© Lens, Musée du Louvre Lens, La Galerie du Temps © Sanaa - Imrey Culbert - Mosbach Paysagiste - Studio Gardère | Philippe Chancel

Marvellous Museums

Our region boasts 90 of France’s most important state museums, so we’ve picked out our Top 10 to help you choose! Dive into colour at Henri Matisse’s boyhood home, plunge into the Art Deco atmosphere of La Piscine in Roubaix (an art museum in a former municipal swimming pool), marvel at the decorative gilding in the Picardy Museum in Amiens, immerse yourself in the detail of Hieronymus Bosch’s Concert in the Egg at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille, or be beguiled by Raphael’s Three Graces at the Musée Condé in Chantilly.

Northern France _Cassel _ Flanders Museum © Destination Cœur de FlandreNorthern France _Cassel _ Flanders Museum © Destination Cœur de Flandre
©Northern France, Cassel, Flanders Museum|Destination Cœur de Flandre
Chantilly

01. Le Musée Condé

The ultimate museum experience!

Chantilly stands “like a swan resting on the water” in the midst of flowerbeds designed by famous landscape architect Le Nôtre, which he preferred to those at Versailles (which he also designed). The Duke d’Aumale’s collection of 15th to 19th-century paintings ranks second only to the Louvre in importance. Every single object and painting remains exactly as the Duke left it 120 years ago. Visiting this unique museum is a stirring experience, more like wandering around the house of a Prince than a museum! Some of these paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and precious objects are extremely moving. Enjoy your own moment of grace as you contemplate the harmonious curves and perfect forms of Raphael’s Three Graces in the Santuario.

Lens

02. Le Louvre-Lens

The Louvre... in the heart of the coalfields!

 

 

Designed by Japanese architects SANAA, this light-filled museum stands on the site of a former pithead at Loos-en-Gohelle, right by the two tallest slag heaps in Europe. Nothing is ordinary here in this branch of the world famous Parisian museum. At the entrance are glass bubbles that look as if they’ve been delicately placed on the floor. In the Galerie du Temps, you can amble along while the entire history of humanity unfolds around you. Go behind the scenes and discover a whole unfamiliar museum world. There are temporary exhibitions showcasing some of the world’s most beautiful artworks. To reach the museum you go through an enormous park with a Japanese feel to it, in dialogue with the architecture – it all invites you to step outside your everyday existence. And that’s exactly the sense you get. The Louvre-Lens is anything but run-of-the-mill!

Lille

03. Le Palais-des-Beaux-Arts de Lille

Escapism in the heart of the city

Two gigantic multicoloured chandeliers are the first things you see when you step inside this Fine Arts museum. The bright and sociable Atrium space houses the museum shop, with its edit of arty and original souvenirs, and the Beau café where light refreshments are served, made from local products. This museum is a treasure trove of important art including masterpieces such as Rubens’ Descent from the Cross along with Goya’s Old Women, and Young Woman Reading a Letter. The first floor holds works of the Flemish and French schools as well as the museum’s Dutch, Italian and 20th-century galleries. On the lower level are the Medieval and Renaissance collections, and also the famous relief plans of Lille – now superbly renovated. The Beaux-Arts museum truly lives up to its name!

Roubaix

04. Le Musée La Piscine

A museum in a swimming pool?!

It used to be the most beautiful swimming pool in France. Quite a transformation, isn’t it? You actually enter this Art Deco gem through the former showers, and you’ll be dazzled by the beautiful yellow and orange “sunrise” stained glass window that filters warm light over the sculpture garden set along a length of the pool’s water. And that’s just for starters! While you explore Roubaix’s epic industrial past as a textile town through the museum’s collections, the space rings with the laughter of children larking about in the old swimming pool. You can’t help being drawn into the special atmosphere of this very unusual museum, which also offers sensory tours. Make sure you also stop off in Café Meert for some refreshments (including a waffle, naturally)!

