I should start this with a disclaimer: I am by no means an expert on art, and my own creativity is limited to doodling my own name in a swirly fashion during particularly dull lectures. However, I am a bit pretentious and I do have free access to every gallery in Paris, so that makes me qualified to pass judgment now and again, right?
Now this is controversial, I know, but I think the Mona Lisa is a lot of fuss about nothing. Yeah I know that Da Vinci was a genius and all, but it really does baffle me why so many tourists flock to the Louvre and push their way to the front of the crowd to get a photo of a tiny, unremarkable painting of a frankly rather masculine-looking woman with no eyebrows, when there is so much more beauty to be found elsewhere in Paris. Take the Musée de l’Orangerie, for instance – if you have half an hour to kill and happen to be hanging around in the Jardin des Tuileries, there is nothing more lovely than to pop into this small, unassuming gallery and surround yourself with the Monet Nymphéas collection (literally, surround yourself – the huge paintings are curved around the walls of a big airy oval room, so you stand in the middle and feel as if you’re swimming among the waterlilies). And once you’ve had your fill of that Monet effect of feeling really, really calm, you can pop downstairs for a spot of Renoir and Van Gogh, plus a particularly hilarious Cézanne that I couldn’t help but imitate (see first picture – it would have been churlish not to, really…)
Equally cosy is the Musée Rodin, in the former house of the sculptor himself. Quite apart from the fact that sculptures of naked Grecian-esque men appeal to my juvenile sense of humour, I love this place – it’s a small, intimate museum crammed with Rodin pieces (The Kiss being a particular highlight), interspersed with the odd Monet just in case you find sculpture boring (but if you find sculpture boring, you should probably be seriously questioning what on earth you’re doing in the Rodin Museum anyway). It’s just round the corner from the Champs-Elysées, but you’d never know it – the museum and its accompanying gardens are a haven of tranquillity, a welcome microclimate in helter-skelter Paris. If you’re not already dying to visit by now (philistine) then bear in mind that posing in a look-aren’t-I-wise manner next to The Thinker makes for some pretty amusing photos. (I’m easily pleased!)
And, of course, an article about art in Paris would not be complete without giving a shout-out to the Musée d’Orsay. This is probably the only place in Paris which is totally, universally loved; I’ve yet to find someone whose idea of heaven doesn’t involve this beautifully-renovated old train station, now jam-packed with some of the best-known and loved Impressionist paintings in the world. It’s absolutely giddying to walk through room on room full of works by Monet and Renoir and Dégas ; paintings that you’ve seen on postcards and calendars a million times before without really thinking about them. Oh, and psych yourself up for Manet’s Déjeuner sur L’Herbe, because I can vouch that it has definite breath-taking-away potential. (And sorry to lower the tone, but I can’t resist from pointing out that a good gawp at L’Origine du Monde is always a bit of a giggle. I would include a picture for comic value, but I fear it would be somewhat too hot to handle for a St Andrews audience…)
However, for real, gritty, raw French art, there is no better place than 59, Rue de Rivoli. It may have a rather uninspiring name, but the reality is far from commonplace: go inside and lose yourself in six floors of 30 artists’ studios, all open for anyone to wander round. Chat to the artists, watch as their work appears before your very eyes, or just have a look at what’s on display – whatever you do, you won’t regret going here. This is the real French art scene – forget about the beret-wearing, easel-wielding, caricaturists along the River Seine!
Images – Katie Smith