Tag Archives: paintings

Lose Yourself in the Louvre

When sun doesn’t shine, the air is cold and damp and the whole of Paris turns to grey, escape to the Palais du Louvre and lose yourself in its rambling galleries of treasures.

View from the Louvre
View from the Louvre

The site between the Rue de Rivoli and the Seine at the end of the Jardin des Tuileries, has been occupied by fortresses, castles and palaces since the 12th century. But it was the Sun King, Louis XIV who built the magnificent Palais du Louvre that stands there today. It became a Museum in 1793, after the French Revolution, and since then it has housed the treasures of the nation as well as a vast and continually growing wealth of art and artefacts from around the world.

There is no official starting or finishing point to the Louvre. The journey of discovery through the giant U of four floors is entirely a matter of personal choice. A guided tour of course will take you systematically around the high interest areas and an audioguide will talk you methodically through the collections. For the independent explorer, museum maps are clear, multi-lingual and laid out floor by floor, with collections coded by colour. Of course, you can always simply ramble at will and let one thing lead to another.

Whatever your particular passion in art, it’s all here at the Louvre; Oriental antiquities from Mesopotamia, Iran and the Levant, dating back to 7,000Bc, Egyptian antiquities from the earliest times to Cleopatra, Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities from the 3rd Millenium BC to 6AD, paintings, from the mid 13th century from the French, Italian, Spanish, Flemish, German and Dutch schools, Sculptures from the late Middle Ages to the mid 19th century from France, Italy, Spain and Northern Europe, objets d’art from the middle ages and the Renaissance  as well as decorative arts from the 17th and 18th centuries, jewellery and furniture, Islamaic Arts from Iran, Central Asia and India, prints and drwaings including the Edmond de Rothschild collection. Some, like La Jaconde or the Mona Lisa are world famous and are constantly surrounded by crowds of touriists, while, others, like many of the artefacts from Oceania, in their quiet gallery down on the ground floor, are little known and never crowded out.

The Louvre is as fascinating, too, for its own history, architecture and decoration as for the collections it contains. Two rooms are dedicated to the history and architectural development of the Louvre. But, as you browse through the other galleries, look above, around and beyond the paintings, sculptures and artefacts, the ceilings and the walls have their own stories to tell.

A Day at the Met.

Just to the east of Central Park’s great lawn lies the mighty Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of the largest and richest treasure houses on earth, it runs for four full city blocks, from East 80th, to East 84th Street and houses some of the world’s most prized booty.

At the Met.
At the Met.

Outside, the Met is a classical colossus of grey stone slabs, thick Doric pillars, tall veiled windows, heavy fascias and wide sweeping stairs. Inside, it’s a labyrinth of cavernous halls, long corridors, endless galleries – great and small, shadowy or blindingly bright –  and more sweeping stairs.

It was a damp, grey autumn day when I followed the lengthy queue through the Met’s revolving door, past security and up to the ticket office, where I paid my entrance fee and received a tiny metal badge, painted with a bold white M and colour coded (purple) for the day (Friday). It was wonderful weather for art galleries. Thousands of others obviously thought so too and my heart sank as I shuffled shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of them towards Greek Antiquities.

However, so vast is the Met, that I was easily able to find a free bench beside an armless marble deity, then to wander uncrowded among her stone brothers and sisters, through the ruins and spoils of their palaces and temples. I spent undisturbed hours mesmerized by the Modiglianis and other modern greats. I ambled through galleries, discovering American painters like Edward Hopper. I lost myself in rooms full of furniture and furnishings, including stained glass by Tiffany whom I knew only from his famous lamps. I wandered stunned and dumbfounded, among the magnificent Lehmann collection but couldn’t help speculating on how far it would have gone towards pulling the company he founded out of the economic abyss into which it had crashed in 2008.

Unfortunately, too, so vast is the Met that it is impossible to see all of its treasures in one visit, or even, I suspect in a hundred. I missed dozens of rooms and collections along with all the special exhibitions. I didn’t have time to queue for the fabulous ground floor restaurant overlooking Central Park. After a short break in the mezzanine café (perfect for people watching) and a cursory browse in the Met shop (brimming with great books, posters, toys and souvenirs) my day had gone. But I’ll go back to the Met, again and again and again if I get the chance!

