Saturday, 14 March 2009

Musee de l'Homme, Paris

The Musee de l'Homme disappointed me as an unremarkable display of early hominin skeletons, crania, and material culture (stone tools and early art).  The display is small, poorly displayed, and generally unmemorable.  However, when we were there last week, they had a temporary display of crania and stone tools from  Atapuerca, in Northern Spain (NB: the link is to an exhibit at a different museum, not the one at Musee de l'Homme).  Atapuerca is a cluster of early hominin sites with dates between 1 million and 400,000 years before present.  An astounding quantity of hominin remains have been found at a cave beneath the Atapuerca hillside (at the Sima de los Huesos- literally "pit of bones").  The species seems to be a regional H. heidelbergensis species currently being called H. antecessor by palaeoanthropologists in the know.  Although the identification of this population as a unique species is controversial and debated, this group of sites is some of the earliest evidence we have of hominin occupation of Europe, so it's an exceptional find.

The exhibition itself was well-displayed and organised, with lots of accompanying information in both English and French.  Remarkably, the actual crania were on display, along with some of the handaxes found at the sites.  I loved it, and my family even tolerated it, so couldn't have been a total bore to non-archaeologists.  If you're in the area and have 45 minutes to kill, it's worth the admission fee (about 5 Euros).  

My advice: skip the permanent collections and go straight to the Atapuerca exhibition.  Take the Metro to Trocadero and then follow the signs from there. Don't miss the fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower!

Musee de l'Orangerie, Paris

I'm behind on the blog.  Apologies.

We went to Paris last weekend and spent part of one afternoon at Musee de l'Orangerie.  The Orangerie museum is exceptional for one reason: the two, oval shaped rooms that house a series of Monet's waterlilies (or Les Nympheas), which were commissioned to be painted for those two spaces.  And they are extraordinary. 

The experience of standing in those rooms, surrounded by his waterlilies, is unique and like nothing else in this world.  Despite the over-marketing of Impressionist art, and the almost cliche status that Monet's paintings have acquired in the past 75 years, this display makes you stop and really look at these icons of early modernism.  Monet, and this exhibition of his work, truly manage to create an "Impression," and it's memorable.  I had last been in the museum in 1994, when I was 12 years old, and I still remember the experience.  So many of my memories from that first trip to Europe have turned out to be inaccurate upon revisiting those places in the past 4 years.  But the memory of this museum, and the feeling of being engulfed by Monet's waterlilies, was unpolluted by the 15 years that passed.  

The museum is very worthy of an hour of your time, even if all you do is sit in those two rooms and try to pick your jaw up off the floor. The rest of the collection is less remarkable, but worth a quick spin through it for the sake of being complete.

To get there, take the Metro to Concorde.  Admission is a bit steep (7.50 Euros) but it's well worth it.  It's open every day but Tuesday, from 9am to 6pm.  Also, they have a nice little gift shop where I scored a cute baby book in French for our good friends who have a (hopefully) bilingual 7 month old.  So all in all, a successful visit.