The Louvre Museum is the most visited museum in the world in 2018

Big news: The Louvre reached 10.2 million visitors in 2018. Feverish media articles and exitement all around.

As I am providing The Louvre visits, I was even called in the morning by the Belgian radio and asked to comment this event (in Dutch):

Two of the questions posed by the journalist are worth a bit of elaboration:

1. Is the video of Beyoncé and J-Zay the contribution that made the record possible?

2. How many more visitors can museums as top attractions handle?

The said video was widely viewed and thus many people saw a number of works of art of the Louvre. Did this make viewers go to the Louvre? Would it have stimulated people to go and learn about art and history or were Beyoncé curves and wiggles stimulation enough?

What is certain, is that museums prefer to thought of as sexy rather than dusty and boring. Yet far more difficult is to be attractive in a pedagogical way. In how far this video helps the Louvre to ensure one of its 4 main tasks as a museum defined by ICOM namely to share knowledge and riches in an education manner, is far from clear to me (ICOM is the international organisation of museums and museum professionals which is committed to the research, conservation, continuation and communication to society of the world’s natural and cultural heritage, present and future, tangible and intangible).

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Beyoncé choses the Louvre because it is a place of exception in terms of history and art with no counterpart in the United States. Her gain is clear.

Does the Louvre need Beyoncé? And as the journalist pointed out, in what conditions do we want our visitors to come and admire this heritage? Of course the aim is to share the world’s treasures with an audience as large possible.

We had not time to develop this in the brief interview, but the two questions are intimately linked as I see and experience it on a daily basis. There are long queues in front of Louvre, yet inside, even on the busiest day, I could guide you around the Louvre meeting virtually no other visitors. Everyone rushes to see the 10 odd must-be-seen highlights. Now of course it is the Louvre itself who invites us to all go and see the same 10 highlights. The Louvre holds over half a million works of art of which 35.000 are on display. If it would better promote the rest of its vast collections, visitors would have a much more satisfying experience once inside. What is the point of a rich collection if you don’t make the most of it?

Today we send in thousands of people a day in vast museums with the message: you have to have seen this and this and this. Once inside you get a huge map to cover huge spaces: for the Louvre 72 735 m2 of galleries of the total surface of 360 000 m2). Works of art are accompanied by technical information like dates and artist name and a bit of context text. It is as if you send people to the swimming pool with only a technical manual. Go and swim here are 3 types of strokes you can use. From a more trivial point of view , the Louvre equally suffers from a lack of …toilets and benches to sit on and have a rest. If you attrack huge crowds who come from far a way and want to make the most of their expensive trip and stay as long they can handle, give them the dignity of a clean washroom and place to rest when it is needed.

Perhaps if the VIPs (politicians, businessmen, critics, …) also come on crazy busy days and sweat a bit with the rest of us instead of enjoying quiet spacious evenings for free, things would change.

So what are my humble recommendations to visitors in the current circumstances, because luckily you can go to the Louvre and have a very satisfactory visit:

  1. Come on quieter moments (evenings, winter, when the French are not on holiday, …)

  2. Like with any activity you are not familiar with, be prepared in accordance with your interests and your fellow travelers (children for example) : either plan your route and read up or book a guided tour (offered by the Louvre in French or English) or book a private guide

  3. Remember that most of us humans have a short attention span – know when to stop and keep it a happy experience and not a chore!

  4. Know that the world will be surrounding you – different cultures have different perceptions of bodily distance and rules of politeness. And some visitors rush in to go and see the Mona Lisa and back out in 20 minutes, so move out of the way when 40 of them rush your way otherwise you will be run over!

  5. Have your bottle of water and survival snack!

  6. Less is more! Give yourself time and contemplate, as far as is possible when it is very busy, to take in what you are looking at. Imagine you are alone in the museum and there is just you and Mona Lisa and she smiles at you and you will never know what she thinks… and nor will you really know it from any other human being and that is what she is about. Conveying or evoking universal human emotions by artifacts of all times and places, therein lies the magic of museums … politicians and museum directors willing to give us the correct circumstances to live them.

What has the new Indian, Chinese and Russian middle class visitor learned about the West during his visit in the Louvre?

For in the end the question that needs to be answered is what have visitors learned when they come out of the Louvre? Are museums concerned enough about this?

Deducing from the commentaries of the visitors I take around in group or private visits, the random visit is nice. But after a guided visit, people often come to realise the full and missed potential of a museum experience.

