Around the globe, celebrations are marking the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. Leonardo, from the town of Vinci, hence “da Vinci,” is the Italian Renaissance master who is probably the best known painter, architect, sculptor, engineer, …. in the world. He was born in 1452 – forty years before Columbus “discovered” America!
On the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death, Amboise, a small town on the Loire River, deserves a little recognition. It is here, after all, at the Close Lucé manor house, where Leonardo died in 1519. It is a special place in the history of art and plays an important role in the French Renaissance.
The Close Lucé, final home of Leonardo da Vinci and temporary home of the Mona Lisa.
Why Was Leonardo at Amboise?
For at least four reasons.
Because in 1516, François I, the king of France, had his court at the Château d’Amboise. The castle is located in a prime position to protect the realm of the crown and had also been the location for the French court for several kings before François I.
Along with having his court at Amboise and importantly for lovers of art, François I is known as the French Renaissance patron king. He not only loved arts and literature, but he promoted these as primary goals in French culture.
Leonardo’s commissions in Italy had been completed and he was left with no patronage. Remember he was not selling his paintings for hundreds of millions of euros at that time! And, he was eclipsed by Raphael and Michaelangelo in terms of favor with the current regimes.
Upon learning of the master’s availability, François I and Louise de Savoie invite Leonardo da Vinci to the French court at the Château d’Amboise.
Leonardo accepts the invitation. He leaves Italy and travels for two months to eventually reach Amboise. What is significant for art lovers is that he brings three important paintings with him: St. John the Baptist, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, and …. the Mona Lisa. (It is nearly impossible to think of the 64 year old riding a mule and toting those incredible paintings across the Alps and through the countryside!)
At Clos Lucé
When Leonardo finally arrives, François I names him, “Premier Painter, Engineer and Architect of the King.” As patron, the king provides the master with a stipend as well as dignified lodging in the Clos Lucé manor house. Here, da Vinci lives the last few years of his life, living and working in the beautiful Loire Valley. In 1519, Leonardo dies in his bedroom at Clos Lucé. Then, he is buried at the Chapel of St. Florentin. During the Revolution, the chapel was practically destroyed, and the alleged remains of Leonardo are moved to the Chapel of Saint Hubert. Today, a marble slab marks this as Leonardo’s tomb, although questions remain as to who is buried in Leonardo’s tomb.
Today, visitors can visit the house where Leonardo lived and work. In these rooms Leonardo designed elements for a castle, including a double helix staircase. Such a staircase can be found an hour away at the Château de Chambord. The rooms have been recreated with period furnishings as well as multimedia presentations about his life and work in Clos Lucé.
Down in the basement, you can see three dimensional animations and 40 models of designs by Leonardo. And, out in the garden around the house, you will find a sculpture garden of sorts. It features more models of designs by Leonardo including the assault chariot, double span bridge, tank, and multi-barreled gun.
Model of a tank designed by Leonardo da Vinci on the grounds of Close Lucé.
Amboise is one hour away from Paris by TGV and two hours by car. At Clos Lucé, see Leonardo’s bedroom, studio and other rooms in the manor house.
One hour away is Chambord Also celebrating “half-millennium” since the construction began in 1519 under the instruction of François I. Official website: https://www.chambord.org/en/
Want to know more about Leonardo? Read a biography of Leonardo: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
Special note when visiting the Louvre: Although the Mona Lisa is mobbed with visitors wanting to see her, several other masterpieces by Leonardo are just outside the Mona Lisa’s dedicated room. Most people walk by without noticing them on the way to see the most famous painting in the world. This is understandable since there are so many masterpieces on the walls there. But, if you love Leonardo, take your time in the Grand Gallery and get up close and admire his talents.
No words can describe the most heartfelt loss. But, within no time, the world is showing its profound love of Notre-Dame de Paris – the internationally adored symbol of Paris. It is extremely encouraging that so many offers of help to rebuild have been made so quickly. OUR LADY is destined to be around for at least another 850 years. Merci Dieu!
As more news comes out, hopefully much of Notre-Dame de Paris remains intact. Recent news states the grand organ was not destroyed.
So Many Opportunities to Help Notre-Dame de Paris!
Here are a few:
The Fondation du Patrimonie (French Heritage Foundation) is accepting donations of any size. All donations will only be used for the rebuilding of Notre-Dame de Paris. Click here to make a donation. (It is very easy and for the national organization for protecting France’s heritage. PariswithScott.com just made a donation to the Fondation du Patrimonie in about 2 minutes.)
On April 26, Universal Music France will release a Decca Records album of sacred music performed by Jessye Norman, Cecilia Bartoli, Roberto Alagna, and others. Proceeds will go to the Fondation du Patrimonie for the rebuilding of Notre-Dame de Paris.
