National Museum of Modern Art

Désamiantage is a new French word I learned recently. It means asbestos removal, and is one of the reasons the Centre Pompidou aka Beaubourg will be closed for five years, from 2025 to 2030.

Originally the closure was scheduled for 2023 to 2027, but it has been postponed because of the Olympic Games in 2024. Apparently the assumption is that people who come to Paris for the Games will also want to visit the main tourist attractions, of which the National Museum of Modern Art on the fourth and fifth floors of Beaubourg is certainly one. According to the Paris Tourist Office, it is currently the third most-often-visited museum in Paris, after the Louvre and Orsay. (Some years it has even been second, with slightly more visitors than the Orsay Museum.)

The museum in Beaubourg differentiates between ‘modern art’, created in the six decades from 1905 to 1965, and ‘contemporary art’ from the 1960s to the present. The older ‘modern art’ is on display on the fifth floor, and the newer ‘contemporary art’ is on the fourth. The entrance to the museum is on the fifth floor.

Reclining Figure by Henry Moore (1898-1986)

Just off to your left when you enter the museum is the ‘Western Terrace’, where seven pieces of modern sculpture are on display in a shallow reflecting pool, with wide views of Paris in the background. Currently, one of these sculptures is a non-numbered casting of a ‘Reclining Figure’ by Henry Moore, and the other six are by Henri Laurens (1885-1954), with names like Océanide, Baigneuse and L’Adieu.

Sculptures by Henri Laurens on the Western Terrace

I have mentioned Henri Laurens before, because he was the third artist (after Maillol and Rodin) whose works were displayed by Dina Vierny after she opened her art gallery in Rue Jacob in 1947.

‘The City of Paris’ by Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)

La Ville de Paris (The City of Paris) was painted from 1910 to 1912 by Robert Delaunay. The museum’s label explains: “In this monumental painting, fragmented forms of views of Paris and the Eiffel Tower are associated with an unusual theme in Robert Delaunay’s work: the Three Graces. This reference to ancient art confers a historic dimension on the new avant-garde movement of Cubism. Here, the artist makes Paris, his home town, an example of elegance, classicism and modernity.”

The poet Philippe Soupault by Robert Delaunay



Robert Delaunay often used cubist versions of the Eiffel Tower in his paintings, such as here in the background of his portrait of the poet Philippe Soupault from the year 1922.

In another Paris museum, the city’s Museum of Modern Art, one of Delaunay’s Eiffel Tower paintings is hung next a window with a view of the real Eiffel Tower, just across the river.

Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel by Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

The Eiffel Tower is also featured in this painting by Marc Chagall from 1938-1939, showing a pair of newlyweds surrounded by memories of Russia, animals, musical instruments and a large white cockerel.

The recent Marc Chagall exhibition at the Schirn in Frankfurt was so crowded that it was hard to get a good look at the paintings, much less take photos of them. So it was nice to see several Chagall paintings in Paris without the extreme crowding.

Marguerite with a black cat, by Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Henri Matisse’s daughter Marguerite was 16 when he painted Marguerite au chat noir in 1910. This was one of thirty-some portraits of her that he painted over the years.

The museum’s label points out that that Marguerite seems to be carefully observing her father as he paints, and that the cat is trying to get away.

Marguerite, who later married an art historian, always took a lively interest in her father’s work, and became a dependable source of information for scholars. She later spent decades compiling a definitive catalogue of her father’s artworks.

Henri Matisse was the one who encouraged Dina Vierny to open her art gallery in 1947. Dina was twenty-five years younger than Marguerite, so from her age she could have been Matisse’s granddaughter.

I have also mentioned Matisse in my post Dina Vierny and the Maillol Museum, where I quoted Dina as saying: “Maillol for me was mainly Pygmalion. I learned to see from him and his friends Matisse, Bonnard, Dufy.”

In the early 1940s, Matisse and Bonnard helped Dina Vierny after she was acquitted in court on the charge of guiding refugees at night through the mountains from France into Spain, so they could escape from the Nazis.

Otto Dix (1891-1969), Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden, 1926

This is a portrait I have seen before. I think it must have been lent out for an exhibition in Germany at some point. But I must admit that I never looked closely enough to notice the large holes in the model’s stockings.

Sylvia von Harden was Jewish, so she emigrated to England when the Nazis came into power in Germany in 1933. After the war she stayed in England, but also wrote articles and book reviews for liberal German newspapers like the Frankfurter Rundschau.

Otto Dix was not Jewish, but he lost his professorship in Dresden in 1933 after the Nazis denounced him as a ‘degenerate artist’.

The small fish, July 2, 1933, by Max Beckmann

Another ‘degenerate artist’, by the Nazis’ definition, was Max Beckmann (1884-1950), who promptly lost his professorship at the Städel-School in Frankfurt when the Nazis took over in 1933.

Beckmann and his wife did not succeed in getting American visas before the war broke out, so they spent the war years in Amsterdam. Since Beckmann was not Jewish, he was not in any immediate danger of being arrested, deported and murdered, but he narrowly avoided being drafted into the German army even though he was nearly sixty at the time. In 1947 the Beckmanns finally managed to move to America, where he taught and painted for the last three years of his life.

Museum sign on the Centre Pompidou (Beaubourg)

My photos and text in this post are from 2023.

See also: my earlier post on the Centre Pompidou aka Beaubourg.

9 thoughts on “National Museum of Modern Art”

  1. I had no idea that the Centre Pompidou will be closed for five years! I’ve enjoyed my visits there years ago, as I do like some contemporary art (Picasso and Matisse first come to mind…). All the same, I’m sure it’ll be even more lovely once the renovations finish!

  2. I hadn’t heard that Beaubourg was closing for five years. It’s ages since we’ve been inside so I think we should take the opportunity to visit when we’re in Paris later this year.

    1. Yes, this is the second long closure, after 1997-2000. As I wrote in an earlier post: “I don’t really know why the Centre Pompidou needs such extensive renovation every two decades, but I’m starting to suspect that turning the building inside-out and exposing its innards to the elements was perhaps not such a good idea after all.”

  3. Thank you for teaching me a new word! I am a long-term fan of le Centre Pompidou and have visited on several occasions, although not recently. I would like to return before the museum closes, if possible. Thanks for such an interesting and enjoyable post!

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