I've just returned from a lovely weekend in Northern France with a Scottish-French twinning group (our links to this group are complicated!). This is always such a fun experience - lots of socialising and conversation, and of course, because we were in France, great food and wine.
This time, our French friends took us to the newly opened Louvre Museum in Lens, Nord Pas-de-Calais. A brilliant afternoon was spent browsing beautiful objects in a lovely space - one of my favourite occupations when on holiday so I felt very lucky.
The new building was designed by the Japanese firm of architects, SANAA and built on the site of an old coal mine in the city. It's glass fronted and magnificent, especially as here with thunder clouds around it.
Louvre-Lens houses a selection of objects and works of art from the Louvre in Paris, some there permanently and some on temporary loan. It was built as part of the French government's policy of bringing galleries and art works out into the more rural and often depressed parts of France. It reminded me of the famous galleries increasingly found away from London here in the UK - Tate St Ives, Liverpool and Margate, and now, I hear, the V & A in Dundee - can't wait to see that one on one of our visits to eastern Scotland.
In this museum, the artefacts are organised chronologically from the very earliest which dated from about 3500 BCE right through to the end of the Nineteenth century. This enhanced the contrast between the ancient and the more modern and focused my thoughts on the extraordinary skills of ancient civilisations and the beautiful objects which the people made so long ago with such simple tools.
The gallery is open in design and flooded with a wonderful muted light. There was plenty of space to enjoy the exhibits, both close up and from a distance. On the day we visited it was full of visitors (many of them children) but it didn't seem crowded at all.
I've included below photos of the objects I most enjoyed - all as it happens from very early times.
There was a wonderful figure of a woman possibly made in Afghanistan between 2300 and 1700 BCE ... I just loved her controlled demeamour ... and those feet ...
... and then there was a delightful vase in the shape of a hump-backed bull, thought to have been made between 1400 and 1100 BCE by a nomadic tribesman, probably from Iran, and so extraordinarily modern looking (Henry Moore perhaps?) ...
...but I think my favourite object of all was a small tablet of cuneiform writing scribed originally into damp clay. This was made around 2000 years BCE with text in Sumerian. It was a letter from a mother to her son. I found it very moving as I have a much-loved adult son - so perhaps this was my favourite not so much because of its actual appearance but because of the personal nature of its message and the possible contact with loving family life in another era. Wouldn't you just love to know what she said to him all those years ago?
Whilst this museum is obviously no match for the Louvre in Paris, should you ever find yourself in this interesting and un-touristy part of France, it is well worth a visit, if only for the most praise-worthy efforts of the French authorities to improve the reach of its museums and to revitalise a very run down area. The only criticism I have of the exhibition is that it contained nothing at all from the twenty-first or even twentieth centuries. The contrast possible between very modern artefacts and the ancient objects shown here would have been even more interesting ...