Monnaie de Paris announced that it is donating revenue from the sale of its commemorative coin that marks the 850th anniversary of Notre-Dame de Paris, take a look here.
As for any donation, please only donate to verified organizations that do not use your money to market to others for donations.
On a January visit to Paris, three of us wanted to take a day trip to visit the D-Day beaches. In our planning, we were limited because of the number of daylight hours during January and because of the train schedule. We also wanted a private tour in English to see the beaches, hear the history again, see the American Cemetery, ask questions easily and be where U.S. troops had been during WWII.
The middle of January may not be the ideal time to visit the windy beaches of Normandy, but I was lucky enough to find Sabrina Pitois of Normandy Excursions & Tours. We exchanged emails and she was ready to take us on a tour. She and I arranged everything with train times and what we wanted to see.
And, as our visit got closer, she looked at the weather and wrote advising us to wear waterproof shoes/boots. (Thank goodness we took her advice!) Once more, before we left the United States, she wrote confirming our details along with a wish for a good flight. Her attention to detail and concern really made us feel comfortable and happy with choosing her to guide us.
Train Travel (and an odd delay)
One day after arrival to Paris, we went to the Gare Saint-Lazare train station to travel to Caen, switch trains, then travel to Bayeux. The train from Paris was late. After some time, I heard an announcement that we were late because of a malfunctioning door. We finally left Paris and Sabrina called and texted to let me know that she had checked at the Bayeux station and found out about our delay.
Our ticketed train from Caen to Bayeux had left the station, but, Sabrina had called the Caen station, found out the time for the next train, and explained all of it to me. (She would have driven to Caen to pick us up, but it was a 45 minute drive and the train only takes about 12 minutes, so her picking us up would have created even more of a delay.) Again, it was reassuring for her to check on us, advise us of the time of the next train and explain what we needed to do.
Since we did not have a ticket for the next train, I took our tickets to the ticket station and asked the representative for help. He turned over my printed ticket and wrote a note on the back and stamped it. We were ready for the next leg of our journey!
What About Lunch?
But, another change of plans was lunch. We were going to eat along the way with Sabrina, but decided we should eat at the Caen train station to save time. No real old-time café in the station, but we found a kind of pop-up stand and grabbed baguette sandwiches and waters. When we were on the quick train ride from Caen to Bayeux, we made a little picnic as the countryside whizzed by us. (Sabrina had also texted me to find some food there, but I had turned my phone off so didn’t get her message until we arrived in Bayeux.)
When we arrived at the Bayeux station, Sabrina was there to meet us – smiling on the platform, in the gusting wind, with a sign with my name on it. She greeted us as friends, then we hopped in her van and immediately took off toward Pointe du Hoc.
Soaked in History
During our drives and while visiting, Sabrina explained so much history, answered questions, pointed out interesting sights along the way, and told the story of D-Day: from how it was planned to what actually happened, to the outcome on those days at the beginning of the liberation of France. We were late to start with, but Sabrina got us going and gave us plenty of time at each stop.
Pointe du Hoc
First, we visited Pointe du Hoc, where the first Rangers came into Normandy on the morning of June 6, 1944. The battlefield above the beach has been left as it was except for erecting a monument. Craters are all over the area as well as giant bombed casemates that were built to house the German big guns aimed on the Allies. Visitors can also walk in and around a dormitory/command post built by the Germans for their defense of Normandy.
Next, we went to Omaha Beach. Sabrina explained how Operation Neptune was the largest naval assault in history while showing us how the beach stretched for miles down the coast. She explained the tides and how important those and the moon phase was to the military operation. She had great enlarged photos that provided a great overview and she even told stories of some of the people in the photos.
Then, Sabrina drove us above Omaha Beach to the American Cemetery. The entire cemetery inspires reverence. White crosses and Stars of David stretch across the acres of lawn. A memorial and chapel on either ends are dedicated to Americans who lost their lives. American flags fly over head. From the edge of the bluff, you can see how easy the Germans had it for picking off American soldiers trying to scurry from the beach to the bluff. We happened to be at the cemetery when they lowered the American flag while playing a recorded version of taps. Here is the video of lowering the U.S. Flag at the American Cemetery. A truly memorable visit.
After quietly leaving the American Cemetery, we went on some back roads to Gold Beach. Road construction was blocking two of the main roads, but no problem for Sabrina! She grew up near here and knew how to easily navigate alternate routes on very narrow, one-lane roads. (No GPS required!)
At Gold Beach, we could see the giant German guns inside their casemates. From these sites in France, the Germans could fire shots targeting Allied ships. Amazing to hear the story and see it in person at the same time.
Return to Paris
Sadly, our train back to Paris would soon depart. So Sabrina drove us back to the Bayeux station telling stories of the countryside on the way. She even went into the station with us to make sure our train was on time. Then, Sabrina told us goodbye and bon voyage.
