Get the Most from Your Paris Museum Visits

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Paris museums are a high point for many travelers. Here are 3 tips for getting the most from your visits.

• Save time. A Paris Museum Pass puts you on the fast track to the permanent collections at many museums. Enter where signage indicates Paris Museum Pass, or “reservations” to avoid waiting in long ticket lines. If you plan to visit a museum several times, check out their yearly membership for even quicker access, plus other benefits, such as free entrance to temporary exhibits and other museums. Memberships at the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, for example, are very reasonable.

For temporary exhibits and private museums without a membership (these are not included on the Museum Pass), buy your tickets on-line before you go. But beware: not all tickets can be printed at home or picked up at the museum. Clarify this before you buy.

• Learn more. Plan for a maximum of 2 hours in a museum—even the most avid art lover can’t absorb information after that. In a large museum, choose a section of the museum, a movement, or a time period. Focusing your attention this way helps you explore a subject in depth, and since it covers less physical space, keeps you from getting lost.

If you want to cover more ground, check to see if the museum offers a guided tour. Guides put the artwork in context by discussing selected works; they answer questions, and keep the directionally-challenged found.

Audio guides also provide information with a focus, and you can proceed at your own pace. Private tours are more expensive, but a wonderful investment of money and time, particularly for children.

• Stand tall. Even when I follow my own guidelines, standing continuously on a hard floor looking at art makes my lower back hurt. The last time I asked my physical therapist to untangle my knotted muscles, she taught me a new way to stand: knees soft, seat tucked under, and head lifted to lengthen the neck, as if I were a painting hanging on the wall.

And sit when you can. Many museums allow visitors to carry small folding chairs; check before you go.

Do you have other museum tips? Let us know!

Bonne visite!

Postcard from Paris—Botticelli at the Louvre

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Of the more than 9 million visitors to the Louvre in a given year, at least 6 million come to see the Mona Lisa. They take the escalator from beneath the Grande Pyramide to the Denon wing, and follow the small but persistent signs for La Jaconde, stopping in front of the Winged Victory—newly renovated and impressively installed at the top a flight of marble stairs.

Then they turn right toward the Italian paintings, and walk through a narrow hall past 2 amazing Boticelli frescoes.

Most people don’t even notice these delicate works, painted by Sandro Boticelli in the 1480s, for the walls of Villa Lemmi, a country villa belonging to the Medici family.

Venus and the Three Graces Presenting Gifts to a Young Woman shows 5 young women in profile. The setting is an imaginary garden. Venus, the goddess of love, offers a bouquet of flowers, possibly a wedding gift, to a bride-to-be. The goddess and subject are flanked by the Three Graces and Cupid.

The fresco was discovered under a coat of whitewash in the Villa Lemmi and rescued. I love it for its delicate beauty — and its symbolism makes it even more endearing. Here is how the Louvre describes the painting.

Line, color, romance, classical beauty, generosity…it is all here, all but unseen on a busy day at the Louvre.

What’s New at the Louvre

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The Louvre is in the news this week, but it’s more about what’s happening outside the museum than what’s inside.

First, the water. Following weeks of rain, the Seine peaked at 20 feet above normal Saturday morning, the highest level since 1982, and museums took emergency measures to keep their artwork safe. Both the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay closed, and employees moved works from lower to upper floors. No damage was done, the river has since receded, and museums are making arrangements to reopen. Scary, nonetheless. Here’s a good NYT article.

Second, the optical illusion. International street artist JR, who has been covering public walls with photographs for 10 years, and most recently transformed the outside of the Paris Pantheon during its renovation, has changed the appearance of the Louvre Pyramid. Normally, JR uses giant photographs of people, but this time, by plastering the Pyramid with a gigantic B&W photograph of the museum, he has created an optical illusion. Stand at just the right angle, and the controversial glass pyramid seems to disappear. “JR at The Louvre” runs outside Musée du Louvre from May 25 – June 28

Free Paris Travel Resources on our New Website

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From innovative chefs to neighborhood flea markets and major works of art, Paris offers much to discover in 2016.  And the low exchange rates (at this writing, the euro and the USD are nearly at par) make discovery affordable.

Whether you’re looking for inspiration or practical information, our new Paris by Design website makes it easy to learn the city’s possibilities.

Panoramic photos take you into the heart of the city, from the Seine to the sidewalk to the table. (Read why these gorgeous pics were not so easy to come by.)

Expanded Travel Resource pages share tips on Paris apartments vs hotels, taxi vs Uber, airlines, and upgrades.

Favorite apps help you suss out the best pastries and translations, navigate the city, and enjoy the Louvre.

Need help getting organized? Packing and to-do lists give you the inside scoop on Paris fashion while eliminating pre-trip stress.

And then there is our raison d’être: our small group Paris tours and custom travel planning services, easily accessed by pull down menus and photo grids.

Please take a look around the new site — and let us know what you think!

Change is Coming to the Louvre

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Jean-Luc Martinez, the Louvre’s new director, plans to make it easier to enjoy the world’s largest museum.

In store for its nearly 10 million visitors: shorter lines; signs for displayed works in English alongside the French (and available for download in other languages); temporary expos that highlight lesser-known artists by pairing them with well-known artists.

For now, Martinez’s work is happening behind the scenes—preparation for a 2016 or 2017 show, for example, that pairs Vermeer with Valentin de Boulogne, a little known but important French painter who lived a generation before Vermeer.