Amiens

05. Le Musée de Picardie

A museum full of joy

Light and bright, the mood of this museum is very conducive to contemplation and reverie. The magic starts as soon as you enter underneath Sol LeWitt’s geometric patterned “wall drawing”. After this riot of colour, balance is restored on the first floor where more muted shades of deep midnight blue are accented with delicate gilding up the Gothic arches to the ceilings. The effect mimics a starry night, sheltering the beautiful marquetry flooring below. On your way here, coming up the stairs, you’ll already have been wonderstruck by the massive frescoes by Puvis de Chavannes. With the famous Medieval “Puys of Amiens” series on display upstairs as well as the sea bathing series, this light-filled museum is infused with an enchanting sense of harmony. After your tour, you can still your quickened emotions in the former chapel, now a trendy bar.

Villeneuve d'Ascq

06. Le LaM

Home of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art

Set in the lush natural environment of Villeneuve d’Ascq’s Parc du Héron, this museum literally welcomes you with open arms! Picasso’s La Femme aux Bras Ecartés (Woman with Outstretched Arms) stands in the monumental sculpture garden and, further on, there’s a mobile by Calder. The museum’s intriguing architecture mingles lace-like white concrete with brick cubes springing out of the ground. And there are more surprises in store inside! Illustrious names like Braque, Picasso, Modigliani and Joan Miro are just some of the artists gathered here.

Le Cateau-Cambrésis

07. Henri Matisse Museum

A riot of colour!

A native of Hauts-de-France who hailed from Bohain in the Aisne, Matisse gifted this museum to his fellow countrymen and women. It’s a place simply bursting with colour and joie de vivre! As you delve deeper into the artist’s world, you’ll be fascinated by the way his palette gradually brightens over the course of his experiences and travels, to finally blossom in Tahiti. Bequests from Auguste Herbin – famed for his abstract geometrical paintings – and Alice Tériade brought some more outstanding works to the museum’s permanent collection, adding even more colour!

Saint-Quentin

08. Le Musée Antoine Lécuyer

Quentin De La Tour’s smiling pastels

The pastel portraits by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour on display in Saint Quentin are all smiling, as if to welcome you! Much of their appeal lies in the intense light he used, bringing an extraordinary reflective force to these works. You’ll want to look close up at the “powdery” velvet of the shimmering fabrics in the clothes, and the realistically tactile rendering of the skin. This softness is echoed in the setting, with the museum’s spaces painted in blues – initially pale, then gradually deepening – and very softly lit, giving a sense of unhurried calm as you explore this cosy world!

Cassel

09. Le Musée de Flandre

Disorienting, teasing, and spiritual!

Cassel, voted France’s favourite village, stands atop the eponymous Mont Cassel. It feels foreign even to French people with its Flemish-speaking locals, the ubiquitous Flag of Flanders, and its atmospheric cafés. On the main street you can’t miss the typically Flemish Renaissance facade of the Hôtel de La Noble Cour, where the museum is housed. Entering beneath a brickwork vault, the first thing to catch your eye is a panoramic view over the landscape through the picture window by the reception desk! Spend a moment contemplating the gentle beauty of the Plain of Flanders before plunging into the vivid, colour-rich world of the Flemish Primitives. This museum playfully confronts them with the contemporary from time to time! Flemish festivals are foregrounded too, including the carnival and giants, and spirituality is always part of the mix!

Arras

10. Musée des Beaux-Arts in Arras

An abbey museum

A stone’s throw from Arras’s magnificent squares and belfry (France’s favourite monument) is a definite must-see: the Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Arras, housed in the 7th-century Benedictine Abbey of Saint Vaast. Entering the abbey under its monumental porch, you come out into a big paved courtyard. The Medieval sacred artworks are displayed around the ornate cloister galleries, with their garlanded ionic capitals and ceiling rosettes. Upstairs you’ll be astounded at the immense dimensions of the religious paintings in the Gallery of the Mays, which were originally commissioned by the goldsmiths’ guild of Paris and given as a yearly gift to Notre Dame Cathedral in the 15th century.  The history of Arras is told through tapestries, the Treasure of the Cathedral, porcelain, 17th-century paintings, and a relief plan of the city. There’s something well worth seeing on every floor!