On a lighter note, Sabrina showed us some big, old mansions along the way and also told us about Normande cattle. The Normande is a local dairy (or beef) cow that has red or brown spots on a white coat as well as patches of color around its eyes. They dot the countryside and produce excellent milk. Normande cattle are beautiful on the green fields with their mottled white and brown colors. It was sweet to see a little calm country atmosphere while on such a somber visit to battlefields.
Sabrina’s attention to detail, her knowledge, her care for us (and her driving skills) are unsurpassed! Unless you want to spend a couple of days going to all of the beaches, this was more than enough to really get a feel for D-Day. If you go, do not skip the American Cemetery. It was my second visit and it is definitely worth a visit or two in your lifetime. Again, although it is a somber day, no one could have made our trip more enjoyable or memorable than Sabrina.
If you go to Paris and want to go to Normandy, I highly recommend Sabrina at Normandy Excursions & Tours. Make arrangements well in advance.
Sabrina Pitois Normandy Excursions & Tours Guided Group and Private Tours in Normandy Email: [email protected] Tél.: +33 6 16 45 32 14
After the destruction of multiple historically important medieval buildings, Victor Hugo wrote an article in 1825, “Guerre aux démolisseurs!” (“War on the demolishers!”). Hugo’s article and widespread support for his idea led to the start of protecting historic monuments. But historic monuments are only part of the history that can be found at a specific location. Up until fairly recently, developers and contractors have been able to build on apparently empty spaces without any investigation into the ground below or preservation/conservation of what was found in the ground.
In other words, if contractors dug up the ground and found historic artifacts, they could disregard the ruins below and immediately continue with their constructions. All without any preservation or study of the site, or the objects.
Even if they found Gallo-Roman or Medieval ruins, burial grounds, roads, temples, etc…., nothing would have to be conserved. Ignore that history and keep on building! This article is a bit dense. But, stick with me and hopefully you will appreciate Inrap and its work with Tromelin.
Obviously, tearing up and throwing away ancient ruins was not good. After multiple scandals involving the destruction of large and significant finds around the turn of the 21st century, France enacted laws that require an archeological study of building sites. Inrap is the department tasked with preventing the loss of archeological heritage on land, and in water, and providing the results of those studies to the public. Inrap is short for, “Institut national de recherches archéologiques préventives.” Or, in English, “French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research.”
This is a tremendous task given that the land of France is dotted with scattered sites from pre-written history, to Roman times, to sites as recent as WWI and WWII. The published results from Inrap’s work are fascinating and widely diverse. It seems that the archeologists are finding more and more mesmerizing works every day!
Graffiti from soldiers in caves during WWI; thousand-year-old footprints in Normandy; a ritual Jewish bath from Medieval France; Gallic warriors from 3 and 4 centuries BC; hunter-gathers in Paleolithic times – they find it all in France. And with more construction, more astonishing archeological ruins are found and investigated.
Through its research, and its obligation to provide information to the public, Inrap helps with various public exhibitions. These exhibitions generally display the work of this important organizations. One of these exhibitions in which it played a significant role is, “Tromelin, the Island of Forgotten Slaves.” The final stop of this traveling exhibition is at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris from February 13, 2019 until June 3, 2019.
The exhibition explores the French East India Company’s, Utile, and what happened to its passengers. The Utile was shipwrecked in 1761 on a desert island in the Indian Ocean. Along with its French crew, the ship was carrying an illegal cargo of 160 enslaved Malagasy people. (Malagasy are natives of Madagascar; Malagasy in French is Malgache.)
On the desert island, French and Malagasy survivors made a raft to try to return to Madagascar. Leaving 80 surviving Malagasy people on the island with a 3 month supply of food, the French crew sailed away promising to return to rescue them as soon as they reached Madagascar.
The ones who left the island never returned for the survivors.
Fifteen years later, a Frenchman named, Bernard Boudin de Tromelin, captained his ship to the island and rescued the only remaining survivors: 7 Malagasy women and an eight-month-old Malagasy child. The remote island remains a French territory and is now named, Tromelin Island, in honor of the rescuer.
Inrap Research Expeditions
Since the 2000s, Inrap has played a decisive role in thoroughly researching all historical details of enslaved peoples during France’s colonial period. Because the location included a shipwreck, Inrap formed a collaboration with the Naval Archeology Research Group (le Groupe de recherche en archéologie navale, or GRAN).
Both groups wanted to collect as much information, using the latest technology, and as comprehensively as possible. In multiple expeditions between 2006 and 2013, the organizations conducted historic, archeological and environmental work on the island and in its waters.
