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Family Traveller Editor, Jane Anderson, bonds with her teen on a mother/daughter art trip to the French capital
My daughter is art mad. Since she could hold a pencil, she’s always been happy doodling away, creating her own world. And now, all grown-up at 15 and facing her GCSEs (gulp), Scarlett’s favourite subject is of course, Art. And where better to head on a mother/ daughter art break than Paris?
After school’s out, we board a Friday evening Eurostar for the speedy two hour, 15 minute journey under the Channel (still a thrill even for a teen) from the platform at St. Pancras International with Tracey Emin’s neon pink “I want my time with you!’ artwork setting the tone. This feels like precious time with my teen.
Onboard, I enthuse an already overexcited Scarlett with some fast facts! Apparently, the City of Lights has 25,000 artists living and working there. I can already imagine my daughter in a studio in the arty district of Le Marais. And with 17,500 boutiques, Paris is also a paradise for vintage fashion-mad teens like my daughter.
On arrival at the Gare du Nord, Scarlett whips out her camera, enthusing about the architecture and the Parisian sense of style. She loves the photo booth in the station which reminds her of Amelie, her favourite French film. A quick cab ride through the city to the gorgeous Shangri-La Hotel, Paris, and she’s sold. There are squeals of excitement as we enter this palatial pad, where Napoleon Bonaparte’s grand-nephew reputedly stayed. It even smells opulent! And when we’re taken up to room 608, we discover our perfectly bijou suite has a panoramic view across the River Seine to the Eiffel Tower from the balconied bedroom and even from our bathtub. Scarlett adores the thoughtful touches like the latest copy of French Vogue by the bed.
It would be wonderful to linger over breakfast on our balcony with its natty awning, but we have Paris to cover in two days! Although we’re here for art, we simply can’t miss the opportunity to ascend the Eiffel Tower. It turns out to be a great way for us both to get our bearings on the city. We adore the views of the Sacre Coeur and marvel over this 130 year-old feat of engineering (think 18,038 pieces of iron, 2.5 million rivets). This was the tallest building in the world when it opened in 1889, and was only meant to stand for 20 years, yet its still one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions.
With the Eiffel Tower conquered, we turn our attention to our main purpose – art! Handily, those clever Parisians have three major galleries which track the chronology of art – making it easy for you to see the big name artists. Musée du Louvre spans from 2,000BC to 1848, the Musée d’Orsay takes over from 1848-1905 and the Centre Pompidou completes the timeline from 1905 to present.
As we stroll into the Louvre, under its iconic glass pyramid, we’re met by Kohei Nawa’s burnished golden sculpture. To my eye it’s abstract, whilst Scarlett immediately says it looks like a throne. It is in fact named ‘Throne’. I’m impressed by her intuitiveness. With 36,000 works of art here, it’s a life’s work to view them all, and so inevitably we head for the Mona Lisa. Apparently 15,000 people like us file past it every single day. When I visited in my 20s, it was shut away in a dark room, now it’s in an airy, cathedral-like gallery space.
We follow the Louvre with a mother and daughter stroll through the Tuileries Gardens, an outdoor gallery of sorts with 200 statues and vases, and veer off via a macaron shop to the Galerie Lafayette department store to browse the designer floors. Good fun with a teen!
After a gorgeous evening meal back at the Shangri-La in La Bauhinia restaurant beneath its giant Murano chandelier, and an early morning swim in its delightful pool, we’re all refreshed and ready for our exciting Marais Street Art Tour with Monbeau Paris.
We rendezvous with Maeva, our tour guide, at the colourful Stravinsky Fountain just by the Pompidou. Maeva is knowledgeable, entertaining and full of passion for her subject. It‘s just her and us, and she hands over a smart Polaroid camera for Scarlett to take up to 10 shots as keepsakes of the tour.
Maeva goes back to the roots of street art telling us it began in the 1970s in New York City where ‘crews’ started to tag their names on subway train carriages. She explains how it became a game to tag in increasingly inaccessible places.
She points our gaze to a colossal side-end building, adorned with a piece by one of the first French street artists, Jef Aérosol. It appears to be Salvador Dali, but is in fact Jef. Other street artists including Ludo, have drawn over it. Maeva tells us how street artists want their work to be living things, not static. If people want to destroy, touch, or add to their work, that’s cool. We also hear how stencils, stickers and collages are all part of the street art way.
She leads us into the cobbled streets of Le Marais where we spot Invader’s mosaic-style art inspired by pixilated characters in video games, as Maeva tells us how philosophical his work is as he often questions what art is. She’s right when she says these images get inside your head like a bad pop song. We spot a whole raft of artists including Gregos, Yosh, Clet, Sobr, Gzip, Cost, Chinois Sournois and Mr Heart Craft. Scarlett also loves the rainbow road-crossing markings illustrating Le Marais’ close LGBT ties.
We have an exciting moment when Scarlett instantly recognizes a piece by Obey, aka Shepard Fairey, from both her school studies and his famous image of Obama’s ‘Hope’ poster. It’s thrilling for her to spot this. She tells me the tour has definitely made a difference to her GCSE Art studies. Result!
We end up back at the Pompidou, where Scarlett and I say au revoir to Maeva, and head inside. I’m overwhelmed by the number of iconic modern artists from Picasso to Kandinsky to Chuck Close. Many are completely new to Scarlett, which makes me realize what a fabulous art journey she still has in front of her.
Before leaving Le Marais to catch our Eurostar back home, we have a mad dash around a Kilo Shop (kilo-shop.com), literally stuffed to the gills with vintage clothes that make Scarlett’s heart race. It’s great to see her own sense of fashion style and creativity coming through. I’m sure she’ll be back here with her friends before too long.
When we get back to London, Scarlett creates some arty climate change protest stickers and dares herself to slap them up on lampposts, and I know arty Paris has worked its magic.
HOW TO GET THERE
Eurostar from St Pancras International to Gare du Nord costs from £29 each way, (£28 per child, children under four travel free) including WIFI.
During peak family holiday periods, children can enjoy ‘Eurostar Odyssey’, an onboard 3D virtual reality experience with specially designed headsets revealing sea creatures, sunken treasures and seascapes.
WHERE TO STAY
Shangri-La Hotel, Paris: Double rooms from £945 per night.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Musée du Louvre, adult,£12.80, children free
Musée d’Orsay, £10, children free
Centre Pompidou, free
Marais Street Art Tour with 10 Polaroid shots, by Mon Beau Paris, max 4 person, £82 pp.
59 Rue de Rivoli, a beacon of Parisian counter culture which houses 30 artist studios. Free.
Eiffel Tower adult, £13.90, child (12-24) £6.90, child (4-11) £3.50. Essential to book in advance