

La Piscine-Musée d’Art et d’Industrie

France-Roubaix Swimming Pool Museum

La Piscine is a unique Art Deco swimming pool reborn as a municipal museum.

Although not on the scale of its Lille, Lens and Villeneuve d’Ascq cousins, the charming Art Deco gem La Piscine-Musee d’Art et d’Industrie (The Swimming Pool-Museum of Art and Industry) in Roubaix is a not-to-be-missed side trip. Opened in 1932, this municipal swimming pool and bathhouse was much appreciated by the local community for over half a century until its closure in 1985. Mercifully it was reborn as a museum 16 years later after extensive renovations. Although its length was preserved, its Olympic-size pool is now a narrow central stream, its east-west direction facing the grand sunburst stain glass windows representing the rising and setting sun at both ends of the domed ceiling.

France - Roubaix Swimming Pool Museum Fountain

The Neptune’s head fountain is sourrounded by mosaics in a wave design.

A collection of sculptures that include four major works by Alfred Boucher (Hope, Faith, Charity and Tenderness) as well as pieces by Rodin and Camille Claudel line both sides of the pool. The original Art Deco mosaics in an ornate swirling wave pattern still outline the basin and the large Neptune head keeps spouting a graceful arch of water. At ground and second floor gallery levels, changing and shower stalls are now the setting for a comprehensive collection of textile industry related items from Roubaix’ heydays.

 

Good to Know

  • Getting there – Lille is easily reached by train, with frequent TVG (high-speed train) direct connections throughout the day from Paris (1 hour), Brussels (35 minutes), London, (1:30 hour), Amsterdam (2:40 hours) and other main western European cities. There are two train stations. The new Lille-Europe serves the EuroStar, Thalys and most TGV high-speed lines. Lille Flandre, the original station, now serves a mix of local and high-speed trains. Both are located in the center of town, a 10-minute walk from each other. Lens is located 40 kilometers south of central Lille, an easy 35-minute local train ride to the Lens station. There are also a few daily direct high-speed trains from Paris (1:20 hour). From the station, a twice-hourly complimentary shuttle takes visitors to the museum site.
  • Getting Around –To get around the metropolitan area, Lille has a comprehensive public transport network (Transpole) with two automatic metro lines, two tramway lined and over 60 bus routes.
    From the center Lille to La Piscine – Metro Line # 2 to Gare Jean Lebras or Grand Place, or Bus # 32 to Jean Lebras.
    From the Center of Lille to LAM – Metro Line # 1 to Pont de Bois then Bus: Liane # 4, direction Halluin-Gounod to LAM.
  • Visiting
  • Lille Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne, d’Art Contemporain et d’Art Brut, (LAM), 1 Allée du Musée, Villeneuve-d’Ascq. www.Lille-Metropolitan-Museum-of-modern-art.com. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:00 to 6:00 P.M. Closed Mondays and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 20 19 68 68.
    Musée Louvre-Lens, 99 Rue Paul Bert, Lens. www.louvre-lens/en. Open Wednesdays to Mondays from 10:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. Closed Tuesdays and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 21 18 62 62. Entrance to the Louvre-Lens is free of charge.
    La Piscine-Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent, 23 Rue de l’Espérance, Roubaix. www.La-Piscine-Andre-Diligent-Art-and-Industry-Museum.com. Open Tuesdays to Thursdays from 11:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M., 11:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. Fridays, 1:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. Saturdays. Closed Mondays and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 20 60 23 60.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Lille, France

Recently Reopened Rodin Museum – Paris

Recently Reopened Rodin Museum – Paris

For the last nine years of his life, Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), the father of French modern sculpture lived and worked in the exquisite eighteenth-century Hôtel Biron. Located in an inviting three-hectare (eight-acre) Jardin à la Française, just a stone-throw away from Les Invalides in the heart of Paris’ Left Bank, it became the Rodin Museum in 1919. Now, after three years of extensive renovations, the museum recently re-opened its doors.