To come and go in a museum is not enough. The commentary on the defined set of works of art for a particular group visit at a given time, is another thing. It is a skill that requires knowledge and experience and is therefor is a profession, my profession. It is so true that it can stand on its own as a slide show lecture. I do this for some clients. It allows for a more in depth visit on the spot. But some also chose to use that new knowledge to go to the museum on their own or even not to go and simply enjoy the enrichment.

For the moment we are reducing the aim of the visitor to the Louvre to having looked at the designated highlights. That is not the aim we had, when we build museums in the 19th century. It was supposed to be a civilising experience (albeit paternalistic and subjective from our Western perspective).

What has the new Indian, Chinese and Russian middle class visitor learned about the West during his visit in the Louvre? Aren’t we missing opportunities here to communicate with the outside world? Old Europe that is struggling on many accounts to keep its head up in a fast-moving world. The world comes to us and what do we offer as an experience? Can we do no better? An adult Parisian with a solid art history background is not the same visitor as a group of Chinese families. Do we cater for them both the same?

More and more visitors for a cultural supermarket experience? Do we spend all that money on museums for that? I am not so sure that is something to cheer about. Let’s not see and promote it as entertainment otherwise it will be treated as such. Let the world come and go away saying, “Wow forget Harvard, Singapore, Dubai, … here is the new world of learning and wealth. These Europeans are intelligent with their cultural capital.”

What do we aspire to? Having the whole world come and see the Mona Lisa? It is simple: there is no time and room to do so. And for sure, it is not desirable. This painting is one of the very many beauties and riches mankind has produced. Let’s spread our interest, both in each museum and around the world, and appreciate every object and action for what they are.

Let’s be ambitious

Let’s attract those who want to come to the Louvre to learn and come out reborn. The day the Louvre is full of silent whispering people uninterested in taking selfies, insensitive to Beyoncé, mesmerized to finally see the translucent subtilities Mona Lisa’s skin or the relaxing back muscles of the Venus the Milo in the flesh, and seek out all the corners of the museum, we will have succuded in our mission. It is the day we will hear children wonder out loud.

If and when you come to the Louvre, be prepared or let yourself be guided. We the Guides are there just for that reason and we love what we do, foremostly because we can help you learn to see what you are looking at.

Flavia Claes

Picasso. Blue and rose


Acrobat with a ball
© Image The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow © Succession Picasso 2018

During the next three months you will have the opportunity to see Picasso at the Musée d’Orsay.  And yes, it is a must.  The show focuses on 6 early years of Picasso’s long and productive life. It starts in 1900 when the 18 year old Spanish artist arrives in Paris to immerse himself in one of the most fascinating and international cultural centres of the Western world.  The show ends in 1906 just before starting his cubist period. Coming from a large country at the edge of Europe, traditional and with a impressive history, going in the force of his life to Paris fin de siècle, with all the talent and ambition that was his.  This show succeeds in showing us the result of a multitude of influences of people and styles and whipped up by peaks and dips, moments of success, poverty and strong emotions. Of course in the Musée d’Orsay you couldn’t be in a better place to go out and seek the artists that influenced Picasso like Manet, Van Gogh and Degas after the exhibition!

He’s young but already an accomplished artist.  The years to come will be labelled as the blue and then pink period, but you will see much more than fully blue or pink paintings.  Around 300 works of art are on display and Orsay managed to get almost all of those that were on her wish list, so the show’s quality is consistent high.  It is a festival for eye, enjoying seeing the famous works in the flesh next to beautiful strangers.  The paintings are appropriately surrounded by drawings, prints, sculptures. Just a perfect way to learn yet a little bit more of this versatile and energetic artist.

Comparative displays (same subject in 3 stylistically different paintings 3 years in a row or the juxtaposition of paintings versus sculptures/drawings/various print media) allow you to contemplate this very nicely.  The exhibitions reminds us that before his famous cubist period a very productive period took place.  For such a prolific artist, it is interesting to see an exhibition that is limited in time but not in scope.

For those who were so far most intrigued by his cubist period, you will find a refreshing calm intensity of colours and the intriguing portraits especially of the blue period, when the human shape is still a person you can relate too: melancholic, pensive, defiant.
Clearly the end of the Belle Epoque and pre WWI was not the same experience for this feisty Spaniard than for the rich gentleman farmer that Monet became.

Two recommendations:

Have a look at what he painted before this period and remind yourself that he was a prodigy fine arts student.  Also, he was used to paint in different styles. Already before coming to Paris he had been painting in a very classical style to please his father while developing a modern style simultaneously.
Secondly, the quickest way into very popular Paris exhibitions like this one, is to go with a guided visit (offered by the museum in French) and buy your ticket for it on the Internet.  This to avoid the queue inside the museum to get into the exhibition itself.