The culmination of this research and the efforts of other participating organizations is the public exhibition, “Tromelin, the Island of Forgotten Slaves.” It is divided into three sections: examining the slave trade in the Indian Ocean; the archeological information collected about the enslaved people, their culture while on the island, their food, life and death; and finally, memorial.
Since 2015, it has been traveling to various cities of France with great success. Now, it makes its last stop in Paris at one of the great museums in France.
“Tromelin, The Island of Forgotten Slaves” (“Tromelin, l’Île des Esclaves Oubliés”) Musée de l’Homme Address: 17 place du Trocadéro, 75016 Nearest Métro: Trocadéro; exit at “Avenue Paul Doumer – Musée de l’Homme” Official website of Musée de l’Homme: http://www.museedelhomme.fr/en Musée de l’Homme (Museum of Man) is part of the National Natural History Museums in France and it presents the evolution of humans and human societies. It occupies one side of the gargantuan Palais de Chaillot (across from the Eiffel Tower).
Interested in Inrap? Read more here. The site even has an extract of a film about the enslaved Malagasy who were abandoned on the island.
Each trip to Paris brings new insights into traveling. Both for traveling in general and for traveling specifically to Paris. This recent January trip was perfect! How could it not be? It is Paris, after all.
We were greeted with snow, then with rain on and off for a few days. The nights were chilly with low clouds, but then the sun shone through at times making the city sparkle. Generally, the weather does not affect my enjoyment of Paris, but it does determine how to pack and how to plan.
In addition to all of the information on traveling to Paris on this site, such as this packing list, here are a few recent observations. Also, a little tattle on myself for not following my own suggestions!
Map and Guidebook for Traveling
I forgot a map of Paris!!! And, a guidebook. I always bring them. Not this time. I completely forgot them while I was trying to get the dog to camp before starting to pack (so she wouldn’t be stressed). I always pack the night before or the day of the flight (not suggested), but I have always done it that way. As the trip approaches, I usually make a pile of things to put in my suitcase. But this time, I just forgot a map and guidebook. It is on the list I use to pack – but I misplaced my list the day before leaving! Not a good idea. Keep your list for packing with your suitcase!
G7 is a taxi service in Paris. A little while back, I downloaded the G7 app. It was terrific. It is quick and easy to enter the destination. Meaning no fumbling with using the wrong number in French or mispronouncing street names – all while the taxi driver speaks faster and faster French to you. Besides, it explained, in English, what kind of car was coming with contact information. Then, I could see the car on its way with an estimated time of arrival and more. Just like popular ride sharing apps.
One of my friends tried Uber and it was a 30 minute wait. Same when I tried it. In the past it has worked well, but not so great this time. Do not know the reasons why, but it is great to have options. Also, if you link the G7 app to a credit card that doesn’t charge a foreign exchange fee, even better. (Lyft is not in Paris yet.)
The Métro is always easy and super-efficient transport. As you work your way through the underground maze, make sure to look for the signs leading you in the right direction at each intersection. And, double check yourself each time. I missed a sign at one cross path, but Jennifer caught it. Of course, it wouldn’t have been terrible, but catching the right one saved time and kept us on track to our next destination.
Without my hard copy of a map, I used a map application on my phone a couple of times. I needed to confirm we were going in the correct direction. (I felt like I was cheating, but it was pretty useful!)
Although I advised my bank that I would be in France ahead of time, I still got a fraud call after using my debit card. Plus, I wasted time and had a lot of aggravation talking to a fraud person who was not really connected to my local bank. The big banks did not have these problems. And of course, American Express already knows you are there (somehow??) and knows you are spending money – so no problems with AmEx.
Poncho in Your Satchel
It rained on this visit, but it is Paris, so who really cares? I had ponchos in my satchel for everyone. One time it was really raining hard by Parisian standards so I broke out the ponchos. BUT, make sure the poncho in the little bitty sack from the drugstore is big enough to fit over you!!! Each of us had on a coat, some with sweaters underneath, and I was carrying my satchel. None of the ponchos fit over me. Another was so flimsy, and the wind was so strong, that it was constantly being turned inside out! Anyway, I was glad to have a little cover, but will be restocking with a little higher quality and checking the sizes before purchasing more.
Hiking Boots – Who Knew?
I was very happy that I brought lightweight, waterproof, hiking boots. I have never thought of bringing hiking boots to Paris before. But, it is lots of walking, sometimes on cobblestones, sometimes in the rain, and sometimes with a little slush on the ground. They were excellent. I even wore them when it wasn’t raining. So, I was very happy to have them.
Walk a Mile
Jennifer left her iPhone connected to internet service the entire time. And, if it is correct, we walked 7-8 miles each day. I was really surprised by that number! If it was a long way to dinner, we took a taxi. Most of this was really just walking in the day from Métro stops and in and around neighborhoods and a few museums. No wonder Parisians are fit looking!