The place of contemporary art at the Louvre will also change. While the juxtaposition of old and new presently stimulates viewers to think about the connections across generations of artists, future installations will be fewer in number, and more tightly linked to the museum’s collection.

Perhaps the most notable change will be new entrance and ticket areas, which will contain a new education center with temporary expos. The work is slated to be finished in 2016.

Between now and then, here are two tips on avoiding lines at the entrance of the Louvre: You can purchase Paris Museum passes in the Carrousel du Louvre; follow the signs, and take cash, as they don’t take credit cards. Then use the pass to avoid ticket lines at over 60 museums in Ile de France.

If you don’t need a pass, individual admission tickets are sold in vending machines at museum entrances. Don’t buy advance tickets at the museum’s website. You’ll have to go clear across town, to an approved ticket handler, to pick them up.

Have you been to the Louvre recently? What was your experience?

Paris Plage

Summer in the city, even the most beautiful city in the world, is hot. Enter Paris Plage (Paris Beach). For the 9th year in a row, the city has transformed the banks of the Seine into a series of mini summer resorts, all in the name of cooking off.

In central Paris, the beach follows Voie Georges Pompidou, from Pont de Sully (near the Bastille) to Pont des Arts (near the Louvre). Its 3 kilometers contain sand, palm trees, shaded deck chairs, ice cream parlors, climbing walls, tai chi areas, a swimming pool, concert stage, and boules courts.

Dance lessons take place weekday evenings from 7-8 pm near Pont Neuf – choose from waltz on Mon nights, cha-cha and salsa on Tues, and tango on Thurs.

At Bassin de la Villette in the 19th arrondissement, the beach stretches from Rotonde de Ledoux (near the Jaurès Métro) to the former Magasins Généraux (Rue de Crimée). It features a water-sports complex, with row boats, kayaks, pedal boats and dinghies, as well as picnic areas, restaurants, boules and fencing.

About 150, 000 people cool off at Paris Plage daily. The beaches are open 8am – midnight and activities are free, through Aug 20. For concert and activity info, maps, and videos (in French), check the website.

Paris Museum Update

louvre_titianChange is in the air as Paris museums open new expos – and a few favorites close for renovation.

New shows:
LouvreTitian, Tintoretto, and Veronese – Rivals in Renaissance. The presence of these great artists in Venice 1540-1590 stimulated new ideas and techniques. Gorgeous only begins to describe the works. Sept 17-Jan 10, 2010.

Grand PalaisRenoir in the 20th Century. One hundred paintings, drawings and sculptures shed light on this crucial yet little-known period during Renoir’s career – and explore his influence on Picasso, Matisse, Bonnard and Maillol. Sept 23-Jan 4, 2010.

Musée de la Musique – After two years of renovation, the museum is open, and better than ever. They have completely revised the presentation of the permanent collection; added a new area dedicated to the 20th century; doubled the space for world music; added more sound samples to accompany displays, mostly recorded on instruments from the collections.

Musée RodinMatisse & Rodin. The expo compares the sculptural and graphic works of the two artists, who met when Matisse was 30 years old and Rodin 60. This is the first show to focus on Matisse’s sculpture since 1975. Oct 23-Feb 28, 2010.

Musée du LuxembourgLouis Comfort Tiffany: Colors and Light. 160 works reveal Tiffany’s contribution to the glass industry and to decorative arts in general.  Visitors will regale in vases, lamps, jewels, drawings, watercolors and photographs, and four stained glass windows that were specially dismounted, studied, restored and transported from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – a technical and logistical feat. Sept 16-Jan 17, 2010.

Closures:
Musée Picasso will be closed for renovations until 2012.

The Catacombs, recently vandalized, have been closed until further notice.

Louvre Pyramid Turns 20

grande_pyramide_louvreControversial from the start, IM Pei’s Grande Pyramide, in the Cour Napoléon at the Louvre, turns 20 this year.

French President François Mitterand commissioned the pyramid in 1981, as part of a Grand Projet, carried out in three phases. First, 45,000 square meters of underground space was created for storage and exhibition space (if you examine the pavement in the courtyard surrounding the pyramid, you’ll find large grates that open and close mechanically).

Then the streets and walkways were transformed to open the surrounding space visually and make the area more easily accessible to pedestrians. Finally, the glass and stainless pyramid was erected in the center of the courtyard.

Most agreed that the first two phases improved the Louvre’s function and accessibility. But the pyramid was often rejected on aesthetic grounds, saying that it was cold and inhuman in comparison to the adjacent classical wings.

The glass, which weighs 95 tons, was made by Saint-Gobain, manufacturer of the mirrors for the Hall of Mirrors, at Versailles.

The panes had to be completely transparent, so that looking through the pyramid would show the true colors of the surrounding Louvre wings. At the time, the only suitable glass was used for optics – the pyramid required that the glass be manufactured on an industrial scale.

The glass is held in place by lightweight aluminum mullions, anchored with handcrafted bolts, and sealed with silver silicone. When the pyramid was first constructed, it was cleaned by window washers who hung suspended by climbing ropes. Now, the windows are washed automatically.

What do you think of the Pyramide?

If you go…
Musée du Louvre, 1st, Métro: Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre
Open daily except T, 9-6, until 10pm W/F