The Art of talking about Art – 10: P for Paris

Few cities are as fabulous as the City of Light. No matter what horrible things terrorists try to do to it, people are not going to stop visiting what this author considers the cultural capital of the world, and five of its most famous museums.

The well-known (and extremely creative) American writer Henry Miller said, “To know Paris is to know a great deal.” On that note, let’s get to know a bit about Paris.

Paris was founded in the 3rd century BC by Celtic people called the Parisii, who gave the city its name. By the 12th century, it was the largest city in the western world, a prosperous trading centre, and the home of the University of Paris, one of the first in Europe.

This author’s first rendezvous with Paris was in 1999. It was the beginning of a love affair with a city (and way of life) that has grown from strength to strength since, and carved an indelible place for itself in mind, body, and soul.

Few cities are as fabulous as the City of Light*. No matter what horrible things terrorists try to do to it, people are not going to stop visiting what this author considers the cultural capital of the world, and five of its most famous museums.

1. The Louvre

Of all the museums in Paris, the one to begin with is with the biggest and the oldest: The Louvre.

Built in the early 12th century as a fortress, it was transformed and used periodically as a royal residence over the next few centuries. It wasn’t until the French Revolution in the late 1700s that the residence was converted into the museum, which is today home to nearly 35,000 objets d’art, including some of the world’s most revered artistic treasures. In fact, so grand is The Louvre that it is estimated it would take months to look at every single piece in the museum, but there’s no reason to be overwhelmed, for there are numerous interesting self-guided tours offered, from the museum’s greatest masterpieces to one built around the Da Vinci Code!

That said, for many, the most exciting pieces are the three women of the Louvre: “Venus de Milo,” “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” and Leonardo da Vinci’s “Portrait of Lisa Gherardini”—The Mona Lisa.

2. Musée d’Orsay

Where the Louvre ends, the Musée d’Orsay begins. Musée d’Orsay is situated in the beautiful Gare d’Orsay (formerly a railway station) and is home to France’s national collection of art produced between 1848 and 1914.

The Orsay houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the world and is an absolute must-see destination for fans of the works of Manet, Degas, Cézanne, Gauguin, Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh.

Some of the well-known paintings featured at Orsay are Degas’ “The Ballet Class” and Manet’s “Woman With Fans.” The museum also shows off other forms of art like sculptures, drawings and decorative pieces, from desks to umbrella stands. What’s more, the space itself is an impressive showpiece of art nouveau architecture that was built in 1900 to designs by Victor Laloux.

3. Musée de l’Orangerie

If your visit to the Orsay hasn’t sated your desire for impressionism, you must head down to the Musée de l’Orangerie.

Tucked away in a corner of the Jardin des Tuileries, the Musée de l’Orangerie is the rebuilt remains of the Palais des Tuileries, which was burned by the Paris Commune in 1871. At the l’Orangerie, you definitely want to spend quality time admiring Monet’s “Les Nymphéas” (Water Lilies), exhibited in two large, oval rooms built in 1927 to the artists’ specifications. In addition to Monet, the museum also features the works of Cézanne, Picasso, and Soutine, among others.

4. Musée Rodin

In 1908, French artist Auguste Rodin donated his entire collection to the nation, under the condition that it is maintained and displayed in his former workshop and showroom, the Hôtel Biron, a grand mansion built in Paris’ 7th arrondissement during the 1700s. That building is now the Musée Rodin. Museum highlights include “The Thinker,” as well as “The Gates of Hell” and “The Kiss.”

5. Centre George Pompidou

Since opening in 1977, the Centre Georges Pompidou has delighted visitors with its unique architecture—but there’s more to excite the senses inside the Centre’s Lego-like walls.

Two whole floors are dedicated to France’s Musée National d’Art Moderne (National Museum of Modern Art), a collection that numbers 65,000-plus pieces of modern art from 1905 onward, ranging from surrealist to pop art.

Must-sees at the Centre George Pompidou are the 245-piece collection of paintings by Matisse and a trip to the 6th floor for a breathtaking view of the entire city.

Finally, a few words about the joys of Paris from one of France’s greatest and best-known writers, Victor Hugo: To err is human. To loaf is Parisian. Bon voyage!

*Trivial pursuit:

Paris is referred to as “The City of Light” (La Ville Lumière), both because of its leading role during the Age of Enlightenment, and more literally because Paris was one of the first European cities to adopt gas street lighting – in the 1860s, the boulevards and streets of Paris were illuminated by 56,000 gas lamps.

Previous Editions:

Update: We have compiled the entire series of blog posts on The Art of Talking About Art in one place. To read other editions of the series, click here.

Avinash Subramaniam

Avinash has been an advertising writer, fiction writer, poetry writer, freelance writer and serial wronger. Other roles he has been in include those of an editor, brand builder, and teacher. His interests include advertising, scrabble, body building, chess, cinema, making money, reading, internet culture, cricket, photography. To hear him air his thoughts, follow him on Twitter @armchairexpert.


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