31 March 2011

Visiting Lyon's Fine Art Museum, Part 1

According to the website, Lyon's Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux Arts) is one of the largest museums in France and Europe. I've visited twice now and have still not seen everything.

For me, getting to the museum is a visual pleasure in itself. If you're coming from the Croix Rousse section of town, it's an easy walk down the gently winding montée de la grande côte (left).

The morning sunlight brings the multi-colored façades to life on the grande côte; on the ground floors of most buildings you can find cafés, art studios, crafts stores and specialty bookshops. There's even a luthier near the bottom, Claude Macabrey, should you want to buy a violin or cello.

The museum's inner courtyard and garden

The museum itself is located in the heart of Lyon between the Rhône and Saône rivers and is housed in a building whose foundations date back to the 6th century. Originally constructed as a monastery, the museum was first opened to visitors in 1803, but then for only one day a week - Wednesdays from 10 am to 1pm.

Today you can stroll through more than 70 rooms filled with sculptures, paintings, rare coins, antiquities and decorative objects. It's an impressive collection of art that literally spans millennia.

In the Egypt collection, which takes up only a portion of one wing of the museum,  you can see the coffin of Isetemkheb, daughter of Ankhsyenise, from around the 7th Century before our era (fourth from the left). It's decorated with detailed paintings and text that were meant to provide magical protection and "favor the rebirth of the deceased in the eternal kingdom".

Detail of a temple wall with hieroglyphics.

The Musée des Beaux Arts has its own statue of liberty, courtesy of Bartholdi. 
This one was sculpted in terra cotta and stands nearly a meter high. Inhabitants of Lyon know Bartholdi's work well - he created the famous fountain that now sits in the middle of the Terreaux Square opposite the museum entrance (that deserves its own post - coming up).

This room, known as La Chapelle, houses many of the museum's sculptures and has a wonderfully airy, almost etheric feel to it. It was a weekday when we visited, and just after lunch, so we had the place nearly to ourselves.

With two children and a mother in-law in tow, we unfortunately didn't make it to the see any of the paintings by Monet, Gauguin, Picasso or Matisse. That would have required another two hours...at least. I'll post again soon and include photos of the rest of the museum.

There's a boutique on the first floor that sells fine art books, jewellery, gift cards and poster-size replicas of some of the museum's works (open every day except Tuesday, 10am-5:45pm and Fridays from 10:30-5:45pm). 

The café restaurant serves light meals, pastries and hot and cold drinks: open everyday except Tuesdays from 10am-5:30pm (Fridays from 10:30am-5:30pm).

Adults can enter the museum's permanent collection for only 7 euros; for 9 euros they can see the temporary exhibits. Children 18 and under get in for free.

The museum is open everyday except Tuesdays and holidays, from 10am-6pm (Fridays from 10:30am to 6pm). 

If you plan on visiting during the lunch hour, beware that certain sections may be closed between 12:30 and 2pm.  That's understandable when you know that more than 130 people work at the museum everyday — even they have to eat lunch.

* as long as we're on the subject of artwork, the above photos are all © Alex Quici 2011.

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