October 17, 2010

Not Exactly Monet, But...

Despite the best of intentions, my attempt to visit the over-subscribed exhibition "Monet" at the Grand Palais did not work out. After learning that no timed entry tickets were available until November, I decided to tough it out and wait in line with a few hundred of my fellow Monet enthusiasts to see this blockbuster show. When I arrived at the venue there were three lines. One for ticket holders, one for museum members and the third for people like me. From where I entered the sign declared a three hour wait but being an optimist I thought they were just trying to scare me. No such luck as I waited for an hour and finally got close to the sign that announced a two hour wait. That was where I bagged it!

But from adversity comes creativity and I had the great opportunity to discover a hidden gem, a private museum opened six years ago on the 4th floor of the renowned Maxim's restaurant and dedicated to the decorative arts of the Belle Epoque. In fact, it is a presentation of the amazing collection of Pierre Cardin of fashion design fame but more recently the proprietor of Chez Maxim's. Decorated like a courtesan's apartment in 1900, the rooms are chock full of masterpieces of furniture, porcelain, glass and decorative objects by the likes of Majorelle, Gallé and Tiffany & Co. Truly, it was like stepping back to fin de siècle Paris!

I am a big fan of the Belle Epoque and I was curious to see what Maxim's - not exactly a culinary highlight anymore - would present, but I was knocked out by both the quantity and the quality of the collection. Beside the fabulous suites of furniture in the salon, the dining room and the boudoir, I was very impressed by two charcoal crayon drawings by artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and a complete collection of pochoir colored lithographs by the House caricaturist Sem. Our excellent guide took my tour through the apartment pointing out details of architecture and design while she answered questions about the history of both Chez Maxim's and the Art Nouveau treasures within.

So if you have an hour to spare and would like an intimate look at what turn-of-the-century Paris was like, take a walk over to rue Royale and buy a ticket for a step back in time - a visit to the Musée Maxim's!

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