Many of us have been to Paris at least once and most of us during that first whirlwind trip visited the Louvre, Musée D’Orsay, the Rodin Museum, Chateau Versailles, maybe even the Catacombs or the Museum of the Middle Ages near Saint Michel or the Picasso Museum in the Marais.
And these are perhaps the most famous of Paris’ art collections. You certainly cannot come to Paris for the first time and not see the Mona Lisa or visit the Sun King.
Yet, so many more artistic and historical treasures exist in this city, little known gems which rival these grand classics in their beauty and contribution. I have had the pleasure of spending these last few winter months exploring the more off-the-beaten-path museums, opening my eyes to a more intimate, less touristic Paris, an artist’s Paris, full of an intriguing selection of works and captivating expositions within some of the most gorgeous architecture the city has to offer.
In most of these smaller, quainter museums admission is free and they usually are open during French business hours (10-5) from Tuesdays to Saturdays. Check the individual websites below for more details.
For those of you who are in the city for the umpteenth time or those who are here for an extended period, here are a few wonderful ways I suggest losing yourself in Parisian art and history for an afternoon:
- The Musée Jacquemart-André, 8ème– My favorite for its beauty and elegance, I could spend days at this museum. Preserved as the awe-inspiring mansion of its former life, the owner’s incredible art collection is but a part of its immense charm and fascination.
- Maison de Victor Hugo, 4ème – The private house of Hugo in the mid-1800s located in Place de Vosage, showcases many of the rooms and personal belongings which have been kept in the state they were found at his death in 1885.
- The Musée de l’Orangerie, 1er – Another one of my absolute favorites, this is the home of the eight large Impressionist Water Lilies paintings by Monet as well as a fabulous selection of the works by Cézanne, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, Renoir, Rousseau and Sisley.
- The Musée de la Vie romantique, 18ème – In the heart of Montmartre, this lone-standing house was the intellectual and artistic Salon and home of Dutch-born painter Ary Scheffer. Scheffer entertained famous artists of all stripes within these walls, including George Sand and Frederic Chopin, Eugène Delacroix, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Alphonse de Lamartine and Pauline Viardot. Later in the century, guests included Charles Dickens, Ivan Turgueniev, and Charles Gounod.
- The Carnavalet Museum, 3ème – I used to walk past this museum every day on my way home when I lived in the Marais. I finally had the opportunity to go inside this past month where I found a collection of paintings and the history of the mansion nothing short of a history buff’s candy land.
- Hôtel de Ville Paris Exhibitions, 1er – The Paris City Hall hosts a number of exhibitions throughout the year. Two which I have recently enjoyed were ‘Collections of Robert Doisneau Photographs’ and ‘The History of Paris’.
- Salon d’Automne, Grand Palais, 8ème– In the beautiful surroundings of the Grand Palais, this art Salon recalls the flavor of those we can imagine took place back at the beginning of Impressionism when Renoir, Monet and Cézanne were shunned from the Paris Salon and created one of their own. Current artists are encouraged to exhibit their work by applying to the Salon through their website.
- The Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits, 7ème – For my fellow writers and book lovers, this museum holds over 250 original manuscripts and letters including handwritten peace treaties from the Great Wars and famous poetry.
- Jeu de Paume, Jardin Tulleries, 1er – A collection of contemporary art including important works by Dali and Picasso. The Paume also hosts exhibitions each season which vary widely in theme and content: photography, painting, design.
- The Musée Maillol, 7ème – A collection of French artists’ lesser known drawings and other art forms including works by Rousseau, Cézanne, Degas, Jean Ingres, Matisse, Picasso, Valadon, Foujita, Dufy, Bonnard and Poliakoff, Gauguin as well as sculptures by Rodin.
For more info, try this pracitical guide to all of Paris’ museums and exhibitions.