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Something new at the Louvre

A restored Musee des Arts Decoratifs features pieces from the Middle Ages as well as works from modern designers.

September 17, 2006|Susan Spano | Times Staff Writer

Paris — A10-year project to restore the Musee des Arts Decoratifs on the northwest side of the Louvre has finally borne fruit. The museum, closed to visitors since 1995, was scheduled to reopen Sept. 15.

Its collection of decorative arts -- 150,000 objets d'art covering French style from the Middle Ages to the present and contemporary design worldwide -- is considered comparable to that of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The Musee des Arts Decoratifs, founded in 1905 by a group of private collectors and patrons, is the only major museum in Paris not maintained by the state, though the French government supplied more than half of the $46 million required for its renovation. It is part of Les Arts Decoratifs, an organization that also oversees the Musee de la Mode et du Textile and the Musee de la Publicite, both sharing an entrance with the decorative arts museum on the Rue de Rivoli side of the Louvre.

Before the reopening, only the decorative arts museum's jewelry collection, which was re-installed in the building in 2004, and the beguiling Les Arts Decoratifs boutique were open to visitors.

A big part of the jubilation over the museum's reopening is the unveiling of its long-sealed, mid-19th century wing of the Louvre. Before the renovation, the windows of the wing's great hall were filled with concrete, and the soaring glass roof was obscured by added floors. But the great hall, now open and bathed in natural light, will house special exhibitions. The first, starting Oct. 25, is on Milanese design from 1957 to 1991.

The museum's permanent collection is chronologically arranged in galleries on four floors surrounding the atrium, interspersed by 10 newly designed period rooms.

The recommended route for visitors begins with galleries devoted to the Middle Ages, containing such masterpieces as a set of wondrously conserved windows created by the Dutch workshop of Dirck Crabeth in the 16th century and a late Gothic bedroom suite from the Auvergne region of France.

Notable objects in other galleries include a dainty, faux chinoiserie writing desk owned by Louis XV's mistress, Madame de Pompadour; and a massive set of table decorations rescued from the fire that destroyed the Tuileries Palace in 1871. The French Art Deco style is especially well represented in rooms devoted to ensembles such as the bedroom, bath and boudoir from the Paris apartment of couturier Jeanne Lanvin, designed in the early 1920s by Armand-Albert Rateau.

The museum also occupies the Louvre's adjoining Marsan Pavilion, overlooking the Tuileries gardens. The pavilion's top floors, which taper to a 17,000-square-foot cupola and are enclosed on three sides by windows, now house pieces from the museum's modern and contemporary collection that were not displayed in the old space. Included are Mid-Century Modern works by Jean Prouve and Jean Royere; a pyramid of chairs that pays tribute to a popular 1968 exhibition at the museum; and a room of boxes, each containing ensembles by designers from the 1980s and 1990s, such as Philippe Starck, Olivier Gagnere and Gaetano Pesce.

A ground-floor restaurant with terrace seating is scheduled to open this fall. The chef has not yet been named, though the restaurant is expected to join the Cafe Marly at the Louvre as one of the Tuileries area's most inviting eateries, with fixed-price meals costing about $35.

The museum is at 107 Rue de Rivoli, in Paris' first arrondissement; Metro stops are Palais-Royal, Pyramides or Tuileries. It is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission for adults is 8 euros or about $10.25. Info: www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr (in French only).

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susan.spano@latimes.com

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