If you are looking for art in Paris, France, you will easily find it. Although Paris is known as the “City of Light,” it could be just as well called the “City of Art.” With no less than eight major art museums and several minor ones, Paris has art to please almost anyone.
Paris Art Museums
Several of the museums are included with the Paris Museum Pass, including the three most popular – the Louvre, the Orangerie, and my favorite, the Musée d’Orsay. The Rodin Museum, the Cluny Museum, The Centre Pompidou, and more are part of the Pass. Another favorite, the Marmotten, is not included with the Pass, but it is well worth a visit.
If you plan to visit several of the museums, take note of which ones are included with the Pass and schedule your visits to those on consecutive days. Mix other activities into your itinerary so you are not overwhelmed by too much art. (Is there such a thing?)
Keep in mind that your travel companions may not be as interested in art as you are. You may have to visit the Army Museum, the Nautical Museum, or something similar to keep a balance. You might also decide to spend time when you and your companion visit separate museums – for example, the Rodin Museum is right next door to the Army Museum – and each of you can follow your own interests.
Cluny Museum – Medieval Art
The Cluny Museum, now called the National Museum of the Middle Ages, is located in what was the fifteenth century home of the abbots of Cluny. The art included in this museum is different than most of the other museums listed, not just because of the time period covered – some works are from as early as the first century – but also because of the media used in the works. Exhibits include works of gold and ivory, as well as antique furnishings. There is one room dedicated to stained glass and another to illuminated manuscripts. The most famous display is a set of six tapestries from the fifteenth century known as The Lady and the Unicorn.
The Big Three – the Orangerie, Musée d’Orsay, and the Louvre
Of the three most popular art museums in Paris, the Orangerie is the smallest yet it contains some of the largest works. Claude Monet’s large (about 6 1/2 feet by more than 40 feet) Water Lilies paintings are displayed in two adjacent rooms on the upper floor of the museum. The lower floor houses the Walter Guillaume collection of about 150 paintings by Monet’s contemporaries.
The Musée d’Orsay, located in a former train station, is my favorite of these three museums. The museum contains the largest collection of Impressionist works in the world, with its holdings including over 2000 paintings and 600 sculptures.
The Louvre Museum (rhymes with “move”), located in the former Louvre Palace, is one of the most well-known museums in the world. Millions of visitors come each year to view some of the 35,000 works of art held there. The entrance to the museum is through a stunning glass pyramid designed by I. M. Pei in 1988.
The Musée Marmottan Monet or Marmottan Museum is a hidden gem! This museum, located in the sixteenth arrondissement, is the home of a large collection of works by Claude Monet, and another collection by Berthe Morisot. There are additional works by other artists of the Impressionist period and a variety of temporary exhibitions. The first time I visited this museum, I was amazed at the Monet collection – more extensive than any others I have seen.
One of the most significant works held by the museum is a painting Monet called Impression, Sunrise, that debuted in 1874. This work is where the period of Impressionism got its name.
The Inside-Out Building – Centre Georges Pompidou
The Centre Georges Pompidou, or Pompidou Center, is a large modern building housing the Public Information Library and the National Museum of Modern Art. The building is called “inside-out” because all of the mechanical elements are located on the outside of the building. This leaves the interior spaces free of any interference for the art displays.
The museum covers two floors with the fourth floor dedicated to contemporary art (1960 to present) and the fifth floor filled with modern art(1905 to 1960). There are over 100,000 pieces in the collection, but only a portion are on display at one time with a rotation happening every two years.
City of Paris Museum of Modern Art
In addition to the National Museum of Modern Art, Paris has one of its own – the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art. Located in the Palais de Tokyo (in the sixteenth arrondissement), the museum contains over 10,000 pieces from the twentieth century.
The Picasso Museum
The Picasso Museum is located in the seventh century building, the Hotel Salé, in the Marais district. The building passed through several hands until it was chosen for the museum and restored to close to its original in the 1970s. The museum contains over 5000 works of art, in addition to a large number of sketches, photographs and personal documents, displayed in a beautiful setting. There are many works of art by other artists, including Matisse and Cezanne, that came from Picasso’s own collection.
The Rodin Museum
Located in the seventh arrondissement, the Rodin Museum showcases the familiar sculptures of artist. Rodin lived on the estate that now houses the museum. The grounds contain a large sculpture garden – you may have seen it in the movie, Midnight in Paris.
The museum’s collection contains over 6000 sculptures – including The Thinker, The Kiss, and The Gates of Hell. The collection also includes thousands of drawings, photographs and other art pieces.
Although small compared to some of the other museums listed, Espace Dalí is one of the world’s largest collections of Dali’s work. The museum, located in the Montmartre district is a collection of over 300 works of surrealism by the contemporary artist.
Grand Palais and Petit Palais
The Grand Palais and the Petit Palais (large and small palaces) were built for the national exhibition in 1900. Several art salons, or exhibition halls are located in the larger Grand Palais. It also houses a national science museum. The Petit Palace, in its entirety, is an art museum. Most of the works in the Petit Palais focus on the nineteenth century.
Even More Art Museums or Exhibits
The list above is not exhaustive – there are still more small museums that could be added to this list. There are temporary exhibits in other venues. In addition, some buildings contain a single work of art, such as the Chagall ceiling in the Paris’ Garnier Opera House.
Do you have a favorite that I have not mentioned? Leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to visit it on my next trip.