The Musee de Les Arts Decoratifs is one that I was really looking forward to. It wound up being a lot like I thought it would be. And also nothing like I thought it would be.
I thought it would be full of amazing decorative items. As I mention here often, I’m a big fan of art nouveau, and French was the center of the art nouveau movement in the late 1890s and early 1900s. But, surprisingly, art nouveau isn’t much on display here in the museums. The D’Orsay has a few rooms of mostly furniture. But my particular favorites are the jewelry, metal work, fabrics and OMG, the posters. There wasn’t a single art nouveau poster in any of the museums I’ve been to previously.
Well, the Musee de Les Arts Decoratifs has 3-4 rooms of art nouveau furniture and pottery. I’m mostly “meh” on nouveau furniture, but I enjoyed looking at it. Some of the glasswork and the pottery is phenomenal. I’m disappointed not to see more candlesticks and metalwork, but at least it was something. There’s also zero in the way of nouveau textiles. The museum has a similar quantity of art deco furniture and objects. I’m not that into deco as a rule, though I do like the posters and jewelry.
My sincere interest and lingering makes the aide in the nouveau rooms take a liking to me. I tell her about my difficulties in finding nouveau here, and she advises me that there’s a fabulous nouveau room on the first floor that has been closed except for private parties. She tells me I might be able to see it, though. I try later: no dice.
There is a really great vintage jewelry display here. Fabulous victorian and edwardian jewelry. For nouveau jewelry, it’s the creme de la creme: lots of pieces by Lalique, Gaillard and Fouquet. I’m in there so long, I’m worried they might think I’m a thief. The stuff is just gorgeous and I’m in awe. I’m not sure my pictures do it justice. There’s only so much you can do when stuff is in cases and behind glass. There are also some interesting pieces in a post-1940 gallery, if you like that period of jewelry.
Two surprise collections in this museum, and they were great. Unfortunately, they didn’t allow photos, so I’m going to have to just describe them as best I can. First up, the history of women’s underwear. You go, Paris. Two floors of women’s underwear. It’s really quite compelling to see and to realize how awful it must have been to wear the contraptions from the 1700s and 1800s. I mean, this is a thorough display, and it’s very well done. Mannequins galore, lots of samples, even a motorized bustle. Fascinating. It was a little hard to follow some of it because the explanations of the gear were mostly in French. I looked for a long time at this weird, sort-of sideways bustle that unfolded like accordion-style. And it was metal, ladies. It must have pinched so badly! The display even had a little interactive area where girls could try on some of the hoop skirts. Some college girls were in there, and they were having a pretty good time twirling around in the skirts. I imagine a much better time than the ladies who wore them on a daily basis. I head upstairs and am astonished to find there’s more. And it’s pretty cool that they have modern day examples that harken back to the earlier eras. Well done, very well done.
My favorite display in the whole museum, though, is the ephemera section. They call it “publicite’.” I love ephemera; always have. It’s often so charming and it reveals a lot about the way we live our lives. And plus, I work in advertising. So I get a kick out of seeing how other copywriters and art directors were trying to persuade people. The illustrations are frequently wonderful, too.
There’s a very cool display of vintage hand fans. I’d never thought of it before, but many companies used them as promotional tools. The designs were so beautiful and clever. I looked at every single one twice. I so SO wanted to photograph them, but I do understand that ephemera is fragile. Of course there was an idiot in there photographing them with a flash, which made me feel a bit resentful that I was respecting the rules, even though I would have taken better photos without a damaging flash. Oh well.
And they had posters! Quite a few, including an amazing one of the Michelin man and also two gorgeous nouveau posters, one by Hohenstein and the other was unsigned. There are also some Cassandres. There’s a ton of alcohol advertising pieces and various other stuff in here, all of it fascinating to an ad nut like me.
It was also not crowded, making it much more easy to linger and take things in. The only bad thing I have to say about the Musee de Les Arts Decoratifs is that the people taking the tickets don’t speak English and they’re rude. There was evidently one exhibit that my museum pass did not cover, and instead of attempting to explain it to me, the guard literally shoo-ed me out.
Despite this, I’ll have to say it’s one of my favorite museums here so far (and there are so many museums I’ve lost count). Five stars.