10 Things: Paris Art and Culture

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I’m rather thrilled to share the fabulous new website 10 Things and their freshly-published, spot-on Paris guide.

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I had the pleasure of selecting their Art and Culture list, and bringing the museums of Paris to new readers. It was a true challenge to narrow down my favourite art and culture spots in the city, but there are plenty of LMdP highlights, from the Maison de Victor Hugo to the Musée de la chasse et de la nature. The list ranges from the stately and chic to the quirky and downright odd. Just the way we like it on this blog.

Find the guide, with some truly beautiful images, here.

Hurrah for Paris museums, art and culture!

Xx la muséophile

Château de Vincennes

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Not all museums are for all travellers, and certain Paris historic sites will appeal to some and bewilder others. I personally love the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (though not as much as l’Américain) but I know its penchant for animated taxidermy isn’t for everyone.lesmuseesdeparis chateau de vincennes 3

But no matter who you are and what you like, you can’t wrong with a château. They are grand and mesmerising and serene and exciting. If you haven’t visited a French château before, you should absolutely make the trek south to the stunning region of the Loire, home to the most wondrous collection of castles in the world. But if you don’t want to stray too far from the capital, Paris has plenty of them, too.

The king of the castles is doubtless the glittering, golden monolith of Versailles, 45 minutes from the city to the southwest. Further to the north, outside of the sleepy town of Rueil, lies the English-style castle Malmaison. Slightly further afield, but well worth the journey, is the monumental Château de Fontainebleau, surrounded by forests.

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But perhaps the most unique château near Parisis just a short ride on the metro, in Vincennes. The Château de Vincennes doesn’t have any of the glitz of Versailles. Neither does it sport its original furnishings (or convincing remakes) like Fontainebleau. But it is a gem of history.

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Built by Charles V and occupied throughout the ages by royals, Vincennes is a true Medieval castle, replete with moat, drawbridge, cathedral, soaring towers and dungeons. Quiet and composed, you can wander the grounds barely disturbed, to discover ballrooms, writing chambers and even latrines. Rather uniquely, the castle employs just the right amount of interactive technology. In one room, you can hear authentic Medieval music through a discreet touch display. In another, a guard will offer you an iPad to scan over the room, showing reenactments of the jewel-coloured tapestries and gilt edgings that once decorated the now-bare stone walls.

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In fact, that app summed up what I find so great about Vincennes, compared with other châteaux; the castle doesn’t try to dress up its smooth stone facades with imitations of the past. It gives the visitor a creative glimpse into what the castle was like centuries ago, without obscuring the peaceful simplicity of what it is like today.

The Château de Vincennes gracefully bridges the gap between the then and the now, a fact that’s only reinforced by the path visitors take home. Stepping over the Medieval drawbridge, above the moat now lined with lush grass, within moments they arrive at the shining, modern metro station right outside the gates.

Xx la muséophile

Château de Vincennes

Avenue de Paris, 94300 Vincennes (métro Château de Vincennes)

Museum homepage

Full price: 8.5 euros

Reduced price: 5.5 euros
Opening hours:
Every day, May 21 to September 22: 10.30am to 1pm and 2pm to 5.30pm

Every day, September 23 to 20 May: 10am to 5pm

Coffee Cities Series

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La muséophile loves coffee. A lot.

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Over the last year, I’ve been publishing my coffee recommendations for my favourite cities, with the fabulous Epicure and Culture. With this week’s Edinburgh edition, the series has come to an end (until I can get to know some more cities, at least). The series includes magnificent cities like Paris, London and New York, as well as some smaller, more personal locations across Australia, the USA and Europe, like Launceston, New Orleans and Reykjavik.

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Have a read through the archives here, and share your favourites, too. And if you enjoyed the series, you may wish to follow on with my new venture, on that other glorious beverage, wine.

Xx la muséophile

Le Panthéon

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When it comes to history, cities and sightseeing, why are we so fascinated by death? It seems whenever I research a city I’m visiting, beyond the obvious castles, museums, town squares and theatres, many city highlights tend to come back to the dead. Going to Edinburgh? Head to Greyfriars graveyard and the (purportedly) haunted vaults. Prague? Make the journey outside the city to the Sedlec Ossuary, or bone church, its interior strung with garlands of skulls and other human bones.

