The Louvre in Paris is the most visited museum in the world, but now you do not have to travel to Paris and brave the crowds to enjoy the wonders of its collection. Louvre-Lens, an art gallery located in a coalfield city of Nord-Pas de Calais, is a partnership between the local government and the famous Parisien museum which brings treasures from the collection to a wider audience.
The story of the Louvre Lens begins a decade ago when in May 2003 the French Minister of Culture and Communication, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, launched a campaign to decentralise the major cultural institutions of Paris. Heeding the call, Mayor of Lens Guy Delcourt announced the city’s desire to host an annexe of the famous Louvre museum in November 2003. One year later, on November 29, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin announced that Lens had seen off competition from other cities in Nord-Pas de Calais to become home of the new branch of the Louvre.
After Lens was chosen as the site of the new museum an architectural competition to design the new building was launched, and in September 2005 it was revealed that Japanese architects SANAA had won with a contemporary design making the most of glass and light.
Speaking shortly before the museum was opened in 2012, Louvre president and director Henri Loyrette said: “After having seen it on paper and dreamed of it for so long with Daniel Percheron, the President of the Nord-Pas de Calais region, I can unreservedly state that, now in its material state, it is in my view one of the architectural masterpieces of the new millenium.”
Located on 20 hectares of wasteland that was once a major coal mine, the museum maintains an intentional connection with an industry that once powered the region’s economy while representing the area’s transformation away from heavy industry. The museum structure covers some 28,000 square metres and is more than 360 metres in length. Its main exhibition space is the Grande Galerie, which stretches out for more than 120 metres and is designed to house a rotating collection of exhibits from the collections of the Louvre in Paris.
At the opening of the museum by President François Hollande in December 2012, the Grande Galerie houses around 200 works from 3500 BC up to the mid-19th century, with many civilisations and locations around the globe represented. The concept behind this Galerie du Temps is that the collection is semi-permanent, with 20 per cent of the works being replaced each year on the anniversary of the museum’s opening. This means visitors will enjoy a new experience as the years pass and get to see more unique pieces from the collection of the Louvre.
Forthcoming temporary exhibitions at Louvre-Lens include The Etruscans and the Mediterranean: The city of Cerveteri, which looks at the history of this ancient Italian civilisation through to the Roman conquest and runs from December 5 this year until March 10, 2014, and The Disasters of War 1800-2014, which will be at the museum from May 28 until October 6 next year.
Henri Loyrette said: “Museums are no longer a world apart, timeless or concentrated solely on times long past. They participate in the life of a city, its economic development, its tourism, sustainable development processes and they play an artistic, social and educational role.
“All of these considerations, these ambitions, these dreams guided us in creating the Louvre-Lens. The future of the Louvre is now in Lens.”
Lens is located around 70 miles south-east of Calais and getting there is easy if you book one of the frequent cross-Channel ferries to France from Dover. The drive to Lens from the ferry port at Calais only takes around one hour and 20 minutes.
MyFerryLink offers up to 16 sailing between Dover and Calais every day and you can book your crossing from £30 one way by visiting our booking page on the website or by calling 0844 2482 100.
You can find out more about Louvre-Lens and what is on show at the museum on the Louvre-Lens website.
99 Rue Paul Bert, 62300 Lens. Telephone: 03 21 18 62 62
(Pictures courtesy of Musée du Louvre-Lens)