The Museums of Paris: A Source for Gifts Inspired by the Past

I can’t count how many times I’ve been to the Louvre Museum’s gift shop, but it was just before the coronavirus outbreak that I discovered La Boutique de la Chalcographie du Louvre, the public face of the museum’s atelier that reproduces prints and sculptures.

It is a repository for more than 600 prints (or, as the museum refers to them, engravings) made from plates in the Louvre’s permanent collection, rendered on museum-quality paper and guaranteed to last 100 years.

In normal times all of them are on display and for sale to visitors. I have spent hours leafing through the dozens of folios there — without ever paying the price of admission into the museum itself.

With Paris under lockdown, visiting the Louvre and Paris’s other museums and cultural spaces is not an option, but it is still possible to take advantage of their expertly curated gift shops.

Some of the “best of” museum boutiques in Paris and throughout France can be found at the English-language version of the online site Boutique de Musées. Other museums offer gift items at their own websites.

Boutique de Musées, which ships to destinations around the world, is organized according to topic — including books, posters, home décor, toys, jewelry, gift ideas and prints on demand (including prints from the Louvre).

Under Christmas gifts from Versailles, for example, you can find a selection of glass imitation pearl earrings inspired by popular designs at the royal court in the 18th century starting at 12 ($14) or a copy of a Limoges porcelain dessert plate from Versailles from 29-35. Marie-Antoinette fans can find mirrors, hairbrushes, card holders bag vaporizers, and cosmetic bags inspired by the Queen.

Under the Centre Pompidou entry, there is an array of objects inspired by works in the museum, including a set of three stacking mugs from the Netherlands-based De Stijl movement, whose central figures were the painters Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg (51); Joan Miró socks for adults and children (12); and skateboards with copies of artist’s paintings by The Skateroom (220), whose nongovernmental organization provides children and young people with access to education and skate programs in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa.

My favorite museum shop — not part of Boutique de Musées — is the one attached to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs/MAD — MAD in French stands for Mode, Arts, Design. Its products are so diverse that the shop on the Rue de Rivoli, in normal times, is considered a destination all on its own.

Here you can find the most fashionable carryall for travel — a Loqi X MAD reversible tote bag (15.95); Japanese blue and white cotton dish towels (9.95); and wool and silk shawls inspired by old carpets.

There is also a wide selection of products from Alessi, the century-old Italian home design manufacturer, and what espresso drinker wouldn’t want a gift of eight espresso spoons — all of them different (54)? And when was the last time you saw bold jeweled shoe clips (29.95-34.95)?

OK, some items are too precious for words — like the miniature aluminum and leather Eames chair (629) or a Verbena embroidered flowered headband (690). But I will always feel a tinge of regret that I didn’t splurge on a piece of history: a 540 limited-series original light fixture from the Eiffel Tower that is no longer on display.

Shoppers with exotic tastes will love the boutiques of the Musée Guimet (dedicated to Asian art) and the Musée du Quai Branly (African, Oceanic, American and Asian works). Among the finds at the Guimet: a set of four sake cups in thick, colored glass. The Branly offers heavy ornate Indonesian necklaces of beads, shells and bone — not for wearing but for display as an artwork on a wall.

Some museum shops can surprise. I was not expecting much from the Monnaie de Paris — the French Mint — which once produced all the coins of the realm and now makes commemorative coins, jewelry, artwork and honorary medals like those of the Legion of Honor at its site on the Seine near the Pont Neuf.

Long before the pandemic, I wandered into the gift shop with a close college friend who was visiting from London. As preposterous as it sounds, she and I were born in the same city on the same day. A gold-trimmed porcelain mug with pink-red roses on a background of eggshell blue and bright yellow with a celadon green handle caught my eye. It was over-the-top; it was perfect. We bought matching mugs.

Mine sits on my desk. I use it every day, a reminder of our long friendship.

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