Flavia Claes

“Wild Souls. Symbolism in the Baltic States” at Musée d’Orsay, Paris

But why did they name this exhibition “Wild Souls”?

Maybe to attract the crowds but it is misleading and does not serve this attractive exhibition well. If anything it’s just the opposite. When you walk through the show, if nature is omnipresent, it’s not wild but an intense, controled and quiet presence.

As my favourite art critic Philippe Dagen writes it in the newspaper Le Monde at end of April: “Not wild at all, these painters share a common history, which is European. They are not unaware of what is happening in Berlin, Vienna and Paris. Most began their education in St. Petersburg, which was not a stronghold of modernity around 1900, but many did travel to Western Europe, sometimes continuing their studies, visiting salons and museums. They know the German, Belgian, British or French symbolists with their chlorotic and languishing women, melancholic androgynous and nightmarish phantasmagoria. But they also know other contemporaries. The impressionists, Rodin, Whistler, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Böcklin, Klinger, Munch, Nabis, the Viennese: all are familiar to them, whatever their aesthetics. These Baltic artists participate in what is then an open space including the Russia of Cezanne and Matisse collectors: a space where men and ideas circulate freely and quickly, at the speed of the press and art magazines, among other means.”

With the exception of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, the internationally renowned Lithuanian painter and composer, the works of the majority of these artists are being shown outside their country for the first time.

So this exhibition proves that Estonia, Letland and Lithuania are very much a part of Europe. Most of us are simply not familiar with them. This exhibition does a great job filling that gap with a most beautiful selection of paintings. You come out with the warm feeling of having met a distance relative you didn’t even know you had.

The immediate occasion for this exhibition is the centenary celebration of the Baltic states’ independence after the First World War.

Not to be missed!

10 April – 15 July 2018

Illustration: Johann Walter (1869-1932), Young peasant girl
Circa 1904
– Oil on canvasRiga, National Museum of Fine Arts of Latvia
© Photo Normunds Braslinš


Flavia Claes


Do not miss the two following exhibitions in Paris until July 23, 2018!

Delacroix (1798-1863)
March 29-July 23, 2018
Musée du Louvre

Eugène Delacroix was one of the giants of French painting, but his last full retrospective exhibition in Paris dates back to 1963, the centenary year of his death. In collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre is holding a historic exhibition featuring some 180 works—mostly paintings—as a tribute to his entire career. From the young artist’s big hits at the Salons of the 1820s to his final, lesser-known, and mysterious religious paintings and landscapes, the exhibition will showcase the tension that characterizes the art of Delacroix, who strove for individuality while aspiring to follow in the footsteps of the Flemish and Venetian masters of the 16th and 17th centuries. It will aim to answer the questions raised by Delacroix’s long, prolific, and multifaceted career while introducing visitors to an engaging character: a virtuoso writer, painter, and illustrator who was curious, critical, and cultivated, infatuated with fame and devoted to his work. The exhibition will bring together masterpieces by Delacroix from museums in France (Lille, Bordeaux, Nancy, Montpellier, etc.) and exceptional international loans, particularly from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Belgium, and Hungary.

Much remains to be learnt about Delacroix’s career. It spanned a little over forty years, from 1821 to 1863, but most of his best known paintings were produced during the first decade. The output from the next three quarters of his career is difficult to define, as it cannot be confined to a single artistic movement. Although Delacroix is often hailed as a forerunner of modern colorists, his career does not always fit a formalist interpretation of 19th-century art.

The exhibition is organized in three sections, presenting the three major periods in Delacroix’s long career and highlighting the motivations that may have inspired and guided his painting. The first section — focusing on the conquest and triumph of the first decade — studies the artist’s break with neoclassicism and his renewed interest in the expressive and narrative possibilities of paint. The second part explores the ways in which his large public murals (his main activity from 1835 to 1855) impacted on his easel painting, with its visible tension between the monumental and the decorative. Finally, the third section shows how his later years were seemingly dominated by a keen interest in landscape painting, tempered by an attempt to extract the essence from his visual memories.

These keys to interpretation allow for a new classification that goes beyond a mere grouping by genre and transcends the classical–Romantic divide, indicating instead that Delacroix’s painting resonated with the great artistic movements of his day: Romanticism of course, but also Realism, eclecticism, and various forms of Historicism.

