Getting Lost in the Louvre

By Nomadic Matt | Published September 14th, 2009

Art in the LouvreI knew the Louvre was going to be huge. I knew the 7 hours I planned to spend there wasn’t going to be nearly enough. But I never thought I’d walk away after seeing something for 7 hours and feeling like I saw nothing. The Louvre is the biggest museum in the world with over thousands of square feet of space and millions of exhibits. It houses pieces from classical times to the 19th century. Even with two maps, I got lost wandering the hallways. I had to double back a few times because I ended up in random rooms. The museum is just too big! After 7 hours wandering the Louvre for Da Vinci’s Code, all I could think was a) I hardly feel like I saw anything and b) the Louvre is a bit overrated.

Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. My art interests lie in three places: 1) 18th century Dutch works, 2) Impressionism, and 3) Post-Impressionism/Pointillism. There is a small amount of Dutch art over in the Louvre but overall, it’s not my cup of tea.  Don’t get me wrong – The Louvre has many great works of art. There are many masterpieces that deserve your attention and no matter what your art preference is, you should at least see the Louvre for a day to get a feel for its size, collection, and place in the world.

That being said, I wouldn’t go back to the Louvre. I saw what I wanted to see. Why should you go back to a place you aren’t interested in? I’m going to save the debate about whether or not there are really any truly “must sees” in the world of personal preference but I’ll say that Louvre is worth a visit but a return visit really depends on what you consider art.  Seeing a lot of religious paintings and Greco-Roman statues is not my idea of art.  What art did I see that I liked?  The highlights of the Louvre for me were:

Art in the Louvre
The Winged Victory- I just really liked the work on this statue.
Art in the Louvre
The Apollo Gallery- The detail on the ceiling and the opulence of the room impressed me.

Art in the Louvre
Venus De Milo- It’s the Venus De Milo!

Art in the Louvre
Virgin on the Rocks- I love Leonardo paintings and this famous one is interesting to me because of the supposed hidden messages in it. This is an earlier version of this painting. He supposedly had to redo it because it was deemed anti-christian. The later version is in the National Gallery in London.

Art in the Louvre
The Mona Lisa- It was bigger than a I thought but I didn’t like how the 5 inches of glass reflects so much light that it was hard to see and this was the best photo I could get!

Art in the Louvre
The Marriage at Cana- The size, color, and detail interest me here.

Art in the Louvre
The Coronation of Napoleon- This is the biggest canvas the Louvre has. Maybe Napoleon was compensating for his size when he had it commissioned? Who knows. But I do know is that I love the detail and the grandeur of this painting. It’s impressive.

Art in the Louvre
I forget the name of this painting. I just like it. It’s simple.

Art in the Louvre
Same goes with this one. Forgot the name but I also like simplistic beauty in the painting.

Art in the Louvre
Liberty Leading the Way- This is a classic image of the French Revolution. Liberty is uniting all walks of life against tyranny. I’ve seen this painting in a few books and it was good to see it in real life.

I enjoyed seeing these works of art. I enjoyed going to the Louvre. But while getting lost among the hallways were fun, I think, at least for me, the Louvre was a one time visit. It was good to see but the multitude of impressionist museums in Paris will have my repeat business.

For more information, visit my page on backpacking Europe or my country and city guide to France.

comments 18 Comments

Wow, I did it in 2 hours, at best (i’m not really a huge art fan though), but like you I felt like I had to go to see The Mona Lisa & Venus De Milo (though reports suggest it’s not the originals of either, and the original Mona Lisa is kept away from prying photographers deep within the catacombs of La Louvre.

I must confess this was on a Contiki, so yeah didn’t expect to see much!

Wow – 7 hours is a lot of time to be in a museum. I forgot how much time I spent there, probably a few hours, but lost patience. The only two pieces of artwork I remember from it 11 years later are the Mona Lisa (it was swamped with tourists so I didn’t even get that close) and the Venus de Milo.

I’m all for smaller museums. If you enjoy impressionism, try to visit the Musee d’Orsay (Paris) which is all about the impressionist movement. It’s one of my favorite museums – set in a converted train station.

I agree that the Louvre is over-rated. If you do go again, I highly recommend just standing in the room with the Mona Lisa and watching faces. Some are surprised, others disappointed. It’s really quite amusing as everyone attempts to photograph her.

anne

Mara

I once read that if you started looking at objects from the Louvre the minute you were born and looked at one a minute until you died, you’d have to live to be 80 years old before you saw them all.

