Monday, January 23, 2006

Screw the Louvre ?

Over Christmas at the fabulous Home Ranch in Colorado, I met a cross-country skiing cowboy from L.A. who got very excited about the NoCrowds idea. As I explained that searching out undervalued treasures was always better than following the diktats of “tick the box” tourism, he became even more excited. “Screw the Louvre” he exclaimed as we skied through the trees. “People will understand it. Put it on your business cards”.

Catchy, I thought but not really what we’re trying to accomplish. Yes, the Louvre is an icon of the overcrowded and compromised travel experience. But at the same time, the Louvre has 35,000 premier works of art on permanent display, is the largest museum in the world and has been in the business since 1793. Surely there must be a way to visit the “mother of all museums” that is pleasant and rewarding?

Based on the wonderful experience I had visiting London museums on their late nights, when I arrived in Paris last week, I immediately took off for the Louvre which is open until 9:45 on both Wednesdays and Fridays. Armed with my Paris Museum Pass (described in Paris Bits & Pieces), I arrived at the Louvre about 5:00, found no lines anywhere and entered through the Pyramide. Had there been a line, my Museum Pass would have allowed me to enter without waiting at the Porte Richelieu on the rue du Rivoli or the Porte des Lions or Galerie du Carrousel. (N.B. Porte Richelieu closes daily at 6:00).

Having easily navigated my entrance, I headed for the least crowded section, the Richelieu Wing and spent several hours exploring the Decorative Arts collection including Napoleon III’s opulent apartments and the museum’s collection of Northern European paintings. I was virtually alone. No tour groups in sight but the Rembrandts, Van Dycks, Davids and Poussins were fabulous. The illuminated views into the courtyard were inspiring. I loved it.

Emboldened by my success thus far, I ventured downstairs to see what was going on in the most crowded sections of the Louvre, the Galerie d’Apollon and the first floor rooms in the Denon wing. There were plenty of groups of what seemed to be well-heeled professional Parisians taking Art History courses milling about. The galleries were full but comfortably so. The atmosphere was fine.

The acid test of my late night hypothesis was that I was able to stand in front of the poor bullet-proofed Mona Lisa with a very small group of appreciative individuals. The fact that the Louvre has recently restricted the taking of photographs and videos in the most popular sections of the museum really helps one’s enjoyment of the experience.

At about 9:00, I’d had enough of my museum marathon and headed home. As was the case with so many museums in London, going to the Louvre at night made all the difference. Instead of the hordes that tramp through during the day, the people I shared the Louvre with last week were taking their time and seemed genuinely interested. The collections are everything they’re cracked up to be and you certainly get your money’s worth. Yes, the museum is totally confusing and even overwhelming but after giving the Louvre a pass for decades, I’m glad I went. Go at night and I think you will be too.

Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre station.
BusThe following bus lines stop in front of the Pyramid: 21, 24, 27, 39, 48, 68, 69, 72, 81, 95, and the Paris Open Tour bus.

Museum Opening Hours
Monday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The museum is closed on Tuesdays and some public holidays.
Ticket Prices
Eur 8.50 for full-day access, Eur 6 for access after 6:00 on Wednesdays and Fridays

Photo courtesy of the Louve website "Musee du Louvre" A. Dequier-M. Bard

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed this tour, and agree with you that the best time to visit are the nights when it is open late. I visited with my cousin several years ago, and we hit all the important works of art in a little over an hour, with no crowds to fight or obstruct our views. It was my "Louvre Lite" tour.