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And Paris? The list is long. Those drawn to this side of history can wander the Père Lachaise, Montmartre and Montparnasse cemeteries, visit Napoléon in his resting place at Invalides, stumble across commemorative plaques across the city marking the homes in which famous names passed away, or descend into the sinister Catacombes.

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Perhaps it’s the drama of the unknown that draws us to monuments and historic sites marking the dead. Perhaps it’s about respect, a desire to remember those who came before us. Perhaps it’s the universality of death, its common inevitability, that allows us to feel connected to a place, and its people, that are otherwise foreign to us. Perhaps it’s simple, gruesome curiosity. Whatever it is, these museums and monuments keep us coming back.

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One of those places is the Panthéon, the stunning Latin Quarter monument. Beneath a majestic dome visible across the city, this one-time temple-turned-church-turned-crypt is one of the grandest buildings in Paris. On the ground floor, directly below the soaring dome, the Panthéon is all high walls, sumptuous neoclassical artwork and glittering marble floors, where public funerals for celebrated French figures occasionally take place.

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But underground, things get even more interesting. Here, between pale sandstone walls, you’ll find the sarcophagi of many of France’s most valued individuals. Here lie Hugo, Voltaire, Curie, Zola, Rousseau and more. Which makes me think of another reason we might gravitate towards cities’ grand tombs when we visit: to be near greatness.

Xx la muséophile

Le Panthéon

Place du Panthéon, 75005 (métro Luxembourg/Maubert Mutualité)

Museum homepage

Full price: 7.5 euros

Reduced price: 6 euros

Opening hours:
Every day, April 1 to September 30: 10am to 6.30pm

Every day, October 1 to March 31: 10am to  6pm

Bonus:

La muséophile looking oddly lost in the depths of the Panthéon (merci l’Américain):

lesmuseesdeparis pantheon la museophile

Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine

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Paris’ museums cater to lovers of all manner of art forms. Fans of sculpture can head to the Zadkine, Rodin or Picasso museums. Lovers of Impressionism flock to the Marmottan, Orangerie and Orsay museums. Fashion enthusiasts love the Galleria, Fondation Louis Vuitton or Mona Bismarck.

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But perhaps some of the finest museums in Paris are those dedicated to architecture. There are museums in buildings by Haussmann, Garnier and Le Corbusier alike. More often than not, Paris museums are located in unique and stunning environs. But the most comprehensive architecture museum in the city would have to the be the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine.

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The museum is held in a lofty, bright white space, very different to the Haussmannien surrounds of the Jacquemart André, or the compact design of the Fondation Le Corbusier. In this high-ceilinged hall, you will find Romanesque arches, Gothic church façades and pieces of Medieval brickwork from around the city. The museum focusses largely on the history of church architecture, though there are also models of some of the city’s best-known monuments and plenty of information on the history of French architectural styles and methods.

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Split into three galleries, the museum admirably covers French architecture from the 12th century to the contemporary period. It may seem over-ambitious, but take a look out the wide windows overlooking arguably the finest architecture city in the world, the Eiffel Tower in full view, and it’s clear if any place could manage such a feat, it’s this one.

Xx la muséophile

Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine

Palais du Chaillot

1 place du Trocadéro, 75016 (métro Trocadéro)

Museum homepage

Full price: 8 euros

Reduced price: 6 euros
Opening hours:
Monday, Wednesday, Friday to Sunday: 11am to 7pm

Thursday: 11am to 9pm

Closed Tuesday

LMDP across social media

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Les Musées de Paris has been floating around on Twitter for years, but it finally has its own home on Facebook and Instagram!

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Follow LMDP to see picturesque snapshots of Paris, share your museophilic feelings and read la muséophile‘s ramblings on the wonders of Paris’ lesser-known museums.

XX la muséophile

Musée des arts décoratifs

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I’ve written before about Paris museums that thrive on contradiction. Light and dark, old and new, life and death; museums in la ville lumière know how to strike a balance between seemingly opposing concepts. But none more so than the intriguing and sometimes downright bizarre Musée des arts décoratifs, or Museum of Decorative Arts.

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Unlike its partner the Musée Nissim Camondo, which embraces its 1700s heritage, the Musée des arts décoratifs is not only concerned with the past. The museum combines old and new, sitting intricate, centuries-old clocks next to contemporary installation art. It mixes amateur and professional, displaying French design students’ work near Rococo cabinets straight out of Versailles. It melds art and design, arranging furniture, light fixtures and trinkets as though they are as noteworthy as Renaissance paintings or Greek sculptures.

