Paris may well be the best museum city in the world. Across the Seine, in the Tocadero Quarter, are three wonderful, relatively little known museums. The first, the Palais de Chaillot, located at I Place de Trocadero, contains the Cite de l’Architecture. The Galerie des Moulages, on its first floor, features 19th Century full-size plaster casts of some of the Great French Romanesque (11th-12th Century) church portals, and on the second and third floors, you will find 20th Century copies of the great French Romanesque frescos. These great works are seminal to Western art, and if you don’t plan to traipse around rural France seeking them out as we do, this museum is not to be missed.
The second museum – the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris – aims right at the heart of the 20th Century. Highlights of the collection are two versions of the Matisse La Danse de Paris, an enormous three-lunette architectural mural; the original is in the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. The Paris versions are a full-size preliminary study and a final version that was the wrong size for the Barnes.
The third museum brings us to the subject of this blog. The Musee Guimet at 6 place d’lena contains some spectacular art from Southeast Asia, China, India, and Japan, including a world-renowned collection of Khmer sculpture. The museum is now hosting an exhibition, open until January 7, 2013, entitled LE THE, histoires d’une boisson millenaire, defined in an excellent English language review of the show as Tea – History of an Ancient Drink. I was forced to rely on the review because, unfortunately, the show catalogue, brochure, and extended wall explanations contain not a word of English. We had been studying our French diligently, but these were beyond us. The museum, of course, has every right not to have any English, but it seemed odd when virtually every museum and church in France has some English descriptions. In any event, if you don’t read French, you may not get a great deal from the show, as most of the objects are tea implements of one form or another that, while interesting and of excellent quality, may not be revelatory to frequenters of this site.
The review indicates that the show explains the history of tea “… from the ‘balled tea’ of medieval China, Tibet and Mongolia to the ‘beaten tea’ of classical China and Japan and the ‘infused tea’ of modern China, Europe and the rest of the world.” The show includes a Tonne of Tea, a compressed block of tea by the Chinese avant garde artist Ai Weiwei, a short fascinating film about a female master tea taster, and some wonderful historic tea-related images.
Paris is a serious tea-drinking city, and, as I said earlier, the Guimet is a great museum. If you are going there anyway, and read French, by all means go to the show.