If you’re a sponge for culture, a trip to the Louvre-Lens might be just the ticket. This satellite of Paris’ famous art museum has breathed life into the former mining town of Lens. But only just.
The idea behind building an outpost of the Louvre was to bring culture to the masses of France, not just to Parisians. Surprisingly, only the then Nord-Pas-de-Calais region put forward any contenders to host it – and Lens won.
I assume Lille lost out because it already hosts France’s second largest art museum, the Palais des Beaux Arts.
To be honest, apart from the Louvre, Lens doesn’t have much going for it. When we arrived around midday on a Sunday, we found the streets deserted.
After lunch in a restaurant that specialised in the local ficelles picardes, we headed off in search of art with very full bellies.
“Next up for me is a return to Lille’s Palais des Beaux Arts for an exhibition of Matisse works with my mother-in-law…”
The museum opened in 2012. It was built on the site of a mine that closed in the 1960s and was later filled in, which explains why it is slightly elevated.
Outside, it is made up of five single-storey buildings. The central one is glass, while the others have polished aluminium façades that are designed to reflect the surroundings.
Inside, it’s like no museum I have ever been to. Its claim to offer ‘5,000 years of history at a glance’ is true – the gallery is one giant space.
Covering some 3,000 sq m, it is home to 200 works on loan from its parent in Paris. The chronological display starts in 4,000 BC and runs through to the mid-19th century.
What it does brilliantly cleverly is show you the influence of one period – one civilisation – on another.
The layout changes each year, so you can keep going back and seeing new things. That means it should feel fresh if we go again.
Next up for me, though, is a return to Lille’s Palais des Beaux Arts for an exhibition of Matisse works.
I’ll be taking my mother-in-law there when she comes to stay at Christmas. Damon’s working all over the holiday period, which means I’ll have her all to myself for four days…
So that’s something to look forward to.