Is six-year-old Leni’s artwork good enough to go in the Louvre? FLIP BYRNES takes her daughters to one of her favourite cities in the world to find out
Cultivating my daughter's artistic spirit through Parisian magic
Crouching down in black trousers with creases as sharp as knife points, Musée du Louvre Art Assessor Michele carefully scrutinises six-year-old Leni’s artwork, hastily made on the train to Paris. It is, by her own admission, “not my best work”, and we collectively hold our breath as Michele pores over the weeping willow and rainbow as though appraising a Van Gogh.
“C’est excellente!” he pronounces enthusiastically. “THIS… is very, very good.” Leni almost melts with happiness into the sunrays piping through the glass pyramid roof. Gaining confidence, my art-mad daughter informs Michele earnestly that she’s “going to be a professional artist.” Charming Michele listens, in doing so stoking the passion of a young creative mind. It’s a meeting Michele likely won’t remember but is one of the current highlights of Leni’s little life. Michele is, in fact, a member of the Louvre’s information team, but Leni doesn’t need to know this.
Discovering Paris afresh with kids
We’ve come to Paris for this very reason. As an expat Aussie living in Europe, it dawns on me that Leni has never seen an art gallery. So, why not start at the top? “Is my artwork good enough to go in the Louvre?” she asks doubtfully. Let’s find out, is my overly positive parent response, and then have a four-hour train ride to Paris with her and sister Lotte to figure out how to sneak a Leni original into the Louvre without getting arrested. And at the same time, show them one of my favourite cities in the world.
Due simply to its size, Paris with kids is a curly one – and this will be unlike any of my dozen languid pre-kids visits. The trick is military style planning, but despite all this planning, the best moments happen organically. The first surprise is in the 400-year-old elegant Jardin du Luxembourg, where the girls ride ponies like small 16th century French aristocrats.
Ponies, playgrounds and art!
Ponies?! I’ve never noticed ponies previously. But for €5 I find us let loose with Casco and Zig Zig, minimum equine experience and a rope, leading them down statue-lined paths, past puppet theatre, vintage carousel and the newly renovated Ludo Jardin, a gated playground (rare in Paris) that we make the most of for the €3 entrance fee.
It’s a lucky hour of power before an Armageddon-style downpour leads us towards salvation in a bistro across the street. We’ve hit the jackpot – Treize au Jardin is stocked with antique wooden toys, a life-size bear and a kids menu serving only seasonal, bio food – not a fried chip in sight and our best meal in Paris.
The kids think we’re in Paris for fun (and we are) but in between ice creams and snacks I’m subtly stuffing their minds with Monet and history, and feeding their imaginations.
Jardin des Plantes, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle & Dinosaurs on display
So, the next day is the one-stop shop of the gargantuan green lung of Jardin des Plantes. The first call is the palaeontology building of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle to see a dinosaur. But there’s not just a dinosaur; there are three floors of dinosaurs. While the kids’ jaws hit the floor, I breathe in the elegant French Revolution-era building flooded with natural light and its dusty, romantic ambience, stocked from the great expeditions of the traveller-naturalists of the 18th and 19th centuries. (It’s also home to Comparative Anatomy, so beware there’s a few brains and body parts in formalin floating around. The 18th century statue of an orangutan strangling a human in the foyer may also raise a few questions).
Outside we discover gardens ideal for running, a menagerie and an animal-themed carousel, before arriving at the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution. We only have a moment to be bedazzled by the multi-sensory museum and its nine metre-long plasticised squid and life-size African mammal parade before realisation hits. I’ve broken the kids.
Knowing your limits when travelling with kids
Even with a carefully edited list of three things daily, the pace is fast. Serendipity calls again in the form of Hammam Mosquée de Paris nearby, with delicious Moroccan restaurant featuring comfy banquets (that Lotte promptly falls asleep on), and a restorative, sugar-laced mint tea for me. Part of our plan as a child friendly place to pause, the serendipity is our accidental arrival of 12pm. By 12.15pm there’s not a table to be found.
Dotted amongst our two days is visiting the scaffolded Notre Dame, the Galeries Lafayette rooftop with top Paris views, and the Eiffel Tower (tip – lift tickets sell quickly but ascending via stairs is cheaper, and includes elevator descent).
Louvre: the world's most famous art museum
But the Louvre looms as our final stop. Leni’s modest ambition is to be the youngest ever artist in the world’s most famous art museum. With the kids distracted, I speedily beg the information office to assist in pretending to be an art expert and luckily they agree, with volunteer Michele saving the day. But the question remains, where to place the drawing without incurring legal consequences? We’re the only people in the museum ignoring the actual art (although we admire Empress Marie Louise’s emerald and diamond crown), scouring the hallways and doorways for the place. And then finally, we find it.
Mission accomplished! Leni places her first work of art in the Louvre
It’s a laminated signage board featuring the Mona Lisa directing visitors towards her gallery, ticking all the boxes. It isn’t priceless. It’s fair company for Leni’s art. And has high visibility (22,000 people visit Le Louvre daily). As Leni sticks it on and walks away, the first tourist is already having their photo unknowingly taken not only next to Mona Lisa’s image, but ‘Weeping Willow, an Early Interpretation by Leni Grace 2022.’ Mission accomplished.
We spend the train trip home wondering how long it takes a worker to remove it? It could be hours, even days. Leni’s thrilled – youngest ever artist in the Louvre (even if only temporarily). Art world watch out: we’re coming at you with blue tack and Crayolas! Is her art any good? I have no idea, all I know is she loves it and a little seed of possibility has been sown.
Where to stay in Paris with kids
The Canopy by Hilton Trocadero is just steps from Jardins du Trocadero and Trocadero Metro stop, one kilometre from the Eiffel Tower and less than 10 minutes from the Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysees, and Bois de Boulogne. It has connecting rooms, free WiFi, a restaurant and a rooftop terrace and bar with views of the Eiffel Tower.
Getting to Paris
Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways are among the airlines that fly to Paris.