Wednesday, May 8
Wednesday was the big day: our first trip to the Louvre. I’m glad we went but it wasn’t quite what I imagined.
We started out with another civilized, if early, Parisian breakfast at Café des Musées and walked to the Louvre to await the opening.
Armed with our Museum Pass, we headed to the basement entrance in the shopping mall below the Louvre which was supposed to be the best way to avoid waiting in line. The line was astonishingly long, easily 500 people three and four abreast from the entrance to the escalator and around the center section. The space was packed and hot. The primary entrance is in the courtyard at the glass pyramid, so we thought we’d give that a try. Even if that line was long, too, we’d at least be out in the fresh air.
That was one of our best decisions of the whole trip. There was indeed a long line at the pyramid but we saw a very short one off to the side – visitors were walking up, showing their Museum Pass and going right in! I’m sorry to say I felt just a little bit smug strolling past all those sad faces. I’d spent many hours researching our visit, though, and this was the pay off: five minutes and we were inside!
As with the Orsay, I had a list of must-see paintings. The Louvre owns five works by my favorite artist, Gerard ter Borch, four of which were on display. We headed straight for the Dutch section on the second floor of the Richelieu Wing. Happily it was nearly empty of visitors so I could take as much time as I wanted to peruse the lovely paintings.
Ter Borch had an amazing ability to paint satin dresses. My mother’s wedding dress is a pretty off-white satin, heavy and smooth. The dresses that ter Borch often painted appear to be the same type of fabric. He captured exactly the sheen and weight of the fabric.
After getting my fill of ter Borch, we strolled through the rest of the Dutch section and worked our way through the remaining Richelieu Wing (18th and 19th century French, Renaissance and Middle Ages). At the entrance to the French section was Portrait de Deux Hommes, attributed to Phillippe de Champaigne. Two handsome young men are portrayed, François Mansard (after whom the mansard roof was named) and Claude Perrault (one of the architects of the Louvre). The painting is cleverly placed so that Claude’s gesture directs visitors towards his countrymen’s paintings.
We took a break for lunch at Le Café Mollien, of one of the 15(!) cafés, restaurants and lunch counters in the Museum.
After resting and recharging a bit, we thought we’d see some European paintings. Along with several hundred thousand other tourists. The crowds around the Winged Victory of Samothrace is a fair representation of number of people in this popular area:
It was a lovely setting for Nike but best viewed from afar.
The Italians were high on my must-see list but we found the crowds too much to delve deeper (and we were planning to come back later in the week) so we headed in another direction – Greek, Roman, Etruscan and other ancient civilizations. We were able to see the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1775 BC), the Etruscan Sarcophagus of the Cenestian Couple (c. 500 BC) and the famous Venus de Milo (c. 100 BC).
Other, less famous but equally important pieces like Pallas of Valletri and Athena (Ingres Minerva), were more accessible than the crowd favorites like Venus. I don’t know a great deal about sculpture but love the contrast of the flowing drape of the fabric rendered in heavy marble. Had someone opened a window, I almost believed the fabric would have stirred in the breeze.
Overall, the Louvre was interesting but it took some work to see and process. I really am glad we went but I’m not sure I’m in a hurry to get back any time soon. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful – I know how lucky I am to have had the chance to go – but I expected it to be a different experience.
I was more or less prepared for the crowds but not the assembly line mentality of so many visitors. They seemed to have a mental check off list of famous paintings and sculptures and artifacts but didn’t really seem to be affected by or even particularly interested in them. They were more like clerks performing inventory than fortunate visitors.
With technology as pervasive as it is, I suppose I also shouldn’t have been surprised by the numbers of those people just snapping photos and moving on. But I was appalled at the number of people using their flashes. They clearly thought the Louvre worth visiting but they had absolutely no regard for the damage they were doing to these amazing works of art.
The people lucky enough to work at the Louvre were not the art lovers I imagined either. The floor staff appeared to barely even be security guards – I didn’t see a single one admonish the people using their flashes. The negligence and apathy seems to extend beyond the visible staff to the upper levels of administration, too. They have the privilege and responsibility of safeguarding this incredible repository of thousands of years of history and culture and they are treating it like it’s nothing more than a rather burdensome tourist attraction. Undiffused natural light, poor ventilation in some areas and flash photography allowed? Shameful.
And even setting aside the actual lack of care for the art, many were not even displayed to their best advantage. In some areas where the rooms were two stories tall, there were double rows of paintings on the walls. I’m sure they have so many works in their inventory and want to have as many as possible on view but between the distance and the glare of reflected light, the paintings on the top were so hard to see, they might has well have been in storage.
Fortunately, our experience at the Louvre turned out to be atypical. Yes, there were plenty of tourists at the other museums and cultural centers but they weren’t quite as rabid and the staff tended to be more enthusiastic and more protective of their charges.
After our adventure at the Louvre, we walked back along the Seine towards home. Jim bought two watercolors to commemorate our visit.
I can’t wait to get them framed and hung in a place of honor to remind us of our trip!