With so many art museums in Paris that span thousands of years, art can be sometimes hard to fathom. Yoga, Art, Paris was the premise of this holiday that my daughter Sri and I embarked on in early July through our local Yoga Source studio. Yoga, Art and Paris – such an artistic combination. What better place to see a vast collection of world-renowned art than in Paris? And what better city to practice yoga than in Paris? When one starts off the day with yoga, the mind is open to appreciate any and all art. An open mind is what we had when we toured five renowned art museums in Paris. We loved some art and hated some, but in the end we appreciated all the creativity and work that went into each and every art. To quote our art history and tour guide Sarah.
“You don’t have to like everything! In fact, you can hate something if you want. Art can be extremely physical in that you may find that you react in unexpected ways. Keep an open mind.”
The Louvre. High Renaissance- Romanticism
The Louvre Museum is the world’s largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris. Approximately 38,000 art objects are exhibited here from prehistoric to the 21st century. In 2017, the Louvre was the world’s most visited art museum with over 8.1 million visitors.
The Louvre is housed in the Louvre Palace, which was originally built as a fortress in the late 12th to 13th century under Philip II. Due to the expansion of the city the building lost its defensive function and in 1683 when Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles as his residence, the Louvre became the primary place to display the royal art collection. During the French Revolution the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces. The collection is divided among eight curated departments; Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Near Eastern Antiquities, Islamic Art, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, Paintings, Prints and Drawings.
The Glass Pyramid
The I.M. Pei Louvre Pyramid was completed in 1989. Pei’s design and plan was to distribute people effectively from the central concourse to all the various destinations within this vast network of steps and hallways at the Louvre Museum. The treatment of the pyramid is meant to evoke the atrium of a corporate office from where people are usually directed, while the busy movement of people in all directions suggests the concourse of a rail terminal or an international airport.
The Mona Lisa
When we think of the Louvre what do we all head to immediately? The Mona Lisa! Leonardo de Vinci’s Mona Lisa is said to be the most viewed painting in the world. Folks, it is obvious this is the painting that everyone is at the Louvre to see. The mobs surrounding Mona Lisa are 10 layers deep. Only to realize that the painting is only 30″ x 21″. Frankly, both Sri and I didn’t see the hype around it.
Obviously someone else wasn’t amused either to go through the mobs and maze of the museum to get to this painting. We took a photo of a sign directing us to the Mona Lisa room with a moustache painted on her 😀, at the Louvre museum no less! And that too right outside the room that has Mona Lisa! Honestly, this made our trip to the zoo-like crowds in the hot sweltering Louvre museum all worthwhile 😀.
Musee d’Orsay. Realism/Impressionism. Post-Impressionism/ Art Nouveau/Cubism
Let me start off by saying that this is by far the best museum I have been to anywhere in the world! The building, the art, the entire experience is pleasant and engaging and just positively outstanding.
The history of this spectacular museum is rather unusual. In the center of Paris on the banks of the River Seine opposite the Tuileries Gardens, the museum was established inside the former Orsay Railway Station, which was built for the World Expo of 1900. From the terrace of the museum spectacular views of the Seine River and the historic skyline of Paris can be seen for miles.
The extensive collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, and art nouveau style of art that I love is what makes Musee d’Orsay my favorite museum. Artists such as Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Modigliani, and Degas just to name a few; paintings by all these artists and much more can be found at this museum.
A contrast from the Louvre Museum where most of the paintings are religious and romanticized, many of the paintings at the Musee d’Orsay portray people in real life scenes.
“Impressionism is considered to be the first distinctly modern movement in painting. It developed in Paris in the 1860s and its influence spread throughout Europe and eventually to the United States. Its originators were artists who rejected official, government-sanctioned exhibitions, and were consequently shunned by powerful academic art institutions. In turning away from the fine finish and detail to which most artists of their day created, the Impressionists aimed to capture the momentary, sensory effect of a scene – The impression of objects made on the eye in a fleeting instant. To achieve this effect many Impressionist artists moved away from painting in the studios to painting on streets, countryside, and painting en plen air (painting at a scene until it is finished).” As described by Sarah our art tour guide.
