Palais du Luxembourg

The D&O Diary’s European assignment continued last week with a long weekend stopover in the French capital city of Paris. February is not the month usually associated with the French city’s romantic image, but the weather was not too bad and it turned out to be a fine time for a visit.

There were two primary purposes for our visit. The first was to attend the Van Gogh exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay and the second was to attend the Opera at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on Friday evening. Both events far exceeded expectations.

The Van Gogh exhibit was extraordinarily well done. The exhibit concentrated on the artist’s works completed in what turned out to be his final weeks, while he was living in Auvers-sur-Oise. The exhibition showed a keen appreciation of the artist’s struggles and helped highlight how his artistic work reflected his difficulties.
The Musée d’Orsay occupies a grand formal rail station building on the left bank of the Seine. The building itself is quite interesting and ornate. (If you look closely through the clock in this picture, you can see La Louvre across the river.)
The Opera at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on Friday evening was a great experience. We were fortunate to see a truly brilliant performance of Handel’s Opera, Rinaldo. We appreciated the show all the more because the week before we had just visited Handel’s house in London (where Handel lived when he wrote the opera).
After the Opera, we walked across the river to catch our train back to our hotel, and we were treated to a nighttime light show at the Eiffel Tower.

Our Paris tour also included visits to several lesser-know museums in the city. For example, on the recommendation of a work colleague, we visited the Musée National de la Marine, which is located in the Palais de Chaillot, across the river from the Eiffel Tower.

We really enjoyed the Maritime museum. Many of the exhibits are interactive and the displays are quite interesting. We wound up staying much longer at the museum than we had planned.
The other great thing about the Maritime Museum is that it is located just across the river from the Eiffel Tower, and we were fortunate that on the day we visited the overcast skies cleared and we were afforded great views of the Tower and of the city beyond. We wound up having a picnic lunch on the steps overlooking the tower, which was something we weren’t expecting at all in February.

We also went to several smaller art museums throughout the city. Among Paris’s many great treasures are these numerous small little jewel box museums, many of which are full of unexpected delights.

The Musée Cognacq-Jay in the Marais preserves the private collection of Théodore-Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jaÿ, the founder of La Samaritaine department store and his wife. The museum has a particularly fine collection of paintings from the eras of Louis XV and Louis XVI, as well as period furniture and decorative art.
The Musée de la Vie Romantique, which is located in the 9th arrondissement at the foot of Montmartre, preserves the former home of the Dutch-born painter, Ary Scheffer. His home was the Parisian gathering-spot for the prominent artists and writers in the 1830s, including George Sand, Frédéric Chopin, Eugène Delacroix, and many others. The Museum preserves the paintings and drawings of many visitors who came to the house. It is a really interesting little museum.
The Musée de Montmartre is located in a preserved house that served as the residence and studio for a number of artists in the late 19th and early 20th century, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Suzanne Valadon, her son Maurice Utrillo, and numerous others. The museum and its grounds preserve a substantial slice of older Montmartre, and the many paintings in the museum’s collection preserve a record of a certain time and place. Of all the hidden jewels we discovered on this trip, this museum might have been the one we enjoyed the most. I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in Montmartre’s artistic history.

The only bad part about visiting Paris is that eventually you have to leave — in my case, to go back to London for the event that had been postponed from the week before. But we did establish, as if there were any doubt, that even in February, Paris is still Paris.

The early morning scene at the Gare du Nord, where I caught the Eurostar train back to London.