Now, THIS is an Observation
And, one more….
Know When to Rest ‘Em
Everyone else took a rest in the afternoon, but I went to see more and walk around more. I have a hard time sitting still in Paris. However, the important part of this is that they NEEDED a rest so that the rest of their day would be enjoyable. IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND WHEN TO REST. On this trip, I was fortunate to need only about 15 minutes with my feet up before changing clothes for dinner. And, for all the places we ate dinner, I wore jeans, collared shirt and a sports jacket. Also, an outer coat and scarf for traveling to and from dinner.
Louvre Museum Shop Moved
The Louvre moved its ticket stations from right under the pyramid into the space where the gift shop used to be. Now, the museum shop is on the same underground level as before, but two parts, one either side of the wide hall leading to the inverted pyramid. It still has all of the great books, interesting gifts and walls of post cards.
Angelina on rue de Rivoli
Angelina has an outpost on the rue de Rivoli, next door to Hotel Le Meurice. The line was about 75 people long waiting to get in on a drizzly and cold afternoon. (Hint: Go to Café de Flore, instead. Or try practically any café with seating and you may be surprised by the hot chocolate.)
Stand Up Cafés Disappearing?
Cafés where one stands at the bar and orders coffee and a croissant in the morning seem to be fewer and farther between. Don’t know for sure, but we were having trouble finding them so we could duck in quickly for a shot of espresso. Will have to research more on this and be more observant. Maybe it is only the tourist areas that are filled with to-go shops.
Walk and Drink and Eat
Meanwhile on the streets of Paris, more and more Parisians seem to be walking around with cups of coffee in their hands. Quelle horreur! That is so un-Parisian to walk on the street and drink coffee. And, certainly completely unacceptable to eat while walking. Neither of these used to ever be seen.
Exercise Fanatics – In Style
Another interesting observation is that more and more joggers are all over the place – another sight that used to never be seen. They thought I was from the moon when I jogged in the mornings back in the 90s. Of course, Parisians have on matching running outfits (not just shorts and t-shirts) so they look good while jogging. The runners are everywhere, especially through the gardens and along the quais of the Seine.
January = Fashion Weeks
No wonder the hotels were not at a deep discount in January. Paris Fashion Week, both womens’ and mens’ are in January. Back-to-back. And, mens fashion week was happening when we were there. Another time to put on the calendar to check before booking.
Organ concerts at historic churches are an absolute must. They only last an hour and you don’t have to stay for the whole thing. They are a great opportunity to see magnificent architecture, and the sound from the organs can rattle your bones and the rafters. I saw/heard them at Saint-Sulpice, Saint Séverin and Saint Eustache. (I wrote more on awe-inspiring churches here.)
All incredible, but Saint Eustache may be a little more fun because the keyboard is on the ground floor. That means you can see the organist perform while listening to the music. At the others, the keyboard and the organist are way up by the pipes. At the end of the performance, they kind of peep out from the organ for their final applause. Choir organs, which are also beautiful, are played during many church services. But do not mistake them for the grand organs. The grand organs are the ones where you see the massive pipes above the main doors to the church.
For jet lag, I kind of tried the “not eating on the flights” way of thinking. On the way to Paris, the meal on the plane leaving Atlanta was at about the time I would normally have dinner, so I ate. I did not eat again until lunch in Paris at Cafe Nouvelle Saint Marie. On the way back, I ate a baguette sandwich at the airport terminal that I had bought near the hotel. Then, not again until dinner in Atlanta. Generally, my jetlag is really bad coming back from Paris. But this time, it was practically non-existent. Will try the not eating on flights again in a few months and report back.
Everyone knows the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, but in Paris, there are plenty of opportunities to find lesser known museums. Most of these are kind of double-headers as museums go. The house or building is an outstanding work of art along with the art that is inside. Make sure to put a few of the two-for-ones on your Paris List.
1. Musée Picasso Paris
Photo by Yann Caradec from Paris, France, Musée Picasso, Paris 1 November 2014, CC BY-SA 2.0
The Musée Picasso Paris is located in the newly renovated Hôtel Salé. Originally restored between 1974 – 1979 as an historical monument, it was transformed into a museum between 1979 and the 1985 opening.
During that time, the house from the 1600s was carefully converted into a magnificent art space. It is truly an outstanding example of a Hotel Particulier – or private mansion.
In 1985, Bruno Foucart described the Hôtel Salé as, “the grandest, most extraordinary, if not the most extravagant, of the grand Parisian houses of the 17th century”.
And, what is inside? Works from the prolific master, Pablo Picasso. More than 5,000 paintings, etchings, engravings, sketches and sculputures.
Make sure to notice the incredible stucco and stone work in the mansion – you really can’t help but see it.
