Many people think of the Louvre when they think of Paris – I do. I was warned by people who have been there, and by the Louvre website, that it could be overwhelming, and it’s best to choose only a portion, or to make several short visits over a few days. With a museum pass, this makes a lot of sense.
My first visit to the Louvre museum was the same day that I arrived, and I decided to start with the Egyptian Antiquities. Mark went to Cairo on a business trip in May 2012, and when he came back to Abu Dhabi he said it was the best business trip ever. They had a driver who took them around, and he said the pyramids were amazing although, for some reason, he had imagined them even bigger than they were. We should take a trip to Egypt, he said.
Since then, the economic and political situation in Egypt has deteriorated. A trip Egypt is not on the horizon for us right now, so the Egyptian collection was the next best thing. Looking at the serene expressions on the sculptures of the pharaohs, the resting mummies, the gold and jewels, and the weaponry, I thought of the country’s long history and hoped for a peaceful solution for the people of modern Egypt.
The next day, I returned to the Louvre after my visit to Notre Dame cathedral. It was time to search for the Mona Lisa. I headed to the Paintings collection, which covers European painting from the mid-13th century to the mid-19th century, divided into three large groups: French; Italian and Spanish; and Northern European – German, Dutch, and Flemish.
I didn’t get the audio tour, preferring to just wander through the collection finding paintings that I recognized, and there were many. Way back in 1977, I took History of European Art at College of Marin in California – it was my first college class. The teacher’s name was Deborah Loft. She was young and pretty, had traveled all throughout Europe, and had slides that she talked about in great detail. I was fascinated, and knew I had to go Europe someday.
It was a long time before I got the opportunity, and I have thought of that class and teacher many times over the past 36 years, especially in Italy and in Amsterdam, but never more than when I was in Paris. When I entered the hall and saw the familiar paintings in person, it felt like I was rediscovering old college friends.
Of course room with the Mona Lisa was the most crowded. People were posing with the painting, or standing in front of it and trying to take a photo of themselves with their smart phone or iPad.
An important part of my Louvre experience was outdoors, walking the grounds and gardens. The Cour Carre is the eastern entrance to the Old Louvre, built on the site of the original 12th century fort. On my way into the museum from Notre Dame cathedral, I walked through this lovely courtyard, which was completed by Louis XIV before he moved to Versailles. I think it’s one of those secret gems that are hidden in plain sight. It was peaceful and uncrowded.
You walk through and emerge into the Cour Napoleon, where you are facing the pyramids. I have to admit that I don’t love the pyramids. You go through security at the entrance to the upper pyramid, then you take an escalator down where you buy your entrance ticket.
I’m sure it’s now much easier to accommodate the large numbers of people that want to visit the Louvre, and it provides much needed natural light. However, to me the upper pyramid as seen from outside is incongruous with the palace. It disrupts the continuity of the courtyard, and it’s just too … modern. There, I said it.
Also, the pyramids seemed to make the space below hot. I was there on cool, cloudy, rainy days and I could feel the sun beating through the panes of glass. I wonder, what is it like in the heat of summer?
In addition to the large pyramid above ground, there are two smaller pyramids that shed light into the galleries, and an inverted pyramid which extends into the basement, where there is a shopping mall. I wandered down there, and it reminded me of some of the malls in the Middle East. Too slick and gimmicky for the Louvre. I will admit, however, that I did patronize the Starbucks that I found down there. I was in the mood for a Skinny Frappuccino.
The Tuileries Gardens were lovely, filled with iris and other spring blooms. I can imagine the inspiration that painters have found there. The garden was originally commissioned in the 16th century by Catherine de Medicis, the widow of King Henry II, and is named for the tuileries, or workshops that built roof tiles, that once occupied the area.
The first day, people who looked like teachers were setting up an outdoor installation of little sculptures made of wood and other odds and ends, painted with what looked like poster paint. People were stopping to take photos and I assumed, without even asking, that they were made by school children. When I returned the next day, it was all gone.
With all the walking I was doing, my legs were starting to give out. I bicycle and I stand-up paddle, but I wasn’t used to that much walking and my leg muscles were getting really stiff and sore. It was a big relief to find a chair, lean back, relax, and contemplate the pond. From there, I could see the Louvre and Arc de Carousel to the east …
… with the Obelisk and Arc de Triomphe behind me.
The next day, Tuesday, the Louvre was closed, so I decided to go to the Musee d’Orsay, which has a large collection of my favorite paintings – the Impressionists of 1860 to 1900. The museum is a converted railway station built in 1900, closed in 1979, and opened as a museum in 1986.
