Art,  Paris

Le Marais, Paris in February

Le Marais

One of my favourite areas of Paris is the Marais district in the 3rd arrondissement. No matter what time of year it is that I am there, I am always enchanted by the charm of the vibrant streets with mixture of old architecture, modern stores, all sorts of people from around the world, and yet such a typical Parisian atmosphere. After a short walk from the metro stations of either Place de la Bastille ( with the new opera house) or Saint Paul (with the Cathedral), you arrive in one of the oldest areas of Paris.

The Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in France dating from 1605-1612 ( formerly called Place Royal, then an aristocratic area) is a delightful square with fountains and the statue of Louis XIII (1816) in the centre surrounded by tall linden and horse chestnut trees. Now, in February, the trees were without leaves, but the clipped linden trees that surround the manicured lawns had a fresh growth of red branches that were pointing straight up to the sky. Because the color of the fresh growth matched the red bricks of the houses surrounding the square, from a distance it looked like one grand impressionist painting to me. I have never seen anything like this and it was just as breathtaking as when they are fresh green in the spring or golden yellow in the fall. The benches in the square are always occupied by the locals and tourists, and there are often happy kids playing everywhere. It is lively, and yet, it offers a restful and peaceful break from the bustling city.

The streets of Marais have lovely fashionable stores as well as gorgeous 17th century mansions, some of which are open to the public where one can see the splendidly decorated interior.

One, Museum Carnavalet houses a museum of Parisian history in two neighbouring mansions from the 16th century.

Another is Victor Hugo’s home on one corner of Place des Vosges ( Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée – 6 place des Vosges). Both are worth a visit.

The Picasso Museum is housed in an amazing villa as well. The Hôtel Salé on rue de Thorigny is decorated with tasteful chandeliers and chairs designed by Giacometti. This is my favourite museum and it is always a source of fresh inspiration. This wonderful collection of modern artworks by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is right at home in the grandiose 17th century mansion ( built in 1656-9).Picasso produced many artworks in a monumental 17th century castle; Château du Vauvenargues, near Aix-en-Provence where he lived and worked between 1959-1962 and it is where he and his last wife Jacqueline are buried. I have a book of photographs of him and Jacqueline Roque as they go about their daily life and work at the castle. While the setting of the Picasso Museum, the Hôtel Salé, isn’t anywhere near the grand scale of the chateau he owned, the atmosphere reminds of the atelier where much of his art was created.

The gorgeous staircase
Recently renovated and reinstalled attic
La femme au Vase 1933

Since the 13th century, the Marais was known as the Jewish neighbourhood. There are many Jewish restaurants, bookshops, boulangeries and charcuteries along with synagogues on Rue des Rosiers between rue Mahler and rue des Hospitalières-St.-Gervais as well as on the side streets. The food that you can get here is delicious, my favorite are wonderful homemade falafels and mezze platters. I usually have a bite at the always crowded Chez Marianne.

The Museum of the art and history of Judaism (Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme) was opened in 1998 in the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan (1644-1650) at 71 Rue du Temple, one of the finest mansions in the Marais. The museum conveys the rich history and culture of Jews in Europe and North Africa from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. There is an interesting art exhibition coming up this spring ; Chagall, Modigliani, Soutine… Paris pour école 1905-1940 (April 2nd to August 23rd, 2020). Paris at this time period attracted artists from all over the world, such an artistic cosmopolitan mix was unprecedented in art history.