Lonely Planet Writer

France’s famous ‘swimming pool museum’ reopens after makeover

The Musée d’Art et d’Industrie (Museum of Art and Industry), better known as La Piscine (the swimming pool), reopened this weekend after a €9.3 million renovation. The former Art Deco municipal baths houses  a collection of over 70,000 works including 19th and 20th century paintings from renowned artists such as Picasso, di Rosa and Swiss sculptor Giacometti.

This picture taken on October 19, 2018 shows the main exhibition room of “La Piscine, Andre Diligen Art and Industry museum” in Roubaix. Image by DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images

After an extensive 18-month expansion and renovation, La Piscine reopened this weekend at a cost of €9.3 million. The museum occupies a building which once housed the municipal swimming pool of Roubaix, a city in northwestern France, near the Belgian border. The crowning sight of Roubaix, La Piscine first opened its doors in 1932. Reportedly, architect Albert Beart was asked by then-mayor of Roubaix to build the most beautiful swimming pool in France. At the time, Roubaix was a thriving industrial city and the ornate design of the building reflected the wealth of the city. Strikingly opulent and utterly unique, the pool is illuminated by giant stained-glass windows symbolising the setting and rising sun. Marble statues conceived by Alfred Boucher guard the poolside and represent Hope, Faith, Charity and Tenderness.

People visit “La Piscine, Andre Diligen Art and Industry museum” on October 19, 2018 in Roubaix. Image by DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images

In 1985 the pool was forced to close due to security and safety issues. It lay dormant until 2001 when it was reopened and reimagined as a museum, overseen by Jean-Paul Philippon. Roubaix is no longer the thriving city it was when La Piscine first opened but the museum is extremely popular. In its first years, La Piscine was expected to welcome 60,000 visitors per year but numbers swelled to 200,000. To date, more than three million visitors have walked through its doors since 2001 and Journal des Arts named it France’s best art museum outside of Paris. It’s a testament to the quality of the exhibitions and the beauty of the building, as well as the local community spirit which allows it to thrive.

A visitor watches the sculpture “The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years” by French artist Edgar Degas at La Piscine Image by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

This year, the museum was closed for six months to allow for an extension which overtook an abandoned mill beside the original building. The revamp enlarged the museum to 86,000 sq ft and added a trio of galleries. “Roubaix was deeply hurt by the decline in the textile industry, and unemployment is still high in this area. Given this situation, the museum plays an important social role,” museum director Bruno Gaudichon told the Observer.

This picture taken on October 19, 2018 shows the main exhibition room of “La Piscine, Andre Diligen Art and Industry museum” in Roubaix Image by DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images

Today the museum hosts around 15 temporary exhibitions each year. Its core collection from the 19th and 20th centuries includes sculptures by Giacometti, Rodin and Picasso, as well as paintings, ceramics, jewellery, glass and furniture. It also hosts performances and fashion shows.

La Piscine is open between 11am and 6pm Monday to Thursday and until 8pm on Friday. Weekend opening hours are between 1pm and 8pm. Admission starts at €9. For more information, see here.