2. Musée Marmottan Monet
Claude Monet, “Impression, soleil levant.” The painting that gave its name to Impressionism.
More than 300 works by Claude Monet occupy the Musée Marmottan Monet. The elegant home in the 16th arrondissement is where you can see the painting that gave its name to Impressionism. Claude Monet’s “Impression, soleil levant” (“Impression, sunrise” in English), may not be as big of a stunner as other works by Monet. But, without a doubt, you will instantly recognize it as an impressionist painting.
In 1966, Michel Monet, the son of Claude Monet, gave his inherited collection of his father’s paintings to the Musée Marmottan Monet. Along with the largest collection of Monets, you can see works by Manet, Monet, Pissaro, Sisley, Morisot and many more. The house itself is worthy of a visit on its own. It is a creaky-floored example of a well-off family’s townhouse.
As with several other famous paintings, “Impression, soleil levant” was at the center of an art heist in 1985. Armed bandits stole that painting and several others. Eventually, all were recovered in Corsica in 1990.
Late opening until 9pm on Thursdays.
3. Musée Rodin
Another incredible house with sumptuous grounds and gardens to match! After a recent renovation inside the Musée Rodin, it is even more marvelous than before. This mansion is like a country estate in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. And, it includes loads of Rodins! About 300 – both inside and out.
Originally built in the early 1700s on the outer limits of Paris, the Hôtel Biron was commissioned by a wealthy financier. He did not live to see the project completed, but a host of other luminaries lived in the house from a duchess, to a cardinal, to Jean Cocteau and eventually Rodin. Rodin made a deal with the French government – let me stay in the house and I will give you all of my remaining art when I die. Sounds like a good deal.
The house is extraordinary. High ceilings, wood floors, beautiful staircase, windows everywhere. And, the sculptures fit as if they were meant to be there – basking in natural light. On the grounds, you will see old roses with nearly forearm-sized canes and manicured lawns. Then, under the trees and along the sides, admire monumental sculptures by the master, including the Gates of Hell, the Thinker and the Burghers of Calais. If you need it, take a rest at the café under the trees.
4. Maison de Victor Hugo
Maison de Victor Hugo
Want to see what one of the townhouses on the Place des Vosges looks like? And, visit the home of one of the most famous writers ever? Find your way to the 4th arrondissement and visit the Maison de Victor Hugo.
Victor Hugo lived in this apartment from 1832 – 1848. The museum is arranged in chronological order of Hugo’s life. Decorations and furniture from his other residences have been donated by his family and are shown in various rooms. As well as seeing the bed where he died in 1885, you can view the desk where he stood to write his famous literature.
Look out the windows for glorious views onto the Place des Vosges and the statue of Louis XIII. If you are interested in French fiction, history and the life of one of France’s greatest writers, you should consider visiting Maison de Victor Hugo. Or, go take a look if you just really love the apartments around the Place des Vosges.
5. Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain (Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art)
This relatively new endeavor in the 14th arrondissement is dedicated to promoting contemporary art from around the world. Not only contemporary visual art, but also any contemporary art media.
Its website states, “As a reflection of our times, the Fondation Cartier embraces all creative fields and genres of contemporary art, ranging from design to photography, from painting to video art and from fashion to performance art. This testifies to the Fondation Cartier’s commitment and skill, to its blend of rigor and eclecticism which opens up contemporary art and renders it more accessible.” Read, You will not see any stuffy old portraits here!
Jean Nouvel, the Pritzker Prize winning architect, designed the glass and steel building specifically for the Cartier Foundation. On the garden side, it is kind of like a layer cake with a terrace on top. And from the street side it is reflective panels of glass. You can even take an architectural tour to learn more about the space, see the specially designed furniture and even see some of the offices.
And, get outside to survey the Theatrum Botanicum, the foundation’s garden designed by Lothar Baumgarten. It is described as a work in progress. Even though it may seem wild, it is a natural oasis that is a counter point to the rigor of the architecture.
6. Fondation Louis Vuitton (Louis Vuitton Foundation)
Another new and important arts space, the Fondation Louis Vuitton (FVL), is dedicated to promoting art and culture of the 20th and 21st centuries. Only a little west of Paris proper, the overwhelmingly popular destination is in the Bois de Boulogne. Frank Gehry designed the architecturally significant structure and it is an artwork itself.
When it opened in 2014, FVL was an immediate hit with the public. FVL is a private collection that, “comprises a constantly evolving body of work that naturally falls into four categories: Contemplative, Pop, Expressionist, Music & Sound.”
Be ready to have your senses overloaded while visiting FVL. If you want to get ready, all of the pieces in the collection can be seen on the website. And, you can see the multiple exhibitions displayed at any one time from artists from all corners of the globe.
