After the horrors of the First World War and the austerity that went with it, a thirst for pleasure infused Paris, spurred by its economic recovery. This resurgent energy stimulated Les Années Folles (The Crazy Years), a spirited artistic and intellectual response, reflected in new social mores, music, art, fashion and architecture. Paris became the undisputed cultural capital of the Western world, attracting artists and writers from every nation. The fruits of their creative endeavours are still evident in many forms across the city, in elegant restaurant interiors, spectacular public buildings and striking churches.
The sophisticated style that distinguishes the era, reached its apogee in the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in 1925, which lent Art Deco its name. At the Musée des Arts Décoratifs are some of the most famous exhibits from the 1925 Exposition, as well as the lavish apartment of the couturière Jeanne Lanvin, with its outrageously decadent bathroom.
The extraordinary Palace of the Colonies (now Palais de la Porte Dorée), designed by Albert Laprade for the 1931 Exposition Coloniale, still houses live crocodiles in an aquarium beneath its sumptuous interiors. Meanwhile, the Palais de Tokyo, constructed for the Paris World Fair of 1937 boasts a comprehensive collection of the École de Paris, as well as two versions of Matisse’s La Danse.
At the under-visited but fascinating Musée des Années Trente we encounter Tamara de Lempicka’s portrait of her handsome and faithless husband, an oeuvre that she used to exact revenge on him by exhibiting it under the ambiguous title, Portrait d’un homme inachevé. Hers is one of many stories of the artists and colourful personalities of the Années Folles revealed in the course of this tour. Our appreciation of this glittering moment in Parisian history is further crystalised over meals at the glamorous Art Deco restaurants, which saw it all.
Take the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris at c. 10.30am. Begin at the impressive church of Sainte Odile, designed in an Art Deco Byzantine style by Jacques Barge. Take a guided tour of the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, built between 1911 and 1913 and one of the first examples of Art Deco architecture in the city (subject to the theatre’s performance and rehearsal schedules, available nearer the time).
Visit the Palais de Tokyo, which houses the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art and an important collection of fine and decorative arts from the interwar period. In the afternoon visit the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which houses the most important and comprehensive collection of decorative art in France.
Begin at the Musée des Années Trente, which presents a wide ranging collection of interwar French art and design. Continue to the church of Saint Esprit designed by Paul Tournon, followed by the spectacular Palais de la Porte Dorée, which once hosted the Exposition Coloniale and now houses the National Museum of Immigration and an aquarium.
Walk through the Tuileries gardens to the Musée de l’Orangerie, which holds the celebrated circular paintings of water lilies by Monet as well as the magnificent Walter Guillaume collection. The delightful and quirky Phono Museum celebrates the early history of recorded sound. Return to London by Eurostar, arriving at c. 6.30pm.
Historian, writer and broadcaster. He studied at UCL and the Courtauld and was senior lecturer at Christies Education for many years. He has worked for the Art Fund, Royal Opera House, National Gallery, V&A. He has published on 19th- and early 20th-century painting and on historical vocal recordings. His latest book is Music Wars: 1937–1945.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,020 or £1,870 without Eurostar. Single occupancy: £2,380 or £2,230 without Eurostar.
Return rail travel (Standard Premier) by Eurostar from London to Paris; private coach travel; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 2 lunches and 2 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all tips; all admissions; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Hotel Édouard 7, Paris: a comfortable 4-star hotel, located on the Avenue de l’Opéra, a short walk from the Louvre. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
Visits require a fair amount of walking and standing around. You need to be able to lift your luggage on and off the train and wheel it within stations.
Are you fit enough to join the tour?
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.