I’m going to make what I think is probably a shocking confession: Although I love art and museums and lived in Paris for 9 months and recently went back for a vacation for two weeks, I’ve never been inside the Louvre. Like you, I prefer my art in more concentrated doses and smaller settings. I’ve spent hours and hours inside some of Paris’ small museums (I’ve probably been to the Musee Rodin twenty times).

I know I need to visit the Louvre. Maybe next time I’m in Paris. But I appreciate your frank honesty on the subject – and your photos. Maybe I don’t need to go after all – I’ve seen them!

Zach

I remember when I went to the Louvre. I also felt that it was too big, but I was not disappointed by the quality of the art, despite not having a huge preference to classical style. Instead I left feeling like I missed out on many wonderful things, as I did not even walk through entire wings of the museum. I personally preferred being able to walk through a museum, like the previously mentioned Musee D’Orsay, and see the whole museum for what it was worth. I felt that there was just as much to see in these smaller museums, without the crowds, and left feeling like I got the full experience of the collection.

How funny, I had very similar sentiments. I was in Paris alone and devoted almost a whole day to explore the Louvre (I too was excited about it because of the Da Vinci Code). I was probably there no more than 3 hours. I hit the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, Mona Lisa, some of the other don’t-miss pieces, but after wandering around hallway and hallway of massive painting and getting hopelessly lost over and over, I had enough. The architecture was amazing, the works of art were incredible, but after a few hours, everything started to look the same or get boring. I love art, but apparently not enough! I’m so glad I went to see some of those major pieces, especially the Mona Lisa (which was laughably small), but I definitely don’t feel the need to go back.

I did it in half a day and saw the favourites (similar to yours) and in all my return trips to Paris, I have never gone back nor do I wish to do so on my next trip. I find I get bouts of ‘art overload’ when travelling in Europe if I visit too many churches, museums and spend time looking at frescoes.

The Mona Lisa was a big disappointment. But not the Venus de Milo…

Ant

I’ve been there, whizzed around and saw basically what you’ve photographed in your post and left with the same feeling. I’m not a fan of classical art at the best of times. I think the real beauty of the Louvre is the building itself.

The best photos are not of the Mona Lisa, it is of the people taking photos of the Mona Lisa.

NomadicMatt

There actually wasn’t that much of a crowd when I went. I was a bit surprised.

If it’s any consolation, the French Government did a study recently which claimed that if you were to visit and look at every piece in the museum, it would take you approximately 9 months!And I’m glad you noticed the roof details – I couldn’t believe how many people walked in and out of the rooms without looking up and they were sometimes the best artwork there!

I can so relate to your first paragraph, Matt. I felt the same way about the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. It’s pretty sad when you get lost in a museum even when you have a map! :-) Like everything else in life, it’s all about prioritizing. You’ve got better stamina than me, though. 7 hours is way past my point of endurance for any museum. I’d rather break it down into 3.5 hour chunks over 2 days. Anything longer than that, and I’d forget what I saw.

Matt,
Name of the painting you forgot – of the naked lady on the chaise is La Odalisque by Jean Ingres.

Personally I prefer the Musee D’Orsay, especially if you like impressionists – it seems more manageable. We did have a quick look at the Mona Lisa though. Enjoyed the shopping underneath th pyramid though, did you get the tip to go in by this underground entrance to avoid the crowds?

Liberty Leading the Way is fantastic, you get the true feel of the French Revolution, that part of history never stops giving me the shivers!

Sabrina

I was there twice and loved it every time… For your last two art interests, Musee d’Orsay would have been the better choice, not the Louvre, I know because I’m an impressionist fan too and Orsay was the bomb, also there are other impressionist museums in and around Paris :D

Vanderhelst

For impressionist works: the Musee d’Orsay is definitely the bomb. But dont overlook the Musee Monet Marmottan. Relatively new and they have some great works.

And here’s a nice pubquizz: have you noticed anything strange about the ladies’ legs, in the “Dejeuner sur l’herbe” (the Manet version) ?

My favorite piece of art is The Winged Victory. I literally was stunned to see it in person. I do wish that there was a way to see it without so many people around though, but at least it isn’t as bad as the Mona Lisa.

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