Exhibition curators: Sébastien Allard, Director of the Department of Paintings, Musée du Louvre; Côme Fabre, Department of Paintings, Musée du Louvre; Asher Miller, Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Grappling with the Modern:
From Delacroix to the Present Day

April 11–July 23, 2018
Musée Delacroix

In parallel to the retrospective exhibition at the Louvre, the Musée Delacroix is holding an exhibition on the murals painted by Delacroix for the Chapelle des Saints-Anges in the church of Saint-Sulpice (which has recently undergone conservation work). They include Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, a magnificent monumental painting that is often regarded as the artist’s spiritual testament; commissioned in 1849, it was not completed until 1861.  Delacroix set up his last studio (now the Musée Delacroix) on Rue de Fürstenberg, near Saint-Sulpice, in order to finish these superb decorative works that are of such significance to the museum. Moreover, the analysis and conservation work have shed new light on these three chapel paintings by Delacroix. The exhibition will be an opportunity to bring together works by Delacroix and by the many 19th- and 20th-century artists he inspired, including Gauguin, Epstein, Redon, and Chagall.

Source: Louvre’s press release dated March 29th 2018

The other Degas…

For lovers of Impressionism the Musée d’Orsay is the place to be in Paris. Plenty of iconic works of art of the second half of the 19th century in its permanent collections, but also great temporary exhibitions. This winter, it has prepared a very instructive exhibition about one of the public’s all time favourites: Edgar Degas. It is not to be missed for those who are keen to learn.




This time no retrospective of Degas’ ballerina paintings, but an exhibition that concentrates on the very foundations of his art: his drawing skills. The selection is historical, in the sense that it was not made by the curators but by Degas’ good friend and poet Paul Valery. The exhibition is based Valery’s book “Degas Danse Dessin” (Degas, dance, drawing) published in 1936 by Ambroise Vollard.  Valery penns down a non linear story of personal memories and anecdotes from other witnesses about Degas and illustrates it with a selection of 26 engravings of Degas’ work. It is especially astonishing how well the pastels are reproduced. Valery also gives us his own thoughts about art and painting and we learn that he did some painting himself.
The different sections of the exhibition are introduced by quotes from Valery’s book. The book, that was edited in a luxury version of 250 copies at the time, was purchased by fans of Degas amongst others Picasso which gives an idea of its quality and importance. In today’s money it costed about €1000. There exists a paperback edition of it now in a modified version for only … €250!
The exhibition is not very big, so you can walk it twice or trice to let it sink in good. This way you get an overlook first and then you can go back and forth comparing the exhibited works and concentrate on your favourites.
This is the kind of exhibition that makes you feel like you’re taking a giant step in the understanding of painting. Drawing is the basis of painting and here we are looking at a draughtsman who was recognised as a master of masters by many of his peers.

Go and treat yourself !

And if you are fond of pastels, then I hope you have the time to cross the river and go to the Petit Palais. An exceptional exhibition showing 150 pastel works from the collections of the museum are on display until the 8th of April. You can learn about the technique with examples from the mid 19th century until WWI.  Exceptional because pastels were often not preserved as they were sketches and because they are difficult to preserve, being sensitive to light and temperature changes. Most of the time they are therefore kept away from the public.

Here you can see pastels of the greatest masters of the 19th century, before they head back to their dark rooms.


Flavia Claes

Le Musée Nissim de Camondo in Paris

Le Musée Nissim de Camondo in the north west 8th arrondissement of Paris: one of many smaller museums to visit in Paris when you feel like being away from the crowds.  If you want to know more about the end of the 19th century high society then there is really only one way to go about it.  The single most defining attribute of the wealthy Parisien is his hôtel particulier.  His private mansion which is his castle, his home, his signature. This is where family life, social and business affairs are conducted.

The hôtels particuliers of Paris are an unique concept, they define you and your family.  A 19th century mansion build by the newly rich is not the same as an 17th century Hôtel Sully in the Marais, nor are all the 19th century mansions alike depending on their owners desire to focus on their modernity, show off their immense wealth, their political power and or their art collections.

The home of Moïse de Camondo was built as a modern accommodation with all the comforts the time period could offer and the efficiency a high society family with a large servant staff needed. Yet is was also tailor-made to host Moïse de Camondo’s impressive and already famous 18th decorative art collection which heavily focused on the most refined furniture. Moïse de Camondo donated his house to the French State in honour of his son Nissim de Camondo who died during WWI.

But one does not need to be amateur of 18th century to enjoy this exceptionally well preserved mansion that is now part of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs on rue de Rivoli next to the Louvre.  You will be able to walk through the house from kitchens to the private apartments, hear about the life of masters and servants (yes, Upstairs Downstairs comes to mind!), the ways of the rich and powerful, the ever delicate position of the members of the Jewish community, of the powerful attraction of the “Siècle des Lumières” (the Age of Enlightenment) on the European 19th century mind and learn more about an important chapter in the history of France’s luxury industry.