The Evolution of a Master

France - Paris Rodin Plaster

The exposition includes never before seen works in plaster.

The eighteen rooms of exhibit space trace the chronology of Rodin’s evolution as an artist, as well as offer a thematic exploration of his work, including some of his never before seen works in plaster. It also displays his own collection of works by his contemporaries, including a room dedicated to his student and lover, Camille Claudel, a superb sculptor in her own rights. Another room holds Rodin’s extensive collection of antiquities, displayed around his seminal Greek-influenced The Walking Man.

France - Paris Rodin Thinker.

The sculpture garden holds some of Rodin’s most famous monumental works.

The beautifully landscaped garden is an ideal backdrop for some of Rodin’s most famous monumental works, including the Gates of Hell, the Burghers of Calais and of course, The Thinker. The garden also includes an above average cafeteria restaurant tucked away in a shaded area at the rear of the property. In addition to its small dining room, it has a large outdoor seating space for a relaxing al fresco lunch in an art-filled setting in the heart of Paris.

Good to Know

  • Getting There – There is easy public transportation from anywhere in Paris to the museum: Métro stations Varenne (line 13) or Invalides (line 13, line 8), E.R station Invalides (line C) or Bus numbers 69, 82, 87 and 92.
  • Visiting – Musée Rodin, 77 Rue de Varenne, Paris. http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en. Tickets may be purchased ahead through the website. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:00 A.M. to 5:45 P.M. Late night opening on Wednesday until 8:45 P.M. Closed Mondays and some public holidays. Contact: +33 (0)1 44 18 61 10.
  • Sculpture Garden – Although the sculpture garden is included in the Museum visit, it is possible to access it and restaurant only for a nominal fee (€4 at the time of my visit).

Location, location, location!

Rodin Museum

From Medieval Industry Center To Business and Art Powerhouse – Lille

From Medieval Industry Center To Business and Art Powerhouse – Lille

Once a thriving textile and coal industries center, Lille, France’s northernmost major city, became one of its most underrated in the aftermath of Word War II. To many foreign travelers it still tends to be merely the first continental stop of the Eurostar after it emerges from the 38-kilometer (23.5-mile) long Channel Tunnel (or Chunnel) under the English Channel, or the halfway point on the Thalys (also a high-speed train) route between Paris and Brussels. Yet those who take the time to get off and linger a few days are immediately charmed by the elegant Flemish Renaissance architecture of le Vieux Lille (Old Lille), its three internationally renowned art museums, a vibrant business center and the Lillois’ easy-going friendliness.

France - Lille Renaissance Architecture.

Lille offers fine examples of Flemish Renaissance architecture.

The history of Lille is a millennium-long tale of convoluted alliances and conflicts that saw what is now the French part of Flanders go from the quasi-independent French fiefdom of the Counts of Flanders to a province of the Duchy of Burgundy (1369), before passing under the rule of Austria (1477), then Spain (1556) before finally reverting to France in 1688. Through it all, Lille managed to flourish as a regional capital of industry and trade. And develop a cultural heritage well worth a visit.

The Grand’Place

France - Lille Old Stock Exchange.

The Old Stock Exchange courtyard is a hub of city life.

Surrounded by stately buildings that span four centuries of rich Flemish architecture, the 155-meter (510-foot) by 72-meter (245-foot) Grand’Place started out as a marketplace in the fourteenth century. Its oldest remaining building, la Vieille Bourse (the Old Stock Exchange) is a superb example of seventeenth century Flemish Renaissance style. It consists of 24 identical houses around a cloistered courtyard. To walk under the broad colonnade that runs around its perimeter is to experience a hub of city life where locals come to play chess or browse the stalls of secondhand booksellers and flower vendors.

France - Lille Chamber of Commerce.

