Musée Carnavalet has been closed for four years but it was worth waiting and spending 58 million € under the supervision of Chatillon architects. Nathalie Crinière was in charge of the museography. Valérie Guillaume, its director since 2013, introduced our visit with a very politically correct speech on the importance of caring to young visitors and on the increase of exhibition space devoted to the prehistorical period to the 20 th century of the history of Paris. The new rooms dedicated to archeology and medieval sculptures on the floor below ground are spectacular and the period rooms recreated on the first floor stunning. There was too much energy spent on museography but the 3 800 objects and paintings are there to prove how rich Paris history is. The entrance is free and the visit is really worthwhile. Wear flat shoes, there are lots of stairs and walking…
There are a few outstanding pieces that were never shown before or so discreetly that you did not notice them. I was paticularly fascinated by the archeological and medieval rooms downstairs with all the finds from the recent diggings of Paris. But the period rooms from Hotel d’Uzès with its restored gilt panelings, the decor of the jeweler Fouquet by Alfons Mucha and the 17 th century ceilings of Hotel La Rivière by Charles le Brun are just mind-blowing. François Boucher’s charming paintings for Salon Demarteau as well as Café de Paris’s art nouveau décor. The dreary Marcel Proust bedroom will of course fascinate his followers but my heart went for the huge 18 th century Trompe l’Oeil by Paolo Antonio Brunetti, in the staircase of Hotel de Luynes on rue Saint Dominique, which was saved from destruction in 1900.
Of course since the museum relates the History of the city of Paris there are many more interesting pieces than just glamorous decors. But one has to thank the city for buying many rooms from private hotels which were destroyed in the 20 th century, thus saving great artistic wealth. Downstairs, a neolithic pirogue from 2 800 bc was found by the Seine river while the new ministry of finance of Bercy was being built. It is 5 meter long and very impressive.
There are also many first century Roman stone statues and sarcophages found while building the Hotel Dieu in 1867. A 3rd century necropolis of 2 000 graves uncovered many vases, glasses and even a child’s mask. On the same floor a painting of Sainte Geneviève, patron of Paris, herding her sheep was painted in 1530. There are all sorts of maps and models of the city of course. And a fantastic fireplace with wooden doors (I had never seen that before) which comes from rue des Bernardins, from the second half of the 17 th century.
After the period rooms, we walk across an adjacent building and into the rooms of the Revolution with a lovely model of the Bastille and numerous paintings and souvenirs from the Sans Culottes. Then Napoleon and a beautiful portrait of Juliette Récamier, some models of the Palais Royal and the construction of rue de Rivoli. Two very special models made by Pierre-Louis Foulley, describe in great detail the burning of the Hotel de Ville in 1830 and Louis Philippe’s arrival with his supporters. Foulley was a soldier under Napoleon and spent his retirement years recreating military scenes with hundreds of stand ins made of wood glass and fabric.
There are many fun objects in the museum including all the signs of the shops of Paris which you see as soon as you enter in the hall. There were no numbers of streets in Paris until the 20 th century and shops or addresses were indicated with visual signs like this wine merchants sign.
The last rooms include photography and a section on Baron Haussmann’s transformations of Paris and on Montmartre of course.
The museum is totally focused on children and labels for paintings are all positioned at the right height for an 8 year old. There are many screens with little films and a lot of money has been invested in museography. But one has to admit that the result is fantastic. The views on the medicinal garden and on the façade of Marquise de Sévigné‘s former hotel are very pretty and there is not one boring room in the place which now also includes Hotel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau thus extending the number of visors who can be there at the same time.
The cafeteria had not opened yet but it’s nice to know that there is one…
Musée Carnavalet is a museum of the city of Paris and entrance is free. It is closed Mondays. There will be some exhibitions starting with Cartier Bresson in June. The opening is on Saturday 29 May and you can book now.
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