The Louvre by night
The world's most celebrated museum is even more fascinating in evening hoursby Richard Gaitet
Considered the largest museum in the world, the Louvre has only one problem: the crowds that it attracts. Visited every year by over 8.5 million art lovers, all vying to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa’s smile, the museum’s overwhelming success means that it doesn’t always allow for quiet contemplation. Indeed, often one is forced to share one’s love for Rubens with a group of noisy tourists, or refrain from admiring the Trois Grâces by Lucas Cranach (1531) due to a throng of rather badly behaved school children. Luckily for art lovers and aficionados, the evening is the best time of the day to visit.
Every Wednesday and Friday, you can wander about the museum without stepping on anyone’s toes. Less noise, less 20-strong hords of tourists and you can finally breathe. The light is equally magnificent. Had Owen Wilson, the hero of Woody Allen’s latest film Midnight in Paris, existed, he would be enchanted by the lighting, which accentuates the museum’s typically Parisian atmosphere. Through the windows, between one of Rembrandt’s Christs and a Nicolas Poussin bacchanal, you can watch the sun set whilst its light illuminates the Seine and the Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois Church. For a few hours, Vermeer and le Lorrain are reserved for a lucky few and some of the most remote rooms are practically empty.
Our little night-time stroll starts in the Donatello gallery. The brick ceiling of these ancient stables houses the rangy statues and images of the Italian Renaissance. Admire the many blushing characters with prominent cheekbones, echoing the discreet yet persistent atmosphere of seduction which envelops your visit.
Suddenly, bodies brushing against each other in front of Botticelli take on a whole new meaning. In the Apollo gallery, where some of the Louvre’s most exceptional pieces are displayed, a young woman asks her neighbour to bend down a tiny bit so she can see a fly box (1774) made out of black chiffon, practical for keeping beauty products in, the sort that aristocrats of the Ancien Regime would use on their faces to highlight the whiteness of their complexions. Coincidentally, a very pale woman who is fixated by Fragonard’s Verrou (1777) appears in front of us. In this gallant scene, a young man, accompanied by his friend, closes his bedroom door, whilst an apple – symbolic of forbidden pleasures – sits on the table. This brings us rather merrily to another very popular fantasy: spending the whole night at the museum.
In the comedy ‘A Night at the Museum,’ a security guard, played by Ben Stiller, watches works of art come to life following the museum’s closure. Imagine if you were trapped inside the Louvre, the voluptuous ladies from Turkish Bath invite you to join them? Of course one would have to get past security, which is basically impossible. Although, whether on your own or à deux, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the Jeune fille en buste by Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1794) to yourself? To run around the apartments of Napoleon III? To play with Charlemagne’s sword or Charles X’s sceptre? Or to go to sleep underneath Braque’s Oiseaux (1953), to dream underneath the Grecian sky installed by American artist Cy Twombly and entitled The Ceiling (2010)? It would be wonderful but unadvisable, especially since a ghost haunts the museum’s corridors. Legend has it that after midnight, in the Egyptology department, a masked silhouette, dressed in black and ready to kill, wanders around searching for the secret of a Moabite god named Belphegor. Hilariously, one night a terrified employee confused an umbrella with a mummy... Let’s wrap up here, it’s time to go. Outside, the night is still young.
Musée du Louvre
Wednesday and Friday nights from 6.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m., excluding bank holidays
Free for under 26 every Friday
To learn more about any of the works cited, check out Louvre.fr