From Russia with love

MLP’s Jen Hamerman has been to the Fondation Louis Vuitton to see the very special Icons of Modern Art: The Shchukin Collection, or ‘Chtchoukine’, as the French spell it, is on right now and we urge you all to make sure you catch it! It’s been so popular the closing date has been pushed back to March 5. Here’s Jen reporting back for MLP.

Truly a special exhibition

The fact that this exhibition is even taking place right here in Paris is a triumph of diplomacy, persuasion and perseverance. The Shchukin Collection from Russia contains art treasures by Picasso, Degas, Matisse, Van Gogh, Cezanne and Renoir and they have survived, revolution, war and the cold.  At a time when the West’s relations with Russia are not great, the survival of these paintings, and the achievement of getting them exhibited in Paris feels like art triumphing over all else.  The sheer cost of shipping and insuring them would have been beyond any public museum in Paris, so perhaps it is unsurprising that it fell to the Fondation Louis Vuitton and its wealthy founder Bernard Arnault to pull this one off.

Who was Sergei Shchukin?

He was an industrialist born in Russia in 1854 who became passionate about art and had a strong connection to Paris, learning from contemporaries like Gertrude Stein and her brothers Leo and Michael, and becoming a great collector in his own right.

icons of modern art

Anne Baldassari, the curator of this exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, explains the turbulent history of this collection of paintings mirrors Russia’s own history.  The Shchukin Collection survived evacuation to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk during World War Two, as well as Shchukin fleeing the country in the October Revolution and the authorities confiscating the paintings.

Bring it to life for your kids

We were really eager to see the paintings and we debated whether to go child-free or to take our daughter. We decided to take her, given this is such a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see these works. But we knew we had to make it fun for her and we searched for some ways to introduce the exhibition to her. Help came in the form of this wonderful video featuring dancer Lil Buck. He danced his way around the exhibition before it opened and the performance is exquisite. Before we went to the museum, we watched his video online with her and decided we’d find the paintings he danced in front of. This provided a focus to our visit. Our girl vetoed the idea of a Lil Buck-style family dance on the escalators though! Spoilsport.

icons of modern art


We also talked a lot about the stories about the Collection, including how the paintings had to be hidden in a remote part of Russia during World War Two. She also had fun imagining how the paintings must have travelled from Russia to France for this exhibition – so many millions worth of art on the move!

Expectations exceeded

The exhibition did not disappoint. It’s actually very moving to see major works by such masters for the first time and to appreciate how special it is that they are here in France, if only for a few months. The exhibition is beautifully put together and explained in French and English. Given that this is such a popular blockbuster exhibition, the Fondation Louis Vuitton did an excellent job of creating a flow of visitors up through the many levels of the exhibition – the long queue outside did not translate into unpleasant crowds inside. This was a major plus for me, as I get a bit claustrophobic in major, crowded exhibitions at other Paris venues.

Is it kid-friendly?

Is this exhibition for kids? Well, it’s so rich, there is plenty to talk about with them. The ideal would be to visit once with the kids, just so they can see it, and then go again, sans enfants, so you can really linger over these works.

There is also a great deal going on alongside the exhibition.  We wandered into a cello masterclass taking place in the auditorium and it seemed many concerts and performances are planned.

The venue and location helps a lot. We always love a trip to the Fondation Louis Vuitton. Our 7-year-old daughter loves the building, especially now it has been “coloured in”. The Jardin d’Acclimatation setting means you can simply walk out of the museum through the back doors and enjoy a stroll through the gardens and all the attractions with no further ticket price.

For more interesting posts about the current cultural agenda in Gay Paree read Jen’s article about the new Perfume Museum and the review by two 12-year-olds who made it their mission to uncover a mystery buried deep withing the French Revolution.

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Fondation Louis Vuitton, 8 Avenue du Mahatma Ghandi, 75016 Paris