BEYOND Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile at the Louvre, the shock of the new at Centre Pompidou, and glittering hall of mirrors at Versailles, France is home to a huge number of galleries and museums. Here is Le Journal’s guide to the overlooked, obscure, and totally unmissable museum and gallery experiences.
Musee Cinema et Miniature (Lyon)
Dedicated to preserving props before the big screen embraced CGI, and creating miniature French landmarks, this obscure museum in Lyon’s old district celebrates the genius of Dan Ohlmann, a miniature maker obsessed with the world of cinema.
The result is blissfully eclectic and includes everything from the terrifyingly realistic Alien Queen from Ridley Scott’s Alien movies (which took over twelve months to restore), the original movie set of Perfume: The Story of a Murder, props from The Chronicles of Narnia and Bat Man to 100 miniature sets, including a 1/12 scale of New York’s Natural History Museum.
You can’t get more contemporary than this gallery that lives under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Brimming with work by up and coming artists, this gallery has a reputation for spotting and fostering new talent. Specialising in photography, the walls of this gallery changes frequently, so check the website for the latest exhibition.
“Welcome, you are now entering the realm of death,” reads the sign above the archway that leads visitors through a labyrinth of meticulously stacked bones. It might sound off putting, but walking the well-trodden, but fortunately, well-lit path of the catacombs, 20 metres below ground, is a truly unique experience. When The Cemetery of Innocents started to impact on the local area in 1785, the remains of thousands of graves were moved to a former quarry. A visit to this remarkable place is sobering and unforgettable.
Musée National Rodin
You don’t have to be a fan of Auguste Rodin to be impressed by this unrivalled collection, housed in the mansion where the sculptor lived until the end of his life.
Opened in 1919, Rodin’s masterworks fill each room and are expertly placed around the garden. Some studies will remain permanently unfinished, but others, including his most famous pieces, including The Thinker, The Kiss and The Gates of Hell remain staggering examples of the artists’ skill.
Another draw card is the opportunity to see the work of Camille Claudel, Rodin’s gifted but emotionally fragile lover who would eventually end her days as a recluse in a mental asylum.
If you really want to understand Paris, this is a great place to start. Set in two town houses in the Marais district, the 600,000 plus exhibits represent the history of Paris displayed across a hundred or so rooms and opulent gardens.
Your visit begins in the 17th century, where guests follow the evolution and the revolutions that defined Paris, and finish in the 20th century. If you’re intrigued by the lives of the French and famous (who isn’t?), this is where you can see Marcel Proust’s bedroom and the laquer-work desk belonging to Marquis de Sevigne, the fiery aristocrat remembered for wit, striking good looks and the number of letters (up to twenty a day) penned to her daughter over 30 years.