Why I kind-of, secretly, just a wee bit Hate the Louvre

Tintoretto! TINTORETTO!
Tintoretto! TINTORETTO!

Despite the PHENOMENAL art on display at the Louvre, which saves me from hating the place wholeheartedly, in the darkest corner of my stone cold art historian heart I still harbor a bit of hate for the ol’ heap. And it’s for many of the same reasons that I sometimes lack patience with NYC’s Met. First, it’s too big, it’s too crowded. The casual visitor doesn’t know where to start or end and probably doesn’t have a very fruitful experience because of that. It’s overwhelming even when you KNOW a  lot about art and they don’t allow pack  mules inside to carry the necessary snacks.  Second,  the Louvre has the distinction of being particularly famous for a particularly uninteresting painting. WHY of all paintings has the Mona Lisa become the draw that she is? WHY. One of my dissertation chapters was on women’s portraiture in Renaissance Italy, so I’m not asking this question out of ignorance, but rather a complete lack of comprehension of  its appeal. And it’s hardly revolutionary for me to say this, but the viewing conditions for that painting are APPALLING. Huge crowds, a barrier, thick glass, why bother? Especially when, in the same room even, there are way more fascinating paintings (including a study by Tintoretto of his Paradise, which the real huge giant version is in Doge’s Palace, Venice)?!?! I’ll never understand.

The Tintoretto is to the left. Can you find the Mona Lisa?
The Tintoretto is to the left. Can you find the Mona Lisa?
Can you find it now?
Can you see it now?

The NYTimes Travel section (which I’ve had, uh, issues with in the past), recently featured an article about the idea of slowing down in museums, and being less focused on a check-list and more contemplative of artworks that you as an individual are actually interested in. While the NYTimes is rarely timely with their trend pieces, I genuinely hope this idea catches on. Because it’s the check-list mentality that makes certain (cough *Mona Lisa* cough) works the subject of much crowds and unpleasantness, when a broader scope of appeal for a wider range of artworks would make for a better experience for everybody. I know not everybody has the knowledge base that I do– thank god, an art history phd is really, really, really NOT for everyone (or almost anyone honestly)– but if the Mona Lisa wasn’t such a “must-see” (a concept that I abhor), it’s possible that visitors to the Louvre might engage with an Etruscan sarcophagus, or Babylonian gate, or a freaking amazing Tintoretto painting that actually fascinates them in a meaningful way. And the Louvre, which is so big, and has so many spectacular works (thanks for being so good at looting, Napoleonic soldiers!), could easily absorb all of its visitors, if only they weren’t all jammed into one room.

Long line. Loooooong line.
Long line. Loooooong line.
The huge crowds around the Nike of Samothrace, which I cropped out of yesterday's photo
The huge crowds around the Nike of Samothrace, which I cropped out of yesterday’s photo

Sigh. But, it’s still hard to deny the sheer grandiosity of the collection there. So I love the Louvre, but like with most love affairs there’s a wee bit of hate in there too.

How about we crowd around Cellini's Nymph of Fountainebleau instead?
How about we crowd around Cellini’s Nymph of Fountainebleau instead?
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46 thoughts on “Why I kind-of, secretly, just a wee bit Hate the Louvre

  1. I am ok with no snacks in art galleries but crowds are so annoying. I guess some paintings will always garner more fame. I went to see Edward Hopper’s exhibition in London a few years ago. Nighthawks was astonishing up close, but his etchings were the ones thatblew me away. Are you familiar with George Bellows btw?

      1. I am almost always open to persuasion, but no guarantees I’ll leave persuaded. And I like him fine, it’s just early 20th c. American painters aren’t folks that I think about much.

  2. The Louvre is totally overwhelming, but I kind of think that is great. I left exhausted; mentally, physically and spiritually. Just totally bombarded by art and talent and history and thoughts and love and it was a total visual overload. We came out needing a nap and a sandwich, with heart palpitations. Sure it was frustrating at times, with hordes of people not even looking at paintings with their eyes, just snapping pictures on their phones and facebooking them. That was making me a-crazy. But when we came out, we realized we had been inside for 10 hours. It was roller coaster level exciting and I can’t wait to do it again. You just have to.. take it in stages. When I was there there wasnt a soul around the Nike of Samothrace, which was an object that my sister basically made a pilgrimmage to come see. I noticed no one stopped at a painting unless they knew what it was “mona lisa” or if someone else was looking at it. Maybe we just need to teach more art to more people, then they would know to slow down and not just flock to one piece of canvas. I totally know what she’s smirking at now. All the idiots taking selfies with her for their facebook. PS I LIKE YOUR BLOG!

