The Louvre in Lens, that is. Lens is in the Pas-de-Calais region of France, about an hour's drive from the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais. It's close enough for a day trip, at least for anyone who lives reasonably close to Folkestone or Dover.
The Louvre-Lens is located in the outskirts of Lens (pronounced lahnce), an industrial mining town characterized by huge black pyramids, the slag heaps it's been known for up until now. You see them as you drive down the autoroute toward Paris, and wonder why no one has thought to capitalize on the huge tourist potential of slag heaps before.
That's all about to change, I suspect.
The Louvre-Lens, an outpost of the world's greatest art museum, opened in December to very little fanfare. Maybe everyone assumed the pieces on display there would be relics stored in the attic at the Louvre, some artwork growing moldy in the basement. But that's not what they put on display at Louvre-Lens. One of the most famous paintings from the Louvre, Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People, is there. There's a pretty Goya painting of his friend, Mariana Waldstein. There's a Sir Joshua Reynolds painting of a young child, come all the way from England.
And there are fascinating works of antiquity, including this athlete holding a discus:
Athlete holding a discus, a Roman copy of a bronze discophorus
I found myself wanting to hold a conversation with this expressive bust:
The site was designed by Japanese architectural firm SANAA, and in itself it's something of a piece of art. More landscaping will be done as the weather warms, but already there are interesting features in the concrete surface leading up the the museum's entrance. It's like fishponds cut into the concrete, outlined with grass. Little concrete oases. Industrial, yet somehow charming.
The inside space is well lit (photos are allowed!), and best of all, does away completely with the idea that art must be displayed inside of room after room after room, connected like a maze and containing only those pieces that fit the time period and the room's scheme. Here you'll find a long time line on one translucent wall, inside a hangar-like area full of objects loosely grouped by geographic location and time period, so that a Greek sculpture overlooks a Byzantine bowl which is next to a Renaissance portrait...you get the picture.
There are also three round rooms at the end of the hangar, with pieces from different time periods and techniques, which attempt to string together a theme. This was not entirely successful, and I can imagine the rooms getting very cramped and crowded in the summer during tourist season.
Another area that doesn't hold promise for the summer was the cafe, and the limited seating nearby. The line to get a bite to eat was long and practically unmoving, and there looked to be nowhere to sit. We'd have wasted another hour or two just to get a cup of tea, so we left and found a services along the A26 as we headed back to Calais.
Some of my favorite pieces are below. If you do go to the Louvre-Lens, you'll need to take the A26 toward Paris upon leaving the port in Calais. (Here is the location on Google maps.) The website for the Louvre-Lens is in French but Google will helpfully translate if you ask it to.
Below are more of my favorite works of art at the museum.
D'Alembert, the inventor of the encyclopedia, by Felix Lecomte