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It is the largest museum in the world and last year 10 million visitors passed through I.M. Pei’s pyramid. The Musée du Louvre has more than 38,000 pieces of art including statues, paintings and objets d’art on display, and that is only 30% of the art the museum holds. Full disclosure, I love the Louvre and have spent hundreds of hours inside its historic walls. Three hours spent in the Cour Puget discovering every nook and cranny of a statue and weaving through the countless rooms is my happy place. Therefore, when I was able to experience the Louvre few would get to see, I jumped at the chance.
The only thing that can dampen my visit is the hordes of people, traipsing through looking for only one thing, the Mona Lisa. There is so much more to the Louvre than La Jaconde. Recently the Louvre has been in the press as some of its staff have gone on strike protesting the increase of guests with not enough staff to manage them. On a recent visit, I happened to be wearing all black, which is the Louvre staff uniform, and sitting on a chair in the Denon wing taking notes– and no less than 10 tourists asked me where the Mona Lisa was within three minutes. I made the mental note to never wear all black again and not be near the Lady of the Louvre during peak times. However, this is where the frustration of the staff comes from. Renovations in the Salle Molien have the large room closed off to help move the crowds, sending them through much smaller rooms to get to the Mona Lisa. The influx of people has made it difficult for staff to do their job and protect the art of the Louvre. The size of the collection and the thousands of visitors every day is what turns most people off when considering a visit to this amazing museum.
One magical day for a few hours, I was able to avoid all of that and walk through the Louvre as if I was Beyoncé. My biggest dream came true– to be alone in the Louvre. After Beyoncé’s Louvre-filmed music video was released, a gentleman advertised that you too can go into the Louvre alone… for $38,000. A bit out of my price range, but I’m sure somebody would take him up on it. The thought of walking through each room, alone without anybody else walking in front of you– taking selfies and racing to check things off the list– was a dream that surely seemed out of reach.
In all my trips to Paris, I have been very lucky to meet some wonderful people and through one of them, I was able to make that dream a reality. So on a spring Tuesday morning, when the Louvre was closed off to visitors, I made my way inside my beloved walls. With a special letter of clearance, a pass and after a bit of instruction, I was able to stroll as I please. With only three hours I had to manage my time carefully, you would be surprised how fast it can go. Through my countless visits to the Louvre I have learned where many of the back staircases and passages are to get you through quicker and that definitely came in handy on this day.
Closing day at the Louvre by no means me they have the day off. As I strolled through the rooms, the Louvre is busy with workers moving pieces around, taking them down to send to other museums for temporary exhibits and restoring paintings too large to move. It was seeing a place I love in a completely new way.
First on my list was the Salle des Caryatides in the Sully wing. I have stood in front of the Diane de Versailles statue countless times looking at the Caryatide trying to imagine the room as it was in the 16th century– what Francis I began, finished by his son Henri II with the help of architect Pierre Lescot. Lescot designed and built the room from 1546 to 1549 and sculpture Jean Goujon, who did much of the work on the exterior of the Cour Carrée, carved the Caryatides.
In 1610 from June 10 to the 21, following the death of Henri IV, a wax effigy was placed in the salle to lay in state where he was covered with a cloth of gold and surrounded by candles. The walls and windows were covered in dark cloth and masses were held all day in his memory. At night, lavish meals were set up, where members of the court attended, sat in total silence and ate in splendor in front of the wax king. On this day, I was able to walk the entire room, stand in front of Diane, discover the amazing beauty this room holds, and imagine the kings and queen before me that walked this very space.
In the nearby Salle des Sept-Cheminées, the space that normally holds the collection donated by Carlos de Beistegui, currently closed for renovation, holds two large paintings that are being painstakingly restored. We all visit a museum and see works of art by the masters hanging on the wall and rarely do we know the work it takes to keep these masterpieces in perfect condition. It was fascinating to watch the highly trained Louvre restorers work on each of the tiniest details very few will even notice.
When you experience a museum alone, without the chatter of visitors, the paintings and statues begin to speak and you can focus in on what they are telling you. In Théodore Géricault’s Le Radeau de la Méduse, you can see the panic and despair in their faces and the muscles in their arms as they cling to life. In the silence, the fabric swathing the Winged Victory of Samothrace glides against her body as if the breeze is blowing across her up the grand staircase. To have the opportunity to sit and look undisturbed in front of my favorite Eugène Delacroix’s Le 28 juillet, la Liberté guidant le people is a moment I will never forget. With her arm raised high holding the tricolor while the young boy proudly heads straight into battle, Delacroix’s most recognized painting with its towers of Notre-Dame de Paris rising over the smoke takes on a whole new meaning now. I only wish the Salle Molien had been open and I could have spent time with Josephine and Napoleon in Notre-Dame on the day of his coronation in 1804.
For many people the Louvre is one more thing to check off the list when they come to Paris. Racing from one place to the other, or as my grandmother says, “hold the taxi, I want to see the Mona Lisa”, few have the chance to really SEE Paris. While such an amazing opportunity such as I had is a rarity, you can still experience the beauty that the Louvre holds and you should. Going on Wednesday and Friday night when the museum stays open until 9:45pm is a great way to beat the crowds and you may even find yourself in some rooms alone. When you have that chance, even if it is only for a few minutes, close your eyes and take a deep breath. When you open your eyes, look around you, I promise it will be as if you have never seen it before.
AirBnB is now offering very small tours of the Louvre for a few Tuesdays this summer and fall. With only a dozen other people they will guide you on closing day through a once in a lifetime experience. If you are going to Paris and somebody tells you to skip the Louvre, don’t listen to them and please go and with your eyes and heart wide open. If you find it overwhelming and need help tackling your own plan, reach out and I am happy to help.
Lead photo credit : Diane of Versailles at the Louvre. Photo: Claudine Hemingway
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