    1. 10 hours must be some sort of record! And ha, you’re probably right about Lisa’s smirk! I wish that people (and I’m mostly commenting on Americans here, I can’t really speak about other cultures aside to say that Italians tend to be much better about this) were better educated about art, but the humanities almost always get the shaft. and PS: THANKS!

  3. Agree with the fuss about The Lona Lisa – so many other beautiful paintings, why this one.

    Paris in autumn is amazing, less crowded more beautiful!! Defiantly worth a revisit

  4. haha – great post!! I feel bad, because I sometimes am really that ignorant, too… often I don’t know why a painting is special, but if it’s famous and in the museum I am at the moment, I want to see it… yeah, I’m a check-list guy… but at least I am honest!! 😉

  5. My visit to the Louvre in early Dec. was a sardines experience; impossible to really experience anything other than the absurdity of the experience itself, although I loved being in the portions of the building that were so very old.
    I’m totally puzzled by visitors photographing art, raising cell phones or cameras over the heads of other visitors. Unless you are an historian or teach art and plan to use the photographs for educational purposes, why not just purchase a much better version in the gift shop?

  6. Perhaps there is a pack-mentality issue, too — a I-want-to-see-it-because-everyone-else-has-seen-it situation.
    I use so-called must-see pieces of art at waypoints through such huge museums as the Louvre. I’ve only been to Paris once and at the time chose to split my Louvre experience over two days so as not to be mentally overwhelmed.
    Sometimes, knowing there is something noteworthy inside the museum is an enticement to go in and see what else is there. That was the case for me in Oslo, when I popped into the National Gallery because I knew there was a copy of The Scream in there. In doing so, I also got to see a fascinating survey of the evolution of European art over the centuries through a progression of well-placed exhibits.
    (I spent very little time with The Scream 🙂 )

    1. Maybe that is it. And I know that featuring highlights of collections can be a decent strategy, but no to the detriment of everything else! Thanks for reading and your adventures sound exciting! How was Oslo? I’ve never traveled in Scandinavia…

      1. My Nordic trip was fantastic. Lots to see, lots to learn. I’ve had a curious fascination with that part of the world since childhood and it was cool to be able to go. Would love to go back some day!

  7. I must admit I had some similar feelings as yours, after getting there early so as to beat some of the line, and heading straight for the Mona Lisa we actually had a pretty good view. Honestly though my first reaction was “really? That is the most famous painting in the worl!” Like you I thought most of the paintings lining the hall on the way to the Mon Lisa were more enjoyable and interesting. I will take the Orsay any day.

  8. Wow what a great opinion you have! For me places like the Louvre are places that you visit once, like the Eiffel Tower, to get the touristy feel and vibe of the place. You go there simply because it’s famous, well known, and every other people goes there. I usually find the great cultural beauty where tourists generally don’t go. Great read, keep up the good work!!

  9. I agree about the Mona Lisa! When I went to the Louvre several years ago, there was even velvet rope cornering off the large crowd in front of it. It was almost as if the museum goers were paparazzi and the Mona Lisa a visiting celebrity. That’s just how crowded it was and how many cameras were going off!

  10. Reading your post has reminded me just how much disappointed I was when I saw Mona Lisa for the first time. I mean, that’s it!? I was sure it was because of my lack of knowledge. 🙂

  11. You must have chosen the wrong time of the day and year to visit 😉 as most tourists do… 😀 A cold, drizzling day in January, as early as you can make it, is worth a try… 🙂 – you can breathe and see, with plenty of space for your thoughts!

    It’s the same everywhere… 😦 alas

    Thank you for the Like

    1. Well, aside from Rome, everywhere else I go, I can’t really claim to be anything other than a tourist, so there we are. I’ll aim for a crap time of year next time I go to Paris! Thank you for reading!

      1. It was meant to be jestful… the word tourist should have been in italics. I don’t believe I’ve ever been a tourist 😀 Not really a choice… Luckily I’ve got friends in many places around the world, so don’t have to find the time to be. 😉

        Yet, I know the feeling you describe particularly when I must go somewhere crowded on business or duty… I make a point of avoiding crowds, more so now that I am ‘vintage’. 🙂
        I’ve moved around a lot, studies, business, visit to friends and family across the big pond, hence time of year was haphazard, summer usually spent between work and family home (a must …)

      2. My comment was in jest as well– damn internet for not making tone more apparent! It sounds like you’ve had fascinating adventures and I do appreciate you dropping by my little blog. And I agree about crowds, best avoided!

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