The 1921 Chamber of Commerce and its iconic belfry

Also on the northeastern side of the square, separating the Grand’Place from the Place du Théâtre, the Grande Garde, built in 1717 as an army barrack to house the French royal guard, was converted after the First World War into the 444 seats Théâtre du Nord. Next door, La Voix du Nord (The Voice of the North, a newspaper) building with its traditional Flemish step-gabled façade is a 1930’s evocation of the ancient a architecture. In the center of the Grand’Place, the Column of the Goddess commemorates the successful resistance of Lille to the Austrian siege of 1792. In case you are wondering, the bronze goddess at the top is clutching a linstock (used to light the fuses on cannons) in her right hand.

L’Hospice Comtesse

France-Llle Hospice Comtesse Kitchen.

The kicthen of the Countess Hospital Museum.

From the Grand’Place, a ten-minute walk north through the meandering street of the old town, now lined with stylish boutiques, leads to the last significant vestige of the works of the Flemish Counts, the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse (Countess Hospital Museum). Founded in 1237 by Countess Jeanne of Flandres within a wing of her own palace, the hospital was run by a religious community of the Saint Augustine order. Although the original building was destroyed by fire in 1468, it was immediately rebuilt, then expanded over the following centuries as a convent and the only major hospital in Lille until the end of the eighteenth century.

France-Lille Countess Hospital Ex Votoes

Ex voto portraits of children patients at the Countess Hospital.

Today, the ground floor of the convent contains a reconstitution of a Flemish home in the seventeenth centuries, including a kitchen with traditional Lille earthenware and Delft tiles. The refectory showcases carved furniture and fine tableware as well as exquisite paintings and art objects. The spiritual and hospital functions are highlighted in the chapel, dispensary and medicinal herb garden.

Le Palais des Beaux-Arts

France-Lille Palais des Beaux Arts.

The Palace of Fine Arts was one of the first museums in France

One of the first art museums established in France in the early nineteenth century under instructions of Napoleon I to popularize art, le Palais des Beaux-Arts (Palace of Fine Arts) holds the second largest art collections in France after the Louvre. Opened in 1809, it received a treasure-trove of works confiscated from churches and royal palaces. It was originally housed in a disused church until its permanent Belle Epoque-style home was inaugurated in 1898. The museum contains a first-rate collection of fifteenth to twentieth century paintings, including works by Raphael, Donatello, Rembrandt, Goya, El Greco, Rubens, David, Delacroix, Manet, Corot, and Monet as well as an extensive collection of classical archeology and medieval statuary. The basement features a department of unusual eighteenth century scale models of fortified cities in Northern France and Belgium that were used by the military of the time, and a 700-square meter (7,500-square foot) space dedicated to staging temporary exhibits.

Greater Lille Art Treasures

Beyond the city limit, the greater Lille metropolitan area is now graced with three notable art museums, each individually a worthwhile reason to visit the city.

France - Lille LAM

Metropolitan Lille Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art and Outsider Art.

Musée d’Art Moderne, Villeneuve d’Ascq – With a permanent collection of over 7,000 works and 4,000 square meters (43,000 square feet) of exhibit space, the Lille Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne, d’Art Contemporain et d’Art Brut (Metropolitan Lille Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art and Outsider Art), mercifully shortened LAM, opened in 1983. It is the only museum in France and northern Europe to feature all the main components of twentieth and twenty-first century art.

 

France - Lille La Piscine

The Swimming Pool – Museum of Art and Industry.

La Piscine-Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent, Roubaix. Once a spectacular Art Deco public baths facility inaugurated in 1932, the building has been brilliantly repurposed in 1985 into an art gallery that is home to the artistic and industrial heritage of the town. The Olympic-length central pool is lined with nineteenth and twentiest century sculptures and paintings, mainly by local artists, and the changing booths now hold an extensive collection of displays related to the textile industries.

France-Lens Louve Museum

The Louvre-Lens building is a minimalist creation of glass and brushed aluminum.