7. Musée Carnavalet
Paris Map from 1576 by Dalbera
In the Marais, two architectural gems of townhouses are joined together creating a museum that tells the history of Paris. One townhouse was built in the 1550s; the second in 1688. Together they make up the extraordinary Musée Carnavalet showcasing the history of Paris.
One hundred rooms are chock-a-block with art, objects, furniture and displays. Plus, the gardens outside are charming and beautiful examples of the French know-how with plants. From the ancient history of the Parisii, all the way to the 20th century, see the history of the City of Light unfold in this elegant museum.
It is closed for renovation until the end of 2019.
8. Musée de Cluny, Musée National du Moyen Âge (Cluny Museum, National Museum of the Middle Ages)
Roman baths in the middle of Paris? You bet. What about medieval treasures including the most enigmatic tapestries in the world? The Cluny Museum is the place for you.
The ancient Roman baths of Lutetia (the Roman name of Paris) date from the 1st or 2nd century AD. They include a giant cold room (frigidarium), hot rooms (caldarium) and a gym or wrestling room (palestra). It is amazing to be walking along boulevard St. Germain or boulevard St. Michel and gaze across a lawn and see interesting brick and stone work walls with massive Roman arches. And, they are conjoined with a 15th century Gothic mansion that was home to the abbots of Cluny.
Inside this turreted medieval showplace you can find medieval and Renaissance works of art. Amazing objects including statuary, furniture, architectural elements, religious icons, mosaics and tapestries. A group of maybe the most famous tapestries are displayed here.
The Lady and the Unicorn (La Dame à la Licorne) tapestries are in a room by themselves and it is breathtaking to see these marvelous art works at one time. First, they are huge. Second, they are intricately detailed, full of symbolism and gorgeous. Third, they were woven around 1500 to represent the five senses. The sixth tapestry shows the lady in front of a tent with a banner containing the words, “à mon seul désir”. It is this tapestry that is the subject of much discussion as to what that phrase means. Literally, the words translate as, “to my only desire.” And, what do those words with those images mean? Take a look for yourself and make your own determination.
Such intrigue in the Middle Ages! Like many of the other lesser known museums in this article, the Cluny is a manageable size and great for an hour or two visit.
9. Musée Jacquemart-André
Paolo Uccello (1397 – 1475), Saint Georges and the Dragon
This house museum was designed with the intention of showcasing the owners’ art collection. Edouard André began passionately collecting art in the 1860s. And, soon, he needed a place to display it. So what else does one wealthy art collector do? He commissioned a mansion on Boulevard Hausmann in the 8th arrondissement.
Little did he know that he would one day meet his collecting match in Nélie Jacquemart. They married and spent 13 years together in a collecting frenzy. Even after Edouard died in 1893, she spent the rest of her life collecting art. And, eventually turning the house into the museum we see today, the Musée Jacquemart-André.
Along with notable sculptures, paintings, decorative objects, carpets and a plethora of art treasures, it includes medieval masterpieces by Botticelli, Donatello, Bellini and Mantegna. Also, it has a café under a Tiepolo fresco.
10. Musée Nissim de Camondo
Nissim de Camondo kitchen
Count Moïse de Camondo’s express intention was “to recreate an eighteenth-century artistic residence.” And, that is what he did. Fully preserved as it was originally built between 1911 and 1914. It is mansion in the style of the Petit Trianon of Versailles. But, with all the modern conveniences of the most advanced houses of the time. (Check out the kitchen.) And, the Musée Nissim de Camondo is maintained as if it were still a private home.
Can you imagine living in this place?
It is an elegant way to spend an hour or two. Perusing the objects, imagining life at that time – or in the 18th century, looking out to the Parc Monceau. Nearly all of the objects are from the second half of the 18th century (1750-1799) from the periods of Louis XV and Louis XVI. Masterpieces by the most superb craftsmen of the time. Incredibly beautiful, refined to the last detail. Carpets, paintings, furniture and all kinds of objects tastefully fill the rooms.
Now, the museum has a restaurant in the former parking area. So, take your time to explore this mansion.
Along with Beauty Comes a Sad History
However, it is a sad history that provides this beauty. Nissim de Camondo, the son of Count Moïse de Camondo and his wife Countess Irene, joined the French Army when World War I began. He became a pilot and died in air combat in 1917. At the Count’s death in 1935, he left the mansion and its contents to in honor of his son to create a museum. Later, Nissim’s sister, Béatrice, along with her two children and ex-husband died in Auschwitz.
11. Musée national des arts asiatiques – Guimet (Guimet Museum)
Just down the hill from where visitors gasp at the Eiffel Tower, the Guimet Museum houses France’s national Asian art museum. Like most of the capitol’s museums, the building is impressive and imposing.
But, the more than 45,000 objects within are even more spectacular. Masterpieces from the Asian world fill the space. Musée Guimet holds the largest collection of Asian objects outside of Asia. Originally, the collection was in Lyon, from where Émile Guilmet hailed. But, later, moved to Paris.
Tibet, Nepal, Cambodia, China, Japan, Korea, India, Thailand, Indonesia and even more near Eastern cultures are represented. Monsieur Guimet traveled extensively and collected voraciously. That is what you can do as an industrialist.
12. Musée Cernuschi; Musée des Arts de l’Asie de la Ville de Paris (Cernuschi Museum)
Photo by Guillaume Jacquet, Cernuschi Museum 20060812 138, CC BY-SA 3.0
In 1871, Henri Cernuschi began a 28 month tour of Asia. On that voyage to the East, he collected around 5,000 pieces of art and artifacts from great Asian civilizations. All of these were shipped back to Paris and they form the core of this extensive collection. Imagine that trip!
Han and Wei funerary statutes, Sung porcelain, bronze Buddhas, terracotta works. When visiting Kyoto and Nara, he had to have special permission and was only allowed to enter by sedan chair. When he returned to Paris after the tour, he built a mansion to house his collection.
Also, Cernuschi acquired some incredible vintage photos of Asia in the 19th century that are fascinating to see. Before he died, Cernuschi left his home and collection to the City of Paris. The Cernuschi Museum opened in 1898.
Practically around the corner from the Musée Nissim de Camondo. Also on the Parc Monceau.
Originally built for the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology of 1937, the name came from the street it was on – the Quai de Tokio. Currently, the street is named, Avenue de New York. This grand building is now home to a modern art museum and to Europe’s largest center of contemporary art.
On one side, you will find the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris). Furniture, painting, art objects, carpets, furniture and statuary from the beginning of the 20th century laze around the building. Nothing is too cramped or squished in this museum. The rooms are expansive with soaring ceilings.
Along with works by Picasso, Modigliani, Derain, Chagall and other major artists from the period, two exceptional works are here. One is Raoul Dufy’s, “La Fée électricité,” illustrating man’s harnessing and using electricity. The mural is in a room by itself, deservedly. The other is Henri Matisse’s, “La Danse.” This installation on an entire wall of an exhibition space of the palais can be breathtaking.
And, on the other side, the Palais de Tokyo. The contemporary art space only shows temporary exhibitions of emerging art from all over the world. Read – it can be challenging to comprehend the depth of the artist’s work at a glance. On the other hand, it is open until Midnight every day except Tuesday. So, go after dinner if you need a walk.
A little of the description from its website, “A rebellious wasteland with the air of a Palace, an anti-museum in permanent transformation, Palais de Tokyo has kept Paris full of life and on its toes since 2002. At once convivial and challenging, generous and cutting edge, inviting and radical, poetic and transgressive, it is a space to learn, to experience, to feel, and to live – a space from which the unexpected springs forth.” Go see what can inspire such a description.
Check out the gift shop at the Palais de Tokyo for cool journals as souvenirs for students back home. And, take a picture in the photo booth, called, “Foto Automat.” Look for it and pose for the camera.
14. Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac
Musée du Quai Branly
In 2006, the Musée du quai Branly opened to great fanfare. Finally, France had its wish of a museum dedicated to non-European societies and to presenting the objects formerly seen as ethnographic in an artistic setting.
Jean Nouvel designed the building that sits in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower along the Seine. One whole side is covered in a living wall of greenery. As you enter, a clear cylinder of storage is packed with treasures that beckon visitors to crane their necks to see more of what is inside.
And, storage they must have by the boxcar. The museum is home to more than 300,000 works from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. ” Located on the banks of the River Seine, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, the musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac aims to promote the Arts and Civilizations of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, at the crossroads of multiple cultural, religious and historical influences. As a space for scientific and artistic dialog, the museum offers a cultural program of exhibits, performances, lectures, workshops and screenings.”
Although the lighting could be a little brighter so you are not in fear of tripping, the experience is a must.
15. Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature
From my friend, Lynn – One of the great finds on this past Paris trip was the small museum, Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature. It is in two buildings. The 17th c. Hôtel de Guénégaud and the next door 18th c. Hôtel de Mongelas. It is unlike any museum I have ever been in. It is set up like an “imaginary residence of a hunter and collector.” You wander through rooms dedicated to individual animals, such as the wild boar room.
There you learn how important the boar was for its flesh and how dangerous the animal is. There are examples of boar teeth, prints, paintings and even drawers with scat. The way it’s presented is novel and intense and not just a stuffed boar hanging on the wall. It is as much about art as it is about hunting. This is true for every room.
Lynn’s description made me put this on my list of must-see places! Taxidermy included, but, from what it seems, much more as well.
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