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Le Carnet de France: Update on Paris museums

By Martine P. Dulles

Courtyard of the Hotel Carnavalet. Image copyrighted by musée Carnavalet – Histoire de Paris. Reprinted with permission.

As I write this article, France is still going through its third confinement. This time, it means a curfew every night from seven p.m. to six a.m. until May 3, no traveling more than ten kilometers (6.2 miles) from your principal residence (except with an authorization according to the special circumstances). Where possible, working at home is strongly encouraged. Schools are partly closed, and all restaurants, cafés and most stores are completely closed. And of course, movie theaters, concert halls and museums have not been open since last October.

But during this stressful and abnormal time, the cultural world has been very creative. Most museums and cultural associations have presented excellent webinars on Zoom, and plays, concerts and performances are available online, for free or at limited cost to the viewers. Every day, the actors of the renowned Comédie Française are reading passages of Marcel Proust’s novel A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time). Some opera productions have been shown on television that you would never have been able to enjoy in “normal” times unless you were present in the opera halls.

No time was wasted by museums, either, and when they will be allowed to reopen, we will discover that many changes and renovations have taken place.

One of the most major renovations was done at the Musée Carnavalet — Histoire de Paris. This museum is located in the heart of the Marais (23, rue de Sévigné, 75003 Paris) in one of the most exquisite hôtels particuliers (private mansions). It was built between 1548 and 1560. It is the oldest museum in Paris, created in 1880 to present the history of the city. In the museum, which was closed in 2017 for a total restoration, you will soon be able to see the exquisitely furnished period rooms, including Marcel Proust’s bedroom, and thousands of objects related to historical events that took place in Paris, as well as paintings, sculptors, written documents, photos and much more. As soon as museums are permitted to reopen, they will have a new exhibition on “Henri Cartier Bresson — Revoir Paris.”

Not far away, in the Hôtel Rohan-Guéménée (at 6, Place des Vosges, 75004 Paris) is the Maison Victor Hugo. On the third floor of this mansion is where the world-renowned poet lived. The décor is typical of the 19th century and many objects belonging to the author as well, as his letters and documents are displayed. Many other well-known writers visited him there. Temporary exhibits are also organized.

Still in the same neighborhood in the third arrondissement, is the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (the Museum of Hunting and Nature), Fondation François Sommer (at 60, rue des Archives, 75003 Paris). This privately owned museum was inaugurated in 1967 by the writer and then-Minister of Culture André Malraux. It closed in 2019 to be enlarged, but it will reopen sometime this year. Knowing that many readers of the Charleston Mercury are avid hunters and lovers of nature, I shall dedicate a whole article to this museum as soon as I can visit it.

On the Place de la Concorde are two magnificent palaces ordered by the King Louis XV (1710-1774). The one to the right, closest to the Jardins des Tuileries, is the Hôtel de la Marine (built in 1774). Its name comes from the fact that the French navy occupied some of the space until 2015. It has been undergoing renovation for the last four years and should open some of its rooms soon. We can expect it to be one of the most beautiful examples of the work of gifted art restorers. Magnificent woodwork from the 18th century, wall fabrics and curtains, antique furniture and artifacts will be in view. And of course, not to be missed, from the balcony is one of the most spectacular views of Paris towards the Seine, the Assemblée Nationale and the Tour Eiffel.

In the 12th century, King Louis VI decided to create an open food market, to which a covered space was added later on, and it was called “Les Halles,” located just north of the Seine River. That area became the center of Paris, and in the 19th century the writer Emile Zola (1840-1902) called it “le ventre de Paris” (Paris’s stomach) in one of his novels.

Next to Les Halles, a circular building was built in 1767 as a place for wheat and grain traders to work. Then it became La Bourse du Commerce (the commodities exchange), and it was used for trading until the beginning of the 21st century.

In 2016, the very successful businessman and avid contemporary art collector François Pinault bought the space to show part of his impressive art collection. Mr. Pinault also owns the Palazzo Grassi in Venice. He commissioned the internationally known Japanese architect, Tadao Andō, to restore and enhance the circular building.

Left: Facade of the Bourse du Commerce. Right: Inside the bourse, which will house the Collection Pinault. Photos by Vladimir Partalo. Images copyrighted by Pinault Collection of Tadao Ando Architect & Associates, Niney et Marca Architectes, Agence Pierre-Antoine Gatier. Reprinted with permission.

The reopening has been postponed a few times, but the Collection Pinault should be open to the public later this year. It will be the subject of a whole article as soon as I have been able to see this long-awaited exceptional project.

Due to the continuing pandemic, museums and art foundations will require the purchase of tickets prior to visits to limit the number of visitors at once. On their websites, most of them now bilingual, you will be able to arrange your visits, which I know some of you are eager to do as soon as possible.

Martine P. Dulles lives in France. Martine was a docent at the MET in New York and later a licensed tour guide in Charleston for many years. She now organizes bespoke tours in France and is a translator for cultural material. You may reach her at


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