Musee d ‘Orsay also has a beautiful restaurant on the 5th floor. This is the best respite after a long tour of the museum. Just as gorgeous as the museum is this stunning restaurant. The food is very good too. Be prepared to wait in line for a table, but it is so worth it. Don’t miss it!
Musee d ‘Orsay is a must see when visiting Paris. If you are looking for a pleasant museum experience in a spectacular building, with art that you will recognize, head to this museum for a perfect art-inspired Parisian experience.
Musee de l’Orangerie
Walking distance from the Louvre Museum is this rather inconspicuous museum called Musee de l’ Orangerie dedicated to Monet’s water lilies paintings.
Musee de l’ Orangerie houses eight of the great Nymphéas (Water lilies) compositions by Monet which he painted on various panels that were assembled side by side to create one giant canvas. They were conceived so that the four canvas in one gallery represent sunrise, and the four in the other evoke dusk. Creating these panels took Monet more than three decades of his life from the late 1890s until his death in 1926 at the age of 86.
What makes these canvases unique is not just the shear size – each painting is six and a half feet tall, but also the fact that when the canvases are lined up side by side they span 298.5 feet in width. The entire set is one of the most vast and monumental creations in paintings made in the first half of the 20th century.
If you are a Monet fan and looking for a uniquely impressionist art experience, head to this low-key, less crowded Musee de l’ Orangerie.
Centre Georges Pompidou. Modern Art
This modern art museum in Paris is truly unique in that the entire building designed by architect Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers boasts a series of technical characteristics that were cutting edge at their time. By placing all the internal pipes and air ducts and water coolants on the outside of the building rather than hiding them inside the walls, it created a larger and more open space inside to display the various pieces of art. With its use of steel and glass and exposed load-bearing structures and circulation devices it was considered a pioneering building for its time, a prelude to the architectures of the 1960s and beyond.
One of the standout features on the museum is the use of color. Blue, red, yellow and green are used throughout the building based on a code developed by the architects. Blue denoting circulating air (for air conditioning), yellow for circulating electricity, green for circulating water, and red for circulating people (escalators and lifts).
Displayed in this very unique museum are what are considered more modern arts (1899 – 1966). With artists such as Henri Matisse, Picasso, and Dali.
But really what this museum shows us is the modern idea of art – as in anything can be art really if the artist claims it as such. This is so obvious based on the art you see below. Sri who is an artist herself saw these pieces and just shook her head and observes “I can’t believe they call this art. 😀”
On the other hand some of these eclectic art installations did intrigue me.
This video with a no named artist was truly fascinating. It showed an artist having female nude models cover themselves in black paint and then make impressions on a canvas. Art is art if the artist calls it so!
The Centre Georges Pompidou is truly a wonderful museum to explore out of the ordinary and totally “out there” art. An added bonus is the very cool building and architecture.
Musee Picasso Paris
Musee Picasso Paris in the beautiful Marais area of Paris is this off the beaten path museum. Housed in an historic hotel with old world charm is a modern interior to display a large collection of Picasso’s work who adopted Paris as one of his favored cities.
What I loved about this museum is the fabulous cool neutral modern interior of this very old fashioned building. A lovely yin and yang type of architecture and design. With a vast collection of Picasso’s paintings on display in airy rooms with lots of white space, this museum was a pleasure to explore.
I especially loved the vignettes the small windows created for the Parisian buildings outside the museum.
If you are a big Picasso fan Musee Picasso Paris is not to be missed. An added allure is the off the beaten path location of this less-crowded and often over looked gem.
Walking is the best way to get to the museums and explore this glorious city.
Honestly folks, this is just a fraction of all the museums at your disposable in Paris. Combining a visit to the art museums with a walking tour of the neighborhood the museums are in is the best way to truly get a feel for this favorite city of the world. When we visited the museums we walked to each and every one of them or took the Metro if it was too far. Even just walking from the train station to the museums exposed us to the unique characteristics of the areas the museums were in.
Notre Dam and Sainte Chapelle
Walking from the Metro station to Notre Dam Cathedral and Saint Chapelle was truly a magical stroll.
Sri and I had an amazing art-inspired visit to Paris this summer. The best part was exploring the city just as we explored the museums. Give an art-inspired visit to Paris a try and be captivated by the magic of this French city called Paris.
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Thomas Merton