We wanted an early start on our last day. Jane had spotted, during our first two days in Paris, a hotel that was renowned for its early and good quality breakfast. This was Frenchie Pigalle in Hotel Grand Pigalle where the chef (Greg Marchand) was a Jamie Oliver mentee/colleague who had now struck up successfully on his own. Certainly the coffee was good, my omelette was nice and Jane enjoyed her granola. Satisfyingly replete, we set off to fulfil our pre-booked visit to Sainte-Chapelle.
In a bit of spare time we walked around the front of Notre Dame Cathedral. A huge crane towers over the site but it is clear that the restoration following the great fire in April 2019 is well under way. Its current closure is presumably adding to the popularity of nearby Sainte Chappelle and the queue we joined outside the Palais de Justice was rather chaotic and substantial – even with our pre-booking.
We had a good moan to ourselves about the French system of queuing and the bottlenecks around security checking but actually we were in chapel with 30 minutes and had to reprimand ourselves for our impatience. The visit was, in any case, well worth the wait.
The building dates from the 14th century. Its highpoint are 15 terrific stained glass windows telling stories from the Old and New Testaments which date from that time. These windows are set in huge panels over 15 metres high under the extraordinarily high, barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Upper Chapel. Although the stained glass (over 1,000 pieces) is only of five colours, the overall effect is spectacular and there is huge detail in each piece. Apparently these details, such as facial features, have been picked out by painted-on mixes of powdered glass, oxides and vinegar.
The bright colours of the windows have been replenished through careful cleaning in recent years and luck and happenstance seems to have allowed the chapel to avoid predations of the French Revolution and war. It remains an awesome, gigantic space.
Beneath the upper chapel was a lower one that, with its low ceiling, resembled a crypt. It too has beautifully coloured stained glass, walls and columns. It was another lovely room.
Once back outside, we left the Ile De La Cite and strolled through the shopping streets of St Germain. I dived into the church of Saint-Sulpice while Jane bought socks. This is the second largest church in Paris (after the Notre Dame) and its simple internal structure ensured that its sheer size was the first thing I noticed. There are some famous murals including one by Eugène Delacroix but I found more interest in a small display showing the way the church had been realigned and then expanded from its inception in 1646 through to the late 1770s.
Jane and I split up for the afternoon. While she returned to the Marais district’s shops, I spent the afternoon in the Musée d’Orsay. This is a large, old railway station converted into multiple galleries for art but with the original carapace of the building still very much on show. It is yet another impressive Parisian building.
The art on show isn’t bad either! The collection of Impressionist art is perhaps the museum’s crown jewels. Its home on the top floor, alongside an equally strong collection of post-impressionist art, was the busiest part of the museum and by the time I arrived at the Van Gogh section I was flagging in the crowds a bit. This was despite the wonderful familiarity of his self-portraits and a version of the gorgeous ‘The Starry Night’.
Certainly there are so many famous paintings at the Musee D’Orsay. Occasionally, as a layman and non-artist, I felt a little frisson of self-satisfaction as I entered a room and either spotted a painting I knew or guessed correctly its artist creator.
Famous Pictures By Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet and Degas at Musee D’Orsay
Of course there was much that was new to me too. In particular I was struck by what I think I understood to be a number of ‘realist’ painters. I understood that realism predated impressionism; while realism focused on portraying accurate, detailed, almost unadorned depiction of everyday scenes, impressionism developed to capture how light interacts with the subject matter.
On several occasions my slow wandering around the museum was arrested by a picture that caught my eye and it often turned out to be by a realist painter. In the future, I will look out for painters I’d not heard of before this visit like James Tissot and Ernest Messonier.
Pictures That Caught My Eye By James Tissot
….And By Ernest Meissonier
I will also look out for exhibitions of work by Vilhelm Hammershoi, a Danish post-impressionist (I think – I’m no expert in all the genres) with strong artistic links back to 17th century Dutch masters. I saw two of his works, liked both and thought that Jane would like the grey tones in them.
I wandered back through the Tuileries to our hotel to meet up with Jane. I was both pretty exhausted and over-exposed to art by this time but I was very ready for another go at Buvette for dinner (rather than breakfast which we had tried earlier in out trip).
My coq au vin was excellent but the vegetable dishes were a little strange. Jane’s beetroot and horseradish dish and my chopped brussel sprout, raisin and nuts mix were both cold (deliberately) and so large that it was as well we were prepared to share rather than overdose on each. It felt good having had another dose of French food though – when in Paris…..
I’m looking forward to the next time!