Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Louvre Museum in Paris

View of the Louvre Museum in Paris from a window on its upper floors
One of the museums I spent a lot of time in while in Paris was the Louvre Museum which is the most popular museum in the world.

The Louvre is physically huge, its collection is very extensive - and huge - and it's the most visited art museum in the world. It had 8.5 million visitors in 2008 and that figure is expected to increase to 10 million in the next five years.

Some statistics
The Louvre contains 35,000 works of art in eight departments; the permanent collections occupy more than 645,000 square feet of exhibition space............In the first five months of 2009, 167 works of art valued at €38.6 million, or about $50.9 million, entered the museum. This was in part made possible by the soaring number of visitors
New York Times - The Louvre
According to the Museum's Director, Henri Loyrette
If you want to see everything you must walk 14 kilometres
Henri Loyrette - New York Times - On a Mission to Loosen Up the Louvre
That's 8 miles! Consequently, there's absolutely no point in trying to get round all of it - it's just far too big and even walking around it all at top speed would take you a very long time. The trick is to be selective - and to know what you can find before you vsiit.

I've developed a new information site The Louvre - Resources for Art Lovers which helps to provide some guidance to what the museum covers and how to access what you might want to see a little bit more easily than you can on their new website - which is excellent in many ways but also buries important stuff!. I'm anticipating developing it quite a bit but it's now in a fit state to publish.

What to see

Initially I've just focused on paintings - and I've highlighted some of the collections. However there is a lot more to the Louvre than paintings. I think of it as being what you would get if you merged the British Museum and the National Gallery in London.

Louvre: crowds lining up to see the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo
all photos copyright Katherine Tyrrell
Sadly most people visit with a view to seeing a very few pieces - the famous ones. Hence you get huge crowds around items like the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo - a lot of them people in big groups doing the 'highlights'.
80 percent of the people only want to see the Mona Lisa
However it was interesting to find that another fine painting by Leonardo da Vinci lay just outside the Mona Lisa room - and hadn't drawn a crowd for the painting - but had a few people stopping to see how the artist who was producing a copy was getting on! I don't know what that says about most of the visitors...........

Interestingly the New York Times commented on this phenomena recently in At Louvre, Many Stop to Snap but Few Stay to Focus. Which I found fascinating particularly since I was both snapping and looking!
Cameras replaced sketching by the last century; convenience trumped engagement, the viewfinder afforded emotional distance and many people no longer felt the same urgency to look. It became possible to imagine that because a reproduction of an image was safely squirreled away in a camera or cell phone, or because it was eternally available on the Web, dawdling before an original was a waste of time, especially with so much ground to cover.
I sketch in galleries in London - but then I know where to find the sketching stools. I haven't yet located them in the Louvre and I didn't see any in use either. So maybe they need to reintroduce the sketching stool and allow people to sketch as well as photograph and paint the art?

Get away from the main attractions and the main painting galleries are actually very pleasant places to view art - and not at all crowded. Over on the top floors of the Richelieu were people who were much more interested in the art. Good for getting to overhear some informed views!

What I did find on this visit was that I began to appreciate much more why some artists got tired of the very large history paintings which dominated French art for a long time. Which is helping me enormously with an excellent book - The Judgement of Paris by Ross King - that I'm currently reading - it's the story of the revolutionary decade prior to Impressionism and the way the French art scene behaved prior to the breakaway.

Louvre Museum Photography Policy

As I did for the Musee d'Orsay, in order to explain why I've got quite so many photographs of the interior of the museum and various works of art I'm going to highlight the photography policy.

They have a new Regulation regarding photography in the museum which is as follows
Still and video photography is permitted for private, noncommercial use only in the galleries housing the permanent collection. The use of flash or other means of artificial lighting is prohibited.

Photography and filming are not permitted in the temporary exhibition galleries. The same restrictions apply to the photographing or filming of technical installations and equipment.
composite of still life paintings in the Louvre
photos copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I decided to be quite focused while photographing work in the Louvre - which explains why I have been able to develop these dedicated Flickr sets to share with those unable to visit.

The wonders of digital photography and very big storage cards is I didn't think twice about photographing the work AND the label so I knew who was the artist and when it was painted. for me, there is nothing more irritating than visiting a museum, finding a painting which sticks in my head, having a photo of it but also having absolutely no idea who it is by!
Access: You can find all you want to know about practical aspects of visiting in this section of my new site - The Louvre - practical information for the visitor. €9 will get you access to all parts for one day. If you've got children, it's worth noting all visitors under the age of 18 get in free. It also seems to have become very disability focused which is good!

Sketching at the Louvre

You can see my sketches done while in the Louvre on my sketchbook blog - see A Day in the Musée du Louvre



  1. I must be the only French person who's never been to the Louvre! Great post, will have to check it out next time I am in Paris

  2. Another good book is Sue Roe's "Private Lives of the Impressionists", which goes into a lot of the history of the end of the salon era and the difficulties of the impressionists in getting their early works shown.

  3. I think the Louvre is half price on Wednesdays after 15h too (open til 22h?).


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