Paris — Got your attention? Of course, that headline is misleading. The Louvre has one of the greatest collections of art in the world. It has a history and cachet that makes it a required stop for any art lover visiting the French capital.
But it is so expansive that it is difficult to enjoy the visit and really appreciate the art. The paintings are hung sometimes four high on the walls, which makes the top ones impossible to look at because of the glare.
It is the largest museum in the world with 38,000 objects spread across 782,910 square feet. The museum site was originally a 12th-century fortress, before being expanded by Francis I to be a royal palace in 1546.
In 1692, the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, which occupied the building, hosted a series of salons beginning in 1699. During the French Revolution, which began in 1789, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre be used as a museum. It opened Aug. 10, 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings, with the majority being confiscated royal and church property.
The now-famous glass pyramid was added in 1988 under a renovation plan proposed by President François Mitterrand.
The museum is home to so many iconic and historically important pieces that is it is ridiculous to suggest the museum is not great, but it is certainly unwieldy. With a bit of pruning it would be easier to navigate and easier to enjoy the works themselves. As it is, it is exhausting. Either one needs to hit a few targeted areas or take a day or two to navigate the vastness of the collection. The first option is preferable, but it’s not as though the average non-Parisian gets to pop off to the Louvre when they have a couple of hours to spare so a few things will have to be sacrificed.
Of course, there are the “rock stars,” Eugene Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People,” Théodore Gericault’s “Raft of the Medusa” are highlights that must be included in any tour, as is Jean-August-Dominique Ingres’ “Turkish Bath.” Among the antiquities is the Venus de Milo from the second century, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, carved in 305 BC, which is genuinely awe-inspring.
No matter the time of day, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” attracts a seething throng of humanity. It is almost impossible to get a good look at it, as it is behind glass, behind a rope, 10-feet from the viewer, and behind an almost impenetrable wall of tourists all taking selfies.
A better choice would be to walk on by and get up close and personal with the master’s “The Virgin on the Rocks” or “The Virgin and Child With St. Anne” or “John the Baptist.” There is much less of a crowd and a better chance to see the techniques that cemented his reputation.
There is so much to see — too much — that the casual visitor should target particular areas and focus on specific things, otherwise “museum fatigue” sets in fast.
The Louvre is magnificent and totally worth a visit, but be aware that it is impossible to see it all in a day — or even a week. It’s a pick-and-choose experience.
The museum is open Mondays, Thursdays and weekends from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. Admission is 15 euros ($16.80) for adults and is free for visitors 17 years and younger.