A year after Louvre-Lens opened to the public, Gillian Thornton pays the museum a visit
One year after Louvre-Lens opened to the public, this innovative museum on the site of a former coal mining pithead has proved the sceptics wrong. One of the poorest towns in northern France, Lens beat five other candidates for the right to host the Musée du Louvre’s first satellite museum and early figures prove it was the right choice.
Visitor numbers for the first year were predicted to reach 700,000, but by June, more than 600,000 had already toured the single-storey, glass-and-aluminium building, which is set out in a landscaped park. With its free-flowing style of presentation and varied programme of special events, Louvre-Lens has persuaded many residents to make their first visit to a museum, helped by free admission to the main exhibition area for the first year.
But Louvre-Lens is an important tourism player too, at the heart of a scheme to transform the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region’s redundant mining basin, now listed by Unesco for its cultural importance. “We work closely with our local tourism partners to meet international travel press and travel agents at European fairs, and to keep them up to date with our programme of exhibitions,” director Xavier Dectot told FRANCE Magazine. “We promote the museum as a new point of interest in an area that has a lot to offer, including World War I remembrance sites, art deco architecture, craft beers, and golf. Louvre-Lens is not a second-class Louvre – it is another Louvre – and visitor reaction has been hugely positive.”
Around 200 artefacts, ranging from antiquity to the 19th century, are on show in the main Galerie du Temps. The works come from the Louvre’s main collection and will be exhibited for up to five years. The idea is to change a few items every year to keep the displays fresh. There is also a temporary exhibition gallery, which is showing The Etruscans and the Mediterranean until 10 March. After that it will put on an exhibition called The Disasters of War 1800-2014, from 28 May to 6 October, as part of the region’s commemoration of the World War I centenary.
Tel: (Fr) 3 21 18 62 62, www.louvrelens.fr