Lustre a douze lumieres, 1904.

Lustre à douze lumières, Nancy, 1904.

But more than anything, the Musée des arts décoratifs clashes high culture with low. Located only a few steps from the hallowed Louvre, the hallmark of high art, the museum praises the low-brow, even housing the Warhol-esque Advertising Museum within its very walls. In one room, you can find delicate Belle Epoque furniture, in a wood-panelled, light-filled traditional space. But turn the corner and you’ll enter a plush, windowless den strewn with sparkling jewellery, a naked mannequin submerged in a bathtub full of costume pearls. In one room, an authentic, Mad Men-esque 1950s office space is recreated in perfect mod detail. In the next, a suicidal mannequin is posed surrounded by owl wings.

Aurum, Erik Halley, 2012.

Aurum, Erik Halley, 2012.

On the one hand, the Musée des arts décoratifs could be seen as trashy, or at least as culturally confused. But on the other hand, the museum succeeds in doing what several others do not; breathing new life into old objects. Displaying a bureau from Marie Antoinette’s home in the same space as lipsticks and plastic necklaces makes a weird sort of sense, reminding us, like Coppola’s film, that the last French Queen was actually a flashy pop princess in her day.

The Musée des arts décoratifs questions the boundary between high-brow and low-brow, tradition and pop. Which I love. Rococo is just 18th-century bling, when you think about it.

Xx la muséophile

Musée des arts décoratifs

107 rue de Rivoli, 75001 (métro Palais Royal- Musée du Louvre)

Museum homepage

Full price: 11 euros

Reduced price: 8.5 euros

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday: 11am to 6pm

Open until 9pm on Thursday

Closed Monday

Musée d’Art Naïf- Max Fourny

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When I say I love Montmartre, people often ask me to explain myself. Surely I don’t mean that I actually like the Place du Tertre and its surrounding tourist traps? (No, of course not, you fools.) Do I realise there are many more hotels and 1 million-euro apartments than there are artists’ hovels these days? (Yes.) What about the crowds around the Sacré Coeur? (Obviously, that’s not what I love.)

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I’ve written about loving and hating Montmartre before, and feel like I’ve done my justifying already. But having recently visited one of the most unusual museums in the city, I want to add another notch to the pro-Montmartre tally.

Nestled in a surprisingly pleasant corner of the bustling space between Abbesses and Anvers lies the Musée d’Art Naïf- Max Fourny. A minute’s walk to one side and you’re in the throes of the Sacré Coeur crowds (and pickpockets- beware). A minute’s walk to the other and you’re in the clamorous streets of Barbès, with its African restaurants and many glittering fabric shops. A minute’s walk to the north, along the edge of the wooded precipice that separates the cathedral from the street below, and you’re on the rue André del Sarte with its pretty boutiques.

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It would have to be one of the most diverse and confused little spots in the city. And smack bang in the middle of it is the Halle Saint Pierre, a lofty hall that houses the museum, with its artistic bookshop, rambling cafes and collections of naïve, tribal, folk and ‘outsider’ art.

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The Max Fourny is like a Matisse painting come to life, all colour and vibrancy and weird new forms. The museum shows temporary collections throughout the year, with a focus on the avant-garde and brut (roughly translated as ‘primitive’). Far from a staid or established exhibition space, the Fourny evokes that exciting atmosphere of the new and left-of-centre that the Salon des Refusés was known for at the end of the c19th.

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Take that, Montmartre haters.

Xx la muséophile

Musée d’art naïf- Max Fourny

Halle Saint Pierre, 2 rue Ronsard 75018 (métro Anvers)

Museum homepage

Full price: 8 euros

Reduced price: 6.5 euros

Opening hours:
Monday to Friday: 11am to 6pm

Saturday: 11am to 7pm

Sunday: 12pm to 6pm

Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme

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I’ve never been religious, unless you count my childhood ritual of listing my toys’ names before falling asleep as a strange, abstract dedication I called “prayer”. I was baptised Catholic, but only as a formality, and my views have evolved from uncertain to agnostic to atheist over the years. But the way many peaceful people draw strength and solace from their faith? I have every respect for that. And upon entering the tranquil surrounds of the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme, it was immediately clear to me that the space was for such people.

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As the name suggests, the museum is interested not so much in the plight of the Jewish people, especially as the separate museum, Le Mémorial de la Shoah, details the events of WWII and the legacy of the Holocaust. Instead, this space, with its many gilded artefacts, panelled artworks and photographs, is more concerned with the art and culture of Judaism through the ages. lesmuseesdeparis judaisme 2

There are intricate manuscripts, golden amulets and menorahs, artworks religious and otherwise and beautifully rich, traditional fabrics. Much of the material comes from France, but there are pieces from all across the Jewish diaspora. On the upper levels, you can view a short film about the establishment of Israel. However, for the most part, politics remain largely absent. Instead, the museum is a dedication to the uniqueness and beauty of Jewish art, culture and faith. Image-1 (2)

Located in the stunning Hôtel de Saint-Aignan on the narrow, winding Medieval rue du Temple, the museum lies in the heart of the traditional Jewish quarter of the Marais. Start your visit off on the charming laneway of the rue des Rosiers, snapping up lunch at one of its several Jewish bakeries or, better yet, the famous l’As du Fallafel, before wandering up the beautifully-named rue des Blancs Manteaux to arrive at the museum’s door.

Xx la muséophile

Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme

Hôtel de Saint-Aignan, 71 rue du Temple, 75003 (métro Rambuteau)

Museum homepage

Full price: 8 euros

Reduced price: 6 euros

Opening hours: Monday to Friday: 11am to 6pm

Sunday: 10am to 6pm

Closed Saturday

Musée Cernuschi

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Ask any Paris-dweller, and they’ll most likely tell you they have a favourite arrondissement in the French capital. It may be the sixth or seventh, for their artistic history, abundance of galleries and cafes, or parks and open spaces. It may the 10th or 11th, for their collection of quirky bars and restaurants or their proximity to the Buttes Chaumont and Père Lachaise. It may be the 3rd or 4th, for their Medieval streets, quaint terraces and wonderful coffee shops. IMG_0805

Every arrondissement has a personality all its own, and I’d like to think that after all these years, you could plop me down in any random spot in Paris and I could tell you which district I was in. Some arrondissements are cooler than others, some are more historic, and some are certainly more popular. But one arrondissement in particular has been neglected, dismissed as less interesting or attractive than its neighbours: the 17th. It’s true you could easily spend a full and varied holiday in Paris without setting foot in the 17th arrondissement. When I started working as a tutor in Levallois Perret, the outer suburb which shares a border with the 17th, the metro line (3) passed through a series of stops I’d never had reason to look at; Villiers, Wagram, Pereire. Parts of the 17th are fancy, near the border with the 16th. Others are grungy, closer to the 18th. Still others are pretty, but sleepy, around the edge of the 8th.

The Great Hall at the Cernuschi.

The Great Hall at the Cernuschi.

But the 17th arrondissement is an under-appreciated gem. It is home to the picturesque Parc Monceau, with its ornamental lake, lush grass and meandering paths. It features many lovely cafes and brasseries, with a more relaxed feel than in the busier districts (my favourite is the Grand Café de la Poste on Boulevard Malesherbes, smack bang between two museums). These are the Musée Nissim de Camondo, with its stunning c17th decorative arts collection. And, a hop skip and a jump from that better-known museum, lies another: the Musée Cernuschi, a haven of Asian art.

Amida Buddha, 18th century, Tokyo.

Amida Buddha, 18th century, Tokyo.

The Cernuschi is tranquil and elegant. Situated close to Monceau, it is hemmed by verdant plane trees and quiet streets, and housed in a beautiful stone building in one of the prettiest corners of the 17th. Inside, you’ll find a collection of artworks, sculptures and artefacts from across the Ages and the Asian continent. Each room has its unique beauties, but the highlight is the mammoth Japanese Amida Buddha sculpture in the Great Hall, perched high above the rest and looking out of floor-to-ceiling windows into the leafy neighbourhood. Maybe we should start adding the 17th arrondissement to our Paris itineraries.

P.S. Love Asian art? Head to the Guimet in the 16th as well.

Xx la muséophile

Musée Cernuschi

7 avenue Vélasquez, 75017 (métro Monceau)

Museum homepage

Free entry to permanent collection

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday: 10am to 6pm

Closed Monday

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