Galerie Vivienne, Paris


The Galerie Vivienne is probably the most spectacular, eye-catching of the Paris arcades. Whether you look up, down or around, there are stylish delights to feast the eyes, from the tiled mosaic flooring, done by Italians Mazzioli and Facchina, to the classic figures in the coving and ceilings above; with its splendid glass dome, bringing light onto an extraordinary tiled floor below, its vintage clock dating from 1795, and all its entrances, arched with ironwork grille above. Don’t miss also the spiral staircase leading now up to the flats above the shops.

Even the numbering and carvings above the shop fronts have style, and the shops themselves are a wonderful mix of the old, the ancient, the stylish and the artistic, some even managing to combine all of these features.

Jean-Paul Gaulthier brought his range of clothing to the Galerie Vivienne in the 1980s and 90s, but today there are contemporary fashions from the extraordinary Yuki Torii collection. There are jeweller’s, beauty salons, hairdressers and perfumeries. And there are the long-time residents like the Librairie Jousseaume, which claims to have been in business since 1826, around the time the Galerie Vivienne first opened, though whether it has occupied this same spot for all those nearly 200 years is not clear (and I’m not sure how a clock dating from 1795 can be linked to an arcade that opened 30 years later, but maybe somebody reading this can help enlighten us…)

Even the cafes and eateries in the Galerie Vivienne have charm and style, and are actually not as exclusive as their situation might suggest: the tea room looks inviting, and the Brasserie Bougainville has its own stories to tell, named after the French contemporary of Captain Cook, Louis Antoine de Bougaineville; the café appears to have changed little since the 1950s.

My favourite shop today

This a close call. It has to be the Librairie Jousseaume, partly because we did actually buy something here, though we could have spent hours just browsing; but it could also have been the Yuki Torii collections, which make you just want to spend ages window-shopping…

My pick of the arcade’s past

An ‘enormous quantity’ of busts of Napoleon Bonaparte were seized by police from an art gallery and shop in the Galerie Vivienne in 1826, not long after the arcade opened, and only five years after Napoleon himself had died. His supporters continued to meet and plot during the years of the restored Monarchy from Napoleon’s fall in 1814 until the revolution of 1830.

In 1884, an estate agent and his wife, operating out of a shop in the Galerie Vivienne, were arrested after it was discovered that the agency was a front for their illegal activity forging bank notes. The printing equipment was later found at their home in the suburb of Courbevoie, but the premises in the arcade were raided and the wife arrested before the husband even reached the arcade that day.

A music hall singer called Marc Berod was found dead in a top-floor room of the Galerie Vivienne in 1890. His career had taken him abroad as far as St Petersburg, and in Paris he had performed on the stage at theatres on the Champs-Elysees, but in the years leading up to his suicide he had fallen on hard times, performing only rarely in small café-concerts venues. He wrote to the local police announcing his planned suicide, and dressed himself in black suit and white gloves, as if about to go on stage, before letting himself be poisoned by charcoal fumes in his room. His note to the police read: “I die without a penny, but an honest man, leaving no debt behind me.”

This arcade in films or books

Angelina Jolie walks through Galerie Vivienne in her 2010 movie The Tourist.

What’s your favourite shop in the arcade today?

What memories do you have of visits in years gone by?

Have you got any good stories to add on the past of this arcade?

Have you seen Galerie Vivienne in any other film or book?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *