Art Museums in Paris Part 2 of 3

When last I left the blog, my finance, Geoffrey and I were in the middle of our Parisian boot camp. We had finished touring the l'Orangerie, and our next museum stop was the Louvre. 

I had been to the Louvre once before, back in 2010. My experience with it at that time was mixed. The Louvre holds some of the most beautiful, and most famous artworks in the world, from every period from the BCs all the way through the Renassiance and Romantic periods. It is awe inspiring, breathtaking, and....downright difficult and exhausting. The crowds are thick and, well, rude. The lines are long in the hot sun outside. There is way more on display in the Louvre than one can possibly see in a day, maybe even two or three days. My first visit, while wonderful in some respects, was a big case of frustration and foot soreness. Since I currently have a lot of foot and ankle issues, we decided that this visit we were going to approach this museum with a strict game plan, and adhere to it. 

Adhereing to a plan in a musuem is a near impossible task for Geoff and I. I am truly lucky to have a partner that loves museums and loves learning as much as I do. This means that we always want to dig in really deep and do it all. We also get sucked into museum surprises; either works we have never seen before and find instant love, or we get pulled into a traveling exhibit we didn't know was there. Before we know it, we've burned through 2 additional hours or so from our schedule and from our energy stores. That approach was not going to fly in the Louvre. If we veered off course, we'd be doomed! 

Ours was a two pronged attack. First, we went ahead and purchased The Museum Pass two days before at l'Orangerie. For anyone spending more than a few days in Paris, I really recommend this approach. You pay a flat rate for either a four or six day pass, and that allows you access to over 60 museums and sites in and around Paris. We did the math before our trip, and the pass easily saved us about 40 euro each on sites we knew we wanted to see, plus it allowed access to a score of others in case we had the time to squeeze in anything else. The other perk of the pass is the "skip the line" feature. This saved us a lot of time out in front of certain attractions. However, there is a caveat with this feature that is important to know before you go! The line you skip is the ticket line, NOT the security line. In places like Versailles, which we visited the day before, and the Louvre, lines to get into the facility are still very long. The hold up is the security gates. Pass or no pass, you still must wait in these lines. They are long! Be prepared if you go. But at least we didn't have to double our wait time getting tickets and then getting in the security line. I'll link to the pass at the bottom of this blog. 

Next, Geoff downloaded a free Louvre audio guide from the popular travel website, Rick Steves. Steves has built himself an ongoing tourisim empire, which gets bigger and bigger every year. He generates a ton of content, and thankfully, shares some of this content for free on his site. Sure, there are audio guides available in the Louvre, but they will guide you through the palace piece by piece. That wasn't going to work for our endeavors. We would get lost in the weeds. We needed a plan. Steves audio guide seemed to hit all the major pieces in about 2 hours, winding you at times, in the opposite directions from the crowds, making viewing a bit more pleasureable. Since we knew that, unless we wore blinders through the museum, we would inevitably get sucked in somewhere, 2 hours of itinerary was perfect for us. If we spent an additional 2 going rogue, that was our time frame. All was set. 

It was a very hot and sunny day in Paris. The line for the Louvre is out in the sun. We were glad we brought our umbrellas. It kept off the worst of the rays. Thankfully the line was light, and we made our way inside in just under an hour. I can't go through every piece we loved in the Louvre, but these are some of the highlights. 

We first went through the Roman art rooms. There we saw many statues of gods and goddesses, busts of emperors, pottery and reliefs. This piece pulled Geoff into an adjoining room. We were both delighted to recognize it as Tiber, without the aid of the audio guide. Our previous trip to Rome in 2015 taught us the symbolizism of a lot of Roman art, and we understood that this piece was telling the story of young Romulus and Remus, abandoned in the Tiber river in Rome were found and nourished by a she-wolf. They would go on to found the city as the legend says. The piece is massive and exquisitely carved. We spent a lot of time here admiring it. (Unfortunately, my pictures from the Louvre are not very good. Being an old palace, the buildings are large and open air, with lots of windows and skylights. While this makes for wonderful in-person viewing, its not always great lighting for cameras. If you are interested in studying any of these pieces further, I'd recommend Wikipedia or the Louvre website.)

From here we hopped back on our audio tour, which took us to one of my all time favorite pieces of artwork. Victory of Somathrace, or  Nike, as she is known, sits atop one of the many grand staircases in the Louvre. The skylights above her radiate her with light, setting her off as the angleic figure decending from the heavens that she is. I wish I could better articulate what it is I love about her so much. I think it is the movement in this piece, the way her dress is blowing in the wind as she decends onto the ship's bow. It's so powerful. I also love the concept that something so broken can still be so breathtakingly beautiful. She is a wonderful reminder that being perfect isn't always being best. 

The last time I was in the Louvre, I got lucky, and I had her completely to myself for about 20 minutes. There was not a soul in sight. She made me cry, she was so beautiful. This time was very different. The crowds were a throng and people were climbing over themselves to snap photos and stay with tour groups. It was difficult to have a moment with her. But I did manage a picture or two, and was able to further study the folds in her gown, and the shape of her wings for further art studies. She is a great piece to study for movement and flow. 


We continued to follow the Rick Steves tour, and eventually made our way into the Renaissance wing. This was our jam!  After seeing so much Renaissance art in Italy, we could now pick out many aritsts by sight alone, and understood many of the themes and settings of the paintings. We saw pieces by Botticelli, Di Vinci, and Raphael. The audio guide then began to steer us out of this wing of the museum. 

Oh no. That simply just wouldn't do! Not with a giant, almost football field's length of Renaissance masterworks in front of us. On my last trip, I did not know nearly as much about the Italian masters, and was ignorant of Caravaggio in general. Since then I had been enlightened. He is my very favorite painter. I knew the Louvre had to have at least a couple of his works in this wing. So....yup, we turned the guides off and went rogue, just like we knew we would. 

Sure enough, about two thirds down the wing, we came upon Caravaggio's "The Fortune Teller". I stood in front of this piece for a long time. I will stand in front of just about any Caravaggio work as long as I can while trying to avoid being rude to those around me also trying to admire the works. Of course I take in the entire image, and the ultimate effect he achieves, but what I love doing more than that is getting right up close and studying how he paints the folds in the clothing, the shadows on the faces, the shines on the grapes and on the glasses, on the bald heads of his saints. Caravaggio is the master of lights and darks, sun to shadow, a technique called chiaroscuro. Not only am I in love with this technique, but as a painter, I am super jealous. I feel like I could study and paint for a thousand years and never achieve the smooth dark to lights, the vingetted look of a Caravaggio work. If I would have studied under him he would have probably thrown paint brushes and pottery at me and then thrown me out onto the streets, telling me I'm hopeless. But that doesn't stop me from trying to study it and figure it out and try as I might to put some of that thought and intent into my own paintings. 

(Again, I am sorry for the bad photos. For anyone interested in better information on Caravaggio, I'll link them below.)


The other Caravaggio work hanging in this wing was "Death of the Virgin". This is perhaps one of his better known pieces. I was familiar with it but had no idea how big the piece actually was. It soars twelve feet high and roughly eight feet wide. It was a bit more challenging to try and get right up on a piece so big. But even at 5'3, I tried! 

The last piece I loved in this wing was Raphael's "Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione". I loved this one for how lifelike the fur the man is wrapped in was. In person it really felt like you could just reach right out and pet it. I studied the texture in this piece for a long time. 

With that we reluctantly left the Renaissance wing. We could easily have spent an entire day just in this wing alone, and probably only really looked at a good fifteen or twenty works while we were there. As a painter, and a history major, and a museum geek, I can't describe how absolutely maddening it is to have to breeze past countless works of amazing art without stopping. It's the truest test of fortitude. But, you can't see it all in a day. I've killed myself trying before. We had more museums planned for this trip, and we were on a mission. So away we went. 

From there we went to the dreaded Mona Lisa room. Yes, we saw the Mona Lisa. Yes, I got my blurry photo of it from a good 30 feet away. It took us what felt like forever just to manuever the room, let alone look at any of the art. I don't really have any beef with the Mona Lisa. It's a wonderful painting. But I do grind my gears a little bit about the huge production most people make of the Mona Lisa. It's considered the greatest painting in the world. Why? Not because it is, but because it is the most well known. Why is it the most well known? The Mona Lisa was more of a Di Vinci after thought most of its life. Not only was it not considered the world's best painting, it wasn't even considered the world's best Di Vinci. All that changed when, in 1911, it was stolen from the museum. If I recall correctly, it even took the staff a few days to realize it was gone. Well, world famous or no, that was a big deal, and the ensuing investigation to recover the painting made headlines worldwide. It was this story that made the painting so famous. Today, people pack in this room shoulder to shoulder, pushing and squirming and holding cameras up over their heads and in front of your face in order to "been there, done that" with it.  And....I get it. You are in the Louvre, you might as well. I did too. But it is frustrating and will try the patience of most museum lovers. What is even more of a pain? Across from the Mona Lisa, hanging on the opposite wall, is the largest painting in the Louvre, "The Wedding at Cana", by Paolo Veronese. It takes up the entire back wall, a whopping 22 feet wide, and 32 odd feet high. Can you get a good look at it? Barely, with the throng of people. Can you photograph it for later study? Not unless you want an entire crowd in your way. It's a shame, really. The far superior work gets no love from the selfie takers and large tour groups all with their backs to it looking at the enigmatic smile. 

We ended our trip to the Louvre in the French Romanticism wing. I was excited to be here and,Caravaggio and Victory aside, this was my favorite part of the Louvre this trip. I had not made it this far on my first visit. I burned out hours before. I was glad at this point for the audio guide keeping us on track. Again, my photos here do not do this wing justice. There were many pieces in this wing I enjoyed, but I loved taking in the large works of Théodore Géricault's "Raft of the Medusa", and Eugène Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People" most. After a full afternoon of all things classical, the romantics felt like a breath of fresh air. 

These works were pretty impossible to capture for this blog, but I encourage anyone interested to look them up online for further study if you are interested. Again, the movement in these I just find awe inspiring. The emotion in them is palpable, and the use of light and shadow is masterfully done. There is just so much going on in each of them. I am humbled with the amount of work must of gone into each work. Also, the crowds in this wing were so much lighter. We could walk through and enjoy at our leisure and really spend time with each piece. 

So, how did we do with our agenda? We clocked in at just a little under 5 hours. How did my feet hold up? I was in excruciating pain. I limped my sorry self right out of the museum, to the nearest park bench, and had to sit for about a half an hour. A solid rest and a little help from our bottle of "go-go juice" (a whiskey and coke we had in my bag) was the only thing that could get me back on my feet so we could head back to the hotel. In fact, it was this part of the trip where I began to realize my foot condition was worse than my doctor had diagnosed, but that is a whole different topic for a different time. Perhaps, though, anyone spending nearly 5 hours in the Louvre might be a little foot sore afterward. 

With this positively mammath museum out of the way, the only one left on our "must see"  art museum list this trip was the D'Orsay. I am glad we left it for last. It was my favorite, and really changed the way I view, and make art. More on the D'Orsay in Part 3. 

Thank you all for reading. I hope you find these blogs interesting and I hope they give you a little insight into how much I love to study art, what I look for, and what I try to take back with me from my travels. 

Links for further information:

Paris Museum Pass:

Rick Steves Audio Guides:

My favorite book on Caravaggio:

Louvre Website: