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The Big Six: from outdoor Jacuzzis and inky interiors to views of the Eiffel Tower

Flat Earth: Lunch courtesy of St Michael

IT WAS a mercantile triumph for the nation of shopkeepers last week when Marks & Spencer held a lunch in the British Ambassador's residence on the rue du Faubourg St Honore, a building once belonging to the Empress Eugenie and, it is said, bought for a snip by the Duke of Wellington. The occasion, presided over by His Excellency, Sir Christopher Mallaby GCVO KCMG (Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George), was to celebrate the opening in September of the second M&S store in Paris on the rue de Rivoli near the Louvre.

ARTS / Production Notes: Graham Robb recalls how he failed to find the lost world of Honore de Balzac the human comedy behind his search for the real world of Balzac

WHEN, four years ago, I began a biography of Balzac, I knew that, sooner or later, I should have to stop reading La Comedie humaine, venture out into what I previously thought of as the Real World, and visit the Balzacian sites. The problem was: what to do when I got there?

Art restorers warn against giving the 'Mona Lisa' a brighter smile

Pictured right is an attempt by the Independent to give an impression of how the Mona Lisa might look after a clean, if plans revealed by sources within the Louvre go ahead.

Leading Article: A row that may test the Mona Lisa's smile

When a painting reaches a certain point of fame, the work itself can scarcely hope to live up to expectations. So it is with Leonardo's Mona Lisa. This must be the most famous picture in the world. No other man- or woman-made image can have been reproduced as frequently, in just about every conceivable form and variation.

CENTREFOLD / Twin set: Portrait of Mado and Monette, by Raphael

'The twins were getting pissed off by the time I took this picture,' says the French photographer Raphael Gaillarde. 'I'd been trailing them like a paparrazzo, fascinated by the way they walked and interacted with each other.' Tailor-made for Gaillarde's brief, which was to reveal a new perspective on museum-going at the Louvre museum, Mado and Monette - seen here looking towards the Rubens gallery - eventually warmed to the photographer and went on to pose for further shots.

Pompidou centre to get pounds 50m overhaul

THE French Culture Minister, Jacques Toubon, yesterday outlined a 440m-franc ( pounds 50m) operation to overhaul the Pompidou centre, a modern glass and tubular structure opened in 1977 which has become the victim of its own success.

Museum staff threaten strike

Serious disruption is expected in French museums from today following a strike call by trade unions demanding improved pay and conditions, AFP reports from Paris. Tourist attractions such as the Louvre, the Palace of Versailles and Loire chateaux will all be affected by the strike which could involve 2,500 museum staff.

BOOK REVIEW / Flowering sensibility: Baudelaire - Joanna Richardson: John Murray, pounds 30

ON 13 MARCH, 1856, Charles Baudelaire awoke in the early hours of the morning from an extraordinary dream. Wandering through the streets of Paris, he had met a friend who insisted that they drive together to a brothel. Before entering, Baudelaire gave the madam (who in the dream was also Baudelaire's mother) a copy of his newly published translation of Poe's stories, which had become a volume of pornography. As he entered the brothel, he found that he was exposing himself, and reflected that it was indecent to appear like this; he was also barefoot, and had stepped into a puddle. Inside the brothel was a series of galleries where the prostitutes stood talking to their customers, a few of them young students. On the walls hung obscene pictures, as in a museum. But not only pictures were shown in this brothel: there was also a live exhibit, a monster who had been born here and who had been placed on a pedestal, crouching in a foetal position. Just as Baudelaire had begun to engage the monster in conversation, he woke up, exhausted, and immediately wrote to a friend describing the dream. It is the only dream Baudelaire recorded.

ETCETERA / Competition: Details No 174

IN WHICH painting by which painter can you find this view?

Shooting all the world over

The power and purpose of photo-journalism is exemplified in these stunning images from the 37th World Press Photo contest. Despite instant video film coverage of news events, the still photograph can challenge the onlooker and provoke outrage or understanding in a more timeless way. The winning entries were chosen from the portfolios of 2,429 photographers from 93 countries. Of the 22,775 photographs submitted, two thirds were in colour and the rest in black and white. The exhibition which accompanies the contest will open at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam on 26 April and will tour 39 countries during 1994.

Art Market: Madonna of the kitchen fetches a fortune

AN Old Master drawing which spent decades in a Wolverhampton council house - attached with drawing-pins to the back of a kitchen door - sold for dollars 57,500 ( pounds 38,590) at Sotheby's in New York yesterday.

ETCETERA / Competition: Details No 166

IN WHICH painting by which painter can you find this rich tapestry of life?

ART MARKET / Julie Recamier reclined here: Neo-classical furniture that belonged to the French hostess who set the style of her era is up for auction. Geraldine Norman reports

EXACTLY 200 years ago, Jeanne- Francoise Julie-Adelade Bernard, a nicely brought-up young girl from Lyons, married the rich banker Jacques Recamier. She was only 15; Recamier was old enough to be her father. They set up home in lavish style in one of the grandest private houses in Paris, the old hotel Necker in rue Mont Blanc. They had it completely restored and redecorated by the most fashionable architect of the day, Louis Berthault, who later did up Malmaison and Compiegne for Napoleon.

Letter: The Louvre: tourism on the grand scale

Sir: Poor Andrew Graham-Dixon ('Try this for sheer size', 30 November). I sympathise. I, too, flat-footed through vast galleries of the new Richelieu wing of the Louvre on its opening day and was defeated by the acres of painted flesh as well as by the sheer scale. Being so vast, however, it does not need your critic's exaggeration. The new wing is indeed 22,000 square metres, but the British Museum, according to Le Monde, is larger on its own at 25,700 square metres. Smaller are the Washington National Gallery at 16,800 square metres and the Prado at 17,910 square metres. Larger still are the Vatican Museum, at 43,000 square metres, and the Metropolitan in New York, which is top with 58,820 square metres.

Arts: Try this for sheer size: You need six months and a pair of roller-skates to do justice to the new Louvre in Paris. Andrew Graham-Dixon flat-foots it in a day . . .

The Louvre, it was announced at the opening of the museum's new wing, the Aile Richelieu, is no longer to be known as the Louvre. Its new name is 'Le Grand Louvre', the big Louvre, although whether this will catch on remains to be seen. Francois Mitterrand (Mitterramses I as he is now known in Paris) is not the type to pass up the chance to blow his own trumpet, and since the new and vastly expanded Louvre, complete with glass pyramid, was largely his idea, it may be assumed that he was largely responsible for rechristening it. Doubtless he could have done better, but there is, none the less, something apposite about 'Le Grand Louvre'. The Louvre always was pretty big. Now it is very, very big indeed. Much bigger than anyone else's museum, anywhere else in the world. Francois and the rest of les Francais presumably just want to be sure no one misses the point.
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