The National Gallery

Art galleries and winter go together like summer and the beach – M.M.J. Kerr

Just as hot summer sun and bright blue skies send me sprinting for the beach in every spare moment, so do short grey, drizzly winter days send me scuttling for the shelter of the Museum or the Art Gallery. So, when the darkness of the London nights peel back on rain-streaked windows and a low sky which threatens more, I head across the river to refuge among other, more benign landscapes in the National Gallery.

The National Gallery on a summer day
The National Gallery on a summer day

The National Gallery began its life in 1824 with a collection of just thirty eight pictures. As the collection increased, a larger building was needed to house it. The grand old building, which stands on the northern edge of Trafalgar Square was designed by William Wilkins and was completed in 1836. A new east wing was added in 1876 by EM Barry who also remodeled the interiors. In 1991, the Sainsbury Wing, was added on the site of a bombed out former furniture store.  Now, National Gallery collection fills forty six rooms.

There’s plenty to occupy a rainy day. You can wander from room to gorgeous room across gleaming wooden floors, between walls painted in dark shades of green, burgundy and dark grey hung with masterpieces representing six centuries of painting from all over Europe. It’s a trip through time, beginning in the mid-thirteenth century and ending in 1900, and across Europe through Italy, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, England, France and Spain. All the great names are there; Botticelli, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Velasquez, Van Dyck, Rubens, Rembrandt, Canaletto, Guardi, Turner, Hogarth, Gainsborough, the French Impressionists, Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh and so are many of the great and famous paintings, like Caravaggio’s supper at Emmaeus and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Succinct and very helpful little cards beside each painting explain a little of its story as well as its date and the painter’s details. Audio-guides are available to give in-depth explanations and Gallery tours take visitors through selected works.

Should your eyes begin to smart from all this looking and reading, take your lead from the many custodians nodding off at their corner posts, sink onto one of the polished wooden benches or better still into one of the leather couches, conveniently placed along the centre of the galleries and have a quick kip. When hunger strikes, take a break, head for refreshments in the Espresso Bar, the National Café or the National Dining rooms.

In all my visits I have still only covered half of those rooms. Still, this being London and this being winter, I’m sure that there will be many more rainy days.

Prague’s National Museum

From its lofty seat at the top of the rise, the National Museum looks down like a grand old dame on Prague’s busy Wenceslas Square. Its gold dome and magnificent neo-Renaissance façade dominate the skyline.

The entrance to Prague's National Museum
The entrance to Prague’s National Museum

Although the Museum collection was established in 1818, it did not have a dedicated home until the present National Museum opened on May 18, 1881. Designed by the Czech Technical University’s Professor Josef Schultz, who was also the architect of the Rudolphinum and the National theatre, the National Museum was born of the Czech National Revival movement. It soon became an important symbol of Czech culture, science and learning.

The interior, which was not completed until 1903, is the product of the genius of 19th century Bohemia’s foremost artists and craftsmen. The pillared entrance hall is peopled with sculptor Ludwig Schwanthaler’s statues of Princess Libuse and her ploughman husband Premysl, King Wenceslas and Premysyl Otakar II. Dual staircases, flanked by paintings of Czech Castles and landscapes, lead up to the main gallery. The beautiful glass domed Pantheon displays busts and statues of famous Czech writers, artists and scholars. Its walls are lined with paintings depicting important Czech historical events.

The National Museum collection, which is the Czech Republic’s largest and oldest, is fascinating. It traces the evolution of the country and its people. It also includes a vast collection of minerals, fossils and animals, both skeletal and stuffed.

Today, the building across the road, which was once the seat of Parliament and then home to Radio Free Europe, is part of the museum complex. State-of- the- art exhibition spaces and 21st century displays have replaced the old vast echoing, halls with their polished wood and glass-fronted cabinets where once I lost myself for hours on a quiet, contemplative journey of discovery.

Still, the grand old gold-domed dame, survivor of World War II, when its central staircase was hit by a bomb and of the 1968 Soviet intervention when it was peppered with machine gun fire, will always be the mainstay of the institution, as strong a symbol of Czech culture, science and education as it was over a century ago.