I walked from the Elysee Bassano Hotel to the museum, which is across the river from the Louvre, on the Left Bank of the Seine with views across the river, including through the large clock.
No photos of the paintings were allowed, but this time I did spring for the audio tour so I could hear the stories of the artists and their critics – many of which I already knew, but never tire of. What can I say, I adore the Impressionists – Renoir, Monet, Manet, Cassatt, Degas, – and the Post Impressionists – Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Seurat.
I try to capture an Impressionist feel in my own paintings.
The Orsay also has an Art Nouveau collection which includes objects from Europe, Scandinavia, Britain, and America. I had a bit of an infatuation with Art Nouveau and the more modern Art Deco styles during the 1980’s, when I was making architectural stained glass windows. The flowing Nouveau and angular Deco lines worked well for stained glass.
When I get back to visit our home in Nevada next month, I’ll dig out the photos of my stained glass, and scan them into an album. Meanwhile, this is me circa 1982, with my collection, which I took to art fairs to sell pieces and get commissions. I usually got a call that resulted in a commission after exhibiting at a fair.
On Wednesday I finished up the Louvre with a third visit, this time in the morning. Mark would be arriving later that afternoon, and he had made it clear that he wanted to relax, and stay away from the museums and crowds. This was fine with me because by now my leg muscles felt like rubber bands, stretched to the breaking point. Ouch! On the way to the Louvre palace, I lingered once again in the Tuileries, looking at the statues. My goal for the day was to see the new Islamic art collection, as well as some sculpture.
Having had the opportunity to view Greek sculpture in Greece, and Italian sculpture in Italy, I concentrated on the French sculptures featuring the gods and goddesses of mythology, which are very large and dramatic. Sculpture amazes me with its sheer mass, and how an artist can create something so detailed out of a chunk of stone.
The Louvre is currently exhibiting throughout the museum, from April 25 until September 2, 2013, the work of an Italian artist named Michelangelo Pistoletto. The website explains:
Titled Year 1: Earthly Paradise, the exhibition marks the transition into the new era of human, social, and cultural metamorphosis that was celebrated all over the world, including on the esplanade of the Louvre's Cour Napoléon, on December 21, 2012.
This was the date when the Mayan calendar ended, and some people supposed that the world would come to an end. I wasn’t aware of the metamorphosis or the big celebrations, but I do remember some people making fun of the thing on Facebook.
The exhibition embodies three different time frames: the past, in the context of a retrospective; the present seen in the mirror works reflecting the visitors; and the future in a great obelisk topped with a triple loop, a symbol of this ongoing revolution. Thus the sign of the "third paradise" adorns the pyramid.
I admit that I take these New Age concepts and treat them with some tongue-in-cheek humor. I didn’t get much of a spiritual vibe from the Pistoletto pieces that were scattered throughout the museum. Yet whenever I came to one of his mirror pieces, I found myself compelled to make it into an opportunity to photograph myself as part of the piece, in the context of the Louvre. So, in that way, I suppose the artist succeeded in bringing me into his realm. It made for some interesting photos, as you will see in the album – they look photo shopped, but they are not.
Spirituality, figuration, the breaking down of boundaries between the arts, social solidarity, and the merging of life and art: these are the themes permeating the thinking of Michelangelo Pistoletto, the founder of Cittadellarte.
Finally, I found my way into the Islamic Art collection, which opened on September 22, 2012. Of course it’s of interest to me because, living in Abu Dhabi, I have been learning about Islamic art and culture for the past two years.
There was a sign at the ticket counter showing the Louvre Abu Dhabi, under construction in the Saadiyat cultural district of Abu Dhabi. I went with friends to the Birth of a Museum exhibit in April, where we saw some of the collection and viewed a computer generated video tour of what the museum will be like after construction is complete.
The museum building, designed by architect Jean Nouvel, is situated at the edge of Saadiyat Island where the sand meets the sea, and is covered by a large dome that provides cooling shade during the day and provides a sparkling light show at night. Water, air and light are integral parts of the concept.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is scheduled to open in 2015. Mark and I will be enjoying life back in the USA long before that, inshallah. But who knows, perhaps he will be called back to consult from time to time, and I will find myself in Abu Dhabi with the opportunity to visit the museum after it opens. If there is one thing I have learned in the past few years, it’s that you can imagine anything and, sometimes, it actually happens.
As always, thanks for reading.