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In Paris, Advice for the Louvre-Lorn

By Gerald W. Bracey
The Washington Post
Sunday, February 7, 1999; Page E02
   


You've smiled at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, drooled over the impressionists at the Musee d'Orsay and laughed at the ruby-red lip fountain at the Pompidou Center. Now what?

You've just begun. No city has as diverse an array of fine arts museums as Paris. Here's a short list of lesser-knowns. Most are off the beaten path, but are definitely worth seeking out.

If you're a Monet fan, don't miss L'Orangerie in the Tuileries, near the Place de la Concorde. The museum has a decent collection of impressionist and postimpressionist paintings, but its stunning treasures are Monet's eight monumental panels of water lilies displayed in two large oval rooms. The larger of the panels is about 50 feet long and eight feet high, the smaller ones about half that length. Close up, they look like purely experimental abstractions; from a distance, they look like . . . water lilies. Time your visit well: The museum is closed now for renovation, but reopens May 5 for a farewell exhibit before closing again for two years beginning Aug. 4.

The Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau is not as well-known as Monet. All the more reason to visit the Gustave Moreau Museum, his onetime home in the 9th arrondissement (14 Rue de la Rochefoucauld). Moreau once declared that his works, taken separately, would "perish," but that "taken together, they give a small idea of the kind of artist I was and of the atmosphere in which I liked to dream." He did not leave it to fate to keep his works together: Late in his life, he commissioned an architect to turn his home into a museum. Today you can view some 6,000 of his paintings, watercolors and drawings there.

A visit to the National Eugene Delacroix Museum, the artist's former apartment in St. Germain de Pres (6 Rue de Furstenberg), produces a very different feeling. Delacroix suffered for many years from chest infections (one eventually killed him), and evidence of his suffering can be seen everywhere, from the heavy double curtains to the narrow bed. Although his best works are in the Louvre, there are a number of fine works here, especially the frescoes in the chapel.

If your taste runs more to sculpture than painting, the Rodin and Maillol museums are near Napoleon's tomb at the St.-Louis Des Invalides. Actually, at the Maillol museum (59-61 Rue de Grenelle), you will find an unexpected feast of painting and sculpture, including Rodin masterpieces. Maillol painted before turning to sculpture and many of his sensuous works are hung here, along with paintings of Bonnard, Gauguin, Matisse, Dufy.

Auguste Rodin lived in an elegant mansion at the expense of the state (77 Rue de Varenne). In return for the home and a pension, he left France his works, many of which are displayed here--"The Kiss," "The Thinker" and "The Burghers of Calais," along with many others. Try to visit in summer, when the 2,000 rosebushes are in bloom.

One of the most unusual of Paris's fine arts museums is the Closet of Erik Satie (6 Rue Cortot). For part of his life, this composer of the late-19th and early-20th century lived in a single Montmartre room so small that he referred to it as a closet. The museum's roughly 8-by-8-foot space is not a re-creation of Satie's room. His pianos have been auctioned off and his furniture disappeared, but Satie's art collection remains--including a portrait of Satie by Picasso.

A short walk from Satie's closet leads you to the even more surreal Salvador Dali Center in Montmartre at 16 Rue Cortot (you didn't think such a showman would have a mundane "museum," did you?). Here you'll find more than 300 works of this self-enterprising, self-aggrandizing man. As might be expected, sales of his lithographs and drawings form a substantial part of the operation.

If you're exploring the newly chic Marais section of Paris, stop at the 16th-century Cognacq-Jay Museum(8 Rue Elzevir), once the home of art collector Ernest Cognacq and his wife, Marie-Louise Jay. It is one of the most elegant and intimate museums in Paris, displaying the collection that the couple garnered over a lifetime. Cognacq was the owner of La Samaritaine, the largest department store in Paris in 1925; he and his wife used to display his works in his store, where they caused quite a stir (imagine seeing a Rembrandt at Wal-Mart). The museum contains works by Watteau, Canaletto, Rembrandt, Rubens, Chardin and De La Tour, as well as a surprising collection of English paintings, including portraits by Russell, Reynolds, Romney and Lawrence.

Not far from the Cognacq-Jay is the relatively new (1986) Picasso Museum (5 Rue de Thorigny), containing the largest single collection of Picasso's drawings, paintings and sculptures. Nearby as well is the Victor Hugo Museum (6 Place des Vosges), the apartment in which Hugo wrote "Les Miserables." In addition to the original furnishings, the apartment contains many of the writer's drawings, notes and other memorabilia.

Whichever museums you decide to visit, buy a Carte Musees Monuments--museum pass--first. It permits unlimited access to some 70 museums and monuments, including all the biggies, for one, three or five days. And there's a bonus: You won't have to wait in line to get in. You can purchase the card in the United States from several agencies, including Marketing Challenges (212-529-8484, $60 for five days) and France Inc. (1-800-927-4765, $49 for five days). In Paris, a five-day pass is about $45 and is available at the Paris Tourist Office (127 Avenue Champs-Elysees), in major Metro stations or at any of the museums and monuments the card covers. Details: www.intermusees.com, www.paris-touristoffice.com.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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