Don’t miss a stroll in the nearby Parc Monceau where André-Jacques Garnerin left from in a balloon in 1797 to be the first ever the first parachute jumper. Parc Monceau is the only 19th century park laid out by Baron Haussmann made of pre-existing park. If you feel like spoiling yourself, have lunch in the elegant Le Camondo restaurant (38€ for a three course meal) next to the museum.


Flavia Claes

Barbara at the Philharmonie de Paris

A friend of Jacques Brel, Georges Moustaki, Maurice Béjart, an independent and courageous woman who in the 50s went for her dreams following the female examples she admired and sacrificing much along the way to become one of the most important singer songwriters of her time.

A unique voice and a striking presence. For those who don’t know her, please head for the exhibition organised by  Philharmonie de Paris in its new Jean Nouvel building.All the exhibitions that I have seen there have been instructive but also very pleasant to visit. The Philharmonie’s curators know the art of combining information with moments contemplation where you sit or even sometimes lie down and stay as long as you like to dive in the world of sounds and images.

If you are touched by her, this is the place that will help you understand why. We meet a woman born in 1930 in the Batignolles area of the 17th arrondissement of Paris. As a Jewish child WWII was a road trip throughout from hiding place to hiding place. She launches her career in Belgium but really starts making it in the most exiting period of the left bank night life of the 50s and 60s.

This is the woman who accepted the invitation of a passionate German fan to come and give a concert in Germany in 1964. She took some convincing but ended up going and being extremely touched by the warm welcome that awaited her in the small town of Göttingen. So much so that she wrote a song for them there and then. A mutual gesture of friendship and desire for peace in postwar Europe.

​If you are too far to come in person, sit down tonight with a glass of wine in a warm living room (dog on your feet and fire place lit are good optionals) and listen to these. Let a bit of le Paris of the 60s enter your house…

Flavia Claes

Do not miss Hockney at the Centre Pompidou in Paris!

In collaboration with London’s Tate Britain and the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Centre Pompidou is to present the most comprehensive retrospective ever devoted to the work of David Hockney. The exhibition celebrates the artist’s 80th birthday, retracing his entire career through more than 160 works (paintings, photographs, engravings, video installations, drawings and printed works), including his most iconic paintings (swimming pools, double portraits and monumental landscapes) and some of his most recent creations.Read more…

A few days more to discover this tremendous retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris (until October 23, 2017)…

Flavia Claes

Art to better understand our world

We travel, go to museums and art galleries, visit cities and explore lands to increase our knowledge of the other one, of their past and present. It’s not just an intellectual enrichment, it’s very much a heartfelt pleasure to discover and be surprised by yet another thing we did not know! As guides this is very much what we do; to study and learn. Then we try and transmit.

It is very satisfying to guide my clients who come as tourists, cultured and curious to the bone. But there is another aspect of my profession that is important to me: participating in educational and emancipation projects that target a local public, some ordinary citizens, some less fortunate.

On the one hand working as a volunteer in established institutions, like the libraries of the Tate Gallery and the Greffrey Museum when I lived in London or the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent when in Belgium.

And on the other hand, working for small projects launched by inspiring people with great ideals and the necessary energy to make things actually come of the ground. In Brussels in 2009 IntoImage, the brainchild of Chris De Becker, was born, a non-profit organisation all about how to deal with images in an image-flooded society. IntoImage is for example currently creating a pedagogical tool for art initiation for school teachers.

Boussoles des Rues in Montmartre, Paris, June 2017

Now that I am here in Paris, I joined three other guides in the non-profit organisation “Boussoles des Rues” created by Fabien Renard. “Boussoles des Rues” offers guided tours free of charge to non-profit organisations like the “Secours Populaire” or the “Secours Catholique” who help the poorest and most vulnerable (including refugees in the process of obtaining their paperwork) in our society. They too are entitled to access the French national heritage for its beauty and for all the cultural information it holds.

To sum it all up: let’s arm everyone with these important tools for a well functioning democracy: art and culture!

Flavia Claes

Cézanne’s portraits at the Musée d’Orsay

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) painted almost 200 portraits during his career, including 26 of himself and 29 of his wife, Hortense Fiquet. The exhibition will explore the special pictorial and thematic characteristics of Cézanne’s portraiture, including his creation of complementary pairs and multiple versions of the same subject.Read more…

See also:

John Elderfield, former Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, about the Cézanne’s portraits and a good short bio of Cézanne here.

Do not miss this Musée d’Orsay’s exhibition in Paris until September 24, 2017!

Flavia Claes