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A wealth of art and culture in Nord-Pas de Calais

art and culture in nord pas de calais

Culture vultures who visit Nord Pas-de-Calais will find plenty to keep them happy as there are artistic treasures galore in the region.

Nord Pas-de-Calais although one of the smallest regions of France, actually has the highest concentration of museums and art galleries of any region in the whole of France. Almost every town has a museum and the bigger cities and towns have substantial academies such as the Musée des Beaux Arts in Lille which contains a collection of paintings said to be second only to the Louvre in Paris.

Throughout the region there is a cultural extravaganza of art for all to enjoy and since the French Government has put into effect a policy of decentralisation of major art collections to revive art in smaller cities around France, Nord Pas-de-Calais is benefitting from access to some important art assemblages which would have required a visit to the capital before.

Here is our pick of the most significant centres of art in the region and for more art in the Nord Pas-de-Calais in slightly smaller centres but still with massive appeal see our feature on Art of Nord Pas-de-Calais.

Lens Louvre

This significant new museum opened in December 2012 and showcases more than 200 masterpieces from the Louvre in Paris.  The fabulous building is a work of art in itself and exhibits paintings, drawings, sculptures and more from times of antiquity to modern day. The Lens Louvre building displays 500 to 600 major artworks, with a core gallery showing art created over several centuries.  The gallery has 28,000 square meters of usable space built on two levels, with semi-permanent exhibition space covering at least 6000 m². There will also be space set aside for rotating temporary exhibitions of stunning international quality. There’s a theatre, musical performances, great café and restaurant, free shuttle bus from Lens station and beautifully landscaped gardens. We can’t do this fabulous museum justice in just one paragraph – read our review of the Lens Louvre to find out more.

Lille Art and culture

Lille is France’s fourth biggest city and a vibrant, cosmopolitan place that revels in its cultural heritage and position as 2004 European City of Culture since when it has never looked back and boasts a wealth of art and artistic pursuits. Visitors to Lille will be spoiled for choice:

Palais des Beaux Arts – Considered France’s second national collection after the Louvre. Housed in an imposing 19th century building, collections of European paintings, antiquities, a mediaeval and Renaissance collection, 17th and 18th century ceramics, 19th century French sculptures and 18th century scale models of fortified towns as well as exhibitions throughout the year.

Hospice Comtesse Museum – The building is the first draw – with its marvellous architecture and style.  Once through the doors you’ll find exhibitions in galleries of 17th century Flemish and Dutch interiors where you can see paintings, ceramics and furniture, an outstanding Flemish collection. Located on the oldest street in Lille, Rue de la Monnaie, the Hospice was founded in 1237, as a hospital and was converted to a hospice for the needy by Jeanne of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders. Although now a museum, you can visit the sick bay, the kitchen where there are hundreds of mock Delft tiles, the chapel and the former nuns’ dormitory where there are Dutch and Flemish paintings on display. There are also wood carvings and tapestries by Guillaume Werniers, the famous Lille weaver. (Free entry first Sunday of each month otherwise €3.50)

Musee de Metropole – A museum of Modern and Contemporary artworks (LaM) which went previously under the name of Villeneuve d’Ascq Museum of Modern Art. There are some 4,500 artworks in an area of 4,000 m².  It is the only museum in Europe to present simultaneously the main components of 20th and 21st century art: modern art, contemporary art and outsider art. LaM’s holdings include some masterpieces of Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Joan Miró, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, Alexander Calder and the biggest outsider art collection in France. There is also a library and a rich park of sculptures set in a lovely garden.

Lille Tri Postal- Set in an old industrial building area which was originally a post office sorting facility, on the occasion of Lille 2004 European Capital of Culture it was transformed into a major venue for contemporary art. It is best described as a place of art and life, with three long exhibition spaces, each with a surface of 2000m².  Its is also a place of performance, fashion, installations, festivals, clubbing and dining, and is equipped with a children’s area.

MEP-Lille – Maison Europeene de la Photographie Lille, hosts photgraphic exhibitions, meetings and events throughout the year, showcasing the big names as well as introducing new and young photographers.

Lille 3000

Culture comes alive during the festival of Lille 3000 and October 2012 will see the three month arts extravaganza, Fantastic 2012 burst forth in the buzzing city of Lille where excess is everything. Vibrant parades and Futuro Textiles are just some of the seven hundred arts and cultural events which include arts, design, concerts, dance and cinema along the theme of the fantastic. There will be something for everyone so watch this space!


Roubaix La Piscine – just outside of Lille, if you’re taking public transport, catch the metro to Roubaix to visit the former Art Deco swimming pool, La Piscine, transformed into Roubaix’s Art and Industry Museum. La Piscine regularly organises top quality exhibits and in 2012 La Piscine the itinerary includes Chagall and a Picasso introspective of intimate phographic portraits of the legendary artist as seen through the lens of the American photographer, David Douglas Ducan.

Roubaix Manufacture des Flanders Museum – A presentation of the history of textile-making in the region.  Located on the site of an old cloth mill, the textile museum and workshop is dedicated to the memory of the textile industry in Roubaix and the surrounding area. The machines are operated by former weavers, and you can learn about the major innovations that have revolutionized weaving techniques and learn how how Roubaix and its suburbs became  a leading textile centre in the world. 

Culture in Calais

Calais Dentelle – Cité internationale de la dentelle et de la mode de Calais  – A museum dedicated to lace making and more set in a 1870s factory building with a collection spread over 2,500 m² covering the history of lacemaking, techniques and fashion design with work for illustration by well-known designers such as Givenchy and Chanel to demonstrate the use of lace in high fashion.  There is a library for research, lectures and workshops and a 3D booth that takes your measurements and allows you to create your own personal avatar.

Culture in Arras

Arras Palais des Beaux Arts – located in the spectacular Benedictine Abbaye de Saint-Vaast in the centre of Arras, the ancient capital of Artois.The museum has an eclectic collection – medieval sculptures, paintings from the Netherlands and French paintings from the seventeenth century eighteenth-century ceramics, paintings from the nineteenth century, graphic art, photography, ethnography, exotica, coins, seals, natural history and more. There are exhibitions year round – read about our favourite – the Versailles coaches exhibition, a truly spectacular event.

Les Boves d’Arras – Underneath the paving stones of Arras’s town squares lie Les Boves chalk quarries. Dug out since the 10th Century, some of the underground galleries are converted into a subterranean exhibition space (check the Arras tourist office for details of current exhibitions).

Culture in Cambrai

Musée Matisse Cambrai  – a great collection donated by the artist to the town where he was born – 170 works spanning the career of the great man.  Also collections from Auguste Herbin and the Tériade Collection – Twenty-seven books of painters designed and illustrated by the greatest artists of modern art. Masterpieces from greats such as Matisse, Picasso, Rouault, Léger, Chagall, Giacometti, Laurens, Miró which were donated by the artists to their publisher Tériade and bequeathed by his wife at his request to the museum in Cambreau. This amazing display includes Tériade’s dining room meticulously removed from its original home and reassembled with tiles and stained glass by Matisse and plaster by the renowned artist Albert Giacometti.

Musée des Beaux-Arts Cambrai – the Museum of Fine Arts has been housed since 1890 in the beautiful hotel Francqueville, built in 1720 by King Louis XV’s secretary-advisor and well worth a visit on its own.  The museum has a fine collection of paintings from the 16th and 17th Centuries as well as more modern. There are also sculptures from artists including Camille Claudel who had an affair with Rodin and an exhibition of Merovingian burial artefacts.

Smaller towns have collections that have great appeal – see our section on Art and museums in Nord-Pas de Calais for details.

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