Our travel partners at P&O Ferries take a look at four very different museums in Northern France that are well worth investigating. By Jeremy Head.
If they have any impression of the area, most people tend to associate Northern France with farming and windswept beaches. But it’s not all tractors and sandcastles. Here are a few cool and – in typical French style – quirky museums that any urbanite would feel very much at home visiting.
LaM – Lille Museum of Modern Art
Lille doesn’t deserve the bad press it sometimes gets as a dour and dark northern town. It’s actually stacked with history with a beautiful old square its centre full of colourful colonnaded 17th century merchants’ houses. But culture creatures will be more drawn to something a tad more up to date. The Lille Museum of Modern Art is a trove of interesting and unusual works to delight and stimulate even the most befuddled and bored imagination. There are over 4500 individual pieces on display with works from throughout the 20th century and on to the present day. You’ll find modern art staples like cubist sculptures and surrealist paintings but perhaps the most though provoking stuff is the collection of ‘Art Brut’ – models, sculpture and paintings created by untrained artists – usually with psychological disorders. Literally the art of the insane.
Ceramics Museum, Desvres
If the idea of art created by madmen is a little extreme for your tastes, then this museum dedicated to the art and craft of ceramics through the ages in this part of France might be a better bet. This is France though, so you’ll still find the museum building is created to look like it’s made from a series of giant tiles. The exhibits are more down-to-earth though. You can see how pots and tiles are made and marvel at the intricate designs and exuberant colours used to decorate them. But the real artistry is in the delicate and dextrous figurines and sculptures made from porcelain. You’ll also get a good understanding of the practices and processes used to model, fire and colour these cool clay creations.
La Piscine – Roubaix Museum of Art and Industry
What do you do with an old Art Deco swimming pool that no one is using anymore? Obvious really – turn it into a museum. This building, in the town of Roubaix, is almost the main star of the show. The remarkable colonnaded indoor pool area with its vaulted ceiling flooded with light by huge fan-shaped windows makes a surprisingly good exhibition space. The pool itself has been covered in super-thick glass. But the exhibits are also pretty impressive too – sculpture, painting, textiles and design – focused primarily on the 20th and 21st centuries. There’s an avant-garde garden to explore too and from here you can admire the building’s remarkable curves from the outside.
LAAC stands for Lieu d’Art et d’Action Contemporaine – roughly speaking a place for contemporary arts and activities. It’s particularly good for modern sculpture buffs. A vast modern white cube of a building set in expansive gardens dotted with surprising statues, odd-shaped stones and unexpected plant species. The collection inside the museum itself features painting and sculpture from the 1950s to the 1980s and includes funky, gaudy Pop Art pieces with works by Andy Warhol among others. There are also video and sound installations in the large auditorium along with an extensive collection of modern graphic and comic book art which you can browse. Those sheep in the garden? They’re not real. Trust me. I walked right into one.
Train: Lille is on the highspeed line between Paris and London so easy to reach by train. Dunkirk, Roubaix and Desvres are smaller places so you’ll need to change – but all are served by trains too.
Car: If you’re taking a ferry crossing to France from the UK, the best route to take is Dover to Calais. Calais is just a short drive from all four museums. From Paris all four places are within a two to three hour drive.