Musée Louvre-Lens – Inaugurated in December 2012, the Louvre-Lens is a major example of the success of recent joint efforts between the French Ministry of Culture, the great national museums and the regional governments to decentralize cultural institutions. The building is a minimalist creation of glass and brushed aluminum that blends into the horizon. At its core the 120-meter (400-foot) long Galerie du Temps (Gallery of Time) leads visitors through 5,000 years of Ancient and European art history.

Villa 30

France-Lille Villa 30

The breakfast room at Villa 30.

Although Lille is easily accessible for day trips from Paris, London, Brussels and other nearby European cities, I prefer to linger a day or two, especially now that I have had the good fortune to come across Villa 30. This 1930’s townhouse on a quiet street of the center of town, thoughtfully remodeled into an intimate bed-and-breakfast in 2010, is located within easy walking distance of all the city’s main attractions. The five comfortable rooms decorated in a smart contemporary style and attentive host Julien Desenclos make Villa 30 a welcoming home away from home. And the hearty breakfast served in the light-filled breakfast room with its stunning Art Deco stain glass bay window is a perfect start to any day.

Good to know

        • Getting there – Lille is easily reached by train, with frequent TVG (high-speed train) direct connections throughout the day from Paris (1 hour), Brussels (35 minutes), London, (1:30 hour), Amsterdam (2:40 hours) and other main western European cities. There are two train stations, the new Lille-Europe that serves the EuroStar, Thalys and most TGV high-speed lines, and Lille Flandre, the original station that now serves a mix of local and high-speed trains. Both are in the center of town, less than a 10-minute walk from each other.
        • Getting Around – To explore the old town and the city center, walking is the best option. To get around the greater metropolitan area, Lille has a comprehensive public transport network (Transpole) with two automatic metro lines (the world’s first automatic subway in the world when it went into service in 1983), two tramway lines and over 60 bus routes.
        • Where to StayVilla 30, 24 Rue du Plat, 59000, Lille. lavilla30.fr. Contact: email Julien@lavilla30.fr. Tel +33 (0) 3 66 73 61 30.
        • Visiting
          Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse, 32 Rue de la Monnaie, Lille. www.Hospice-Comtesse-Museum.com. Open Monday from 2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. and Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. and 2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. Closed Monday morning, all day Tuesday and some public holidays. Contact: Tel. +33 (0) 3 28 36 84 00.
          Palais des Beaux Arts, Place de la République, Lille. www.pba-lille.fr/en. Open Monday from 2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. and Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 to 6:00 P.M. Closed Monday morning, all day Tuesday and some public holidays. Contact:: +33 (0) 3 20 06 78 00. 
          Lille Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne, d’Art Contemporain et d’Art Brut, (LAM), 1 Allée du Musée, Villeneuve-d’Ascq. www.-Lille-Metropolitan-Museum-of-modern-art.com. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 to 6:00 P.M. Closed Monday and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 20 19 68 68.
          La Piscine-Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent, 23 Rue de l’Espérance, Roubaix. www.La-Piscine-Art-and-Industry-Museum.com. Open Tuesday through Thursday from 11:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M., Friday from 11:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M., and Saturday from 1:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. Closed Monday and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 20 60 23 60.
          Musée Louvre-Lens, 99 Rue Paul Bert, Lens. http://www.louvre-lens/en/. Open Wednesday through Monday from 10:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. Closed Tuesday and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 21 18 62 62.
          La Citadelle – For military architecture buffs, this massive star-shaped fortress located at the northwestern end of the Boulevard de la Liberté, was designed by renowned 17th-century French military architect Vauban after France captured Lille in 1667. It still functions as a French and NATO military base. Guided tours are available on Sundays in summer through the Tourism Information Center, Palais Rihour, 42 Place Rihour, Lille. http://en.lilletourism.com. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 20 21 94 21. This is the only way to see the inside of the Citadelle.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Lille, France