You’ve seen the ‘biggie’ Paris museums. Where now? Artmag offers a few tips for your next visit.
You’ve shuffled with the hordes through the Louvre, been scandalized by Courbet’s ‘L’Origine du Monde’ in the Musée d’Orsay and toured the Centre Pompidou to the point of exhaustion. Next time you go, you don’t want to miss the new highlights, but you also want to visit a few lesser known, but no less rewarding, museums. Artmag took an Air France flight from Edinburgh to the city of light to bring you some tips. Bonne visite!
The brainchild of Bernard Arnault, chairman of the luxury brand conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton, Dior, Sephora, Dom Perignon, Givenchy et al) and France’s wealthiest man, the Fondation Louis Vuitton is Paris’s newest art museum. Designed by Frank Gehry, it seems to float like a giant, glass-sailed regatta, reflecting the surrounding Bois de Boulogne in its massive, milky panels. A 21st century counterpart to the Grand Palais (equally innovative in its time) and already nicknamed “the Iceberg”, the museum’s collection is a combination of works owned by LVMH and Bernard Arnault, including pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gilbert & George and Jeff Koons. The foundation commissioned site-specific installations for the building, which also houses a huge performance space.
A symbol of Montmartre’s once alternative cultural scene, the cloth factory-turned-museum the Halle Saint Pierre is characterised by its vast height and exposed metal framework of the original building. A two-floor gallery, the Musée d’Art Brut et Art Singulier (Museum of Primitive Art and Singular Art) hosts exhibitions of folk art, naive art and outsider art. (The French ‘art brut’ is usually translated as ‘raw art’.) Typically, these terms are applied to art created by makers outside the mainstream art world, usually self-taught and sometimes suffering from psychiatric issues, even to the point of being institutionalised. In many cases, their work is discovered only after their deaths. The Halle Saint Pierre also has a music hall, bookstore and cafe.
Also in Montmartre, the Espace Dalí is the only permanent exhibition in France devoted to Salvador Dalí’s work, specifically his sculptures, engravings and lithographs. With around 300 original artworks, it is France’s biggest collection of his sculptures, including three-dimensional realisations of his surrealistic paintings. These are exhibited in the Galerie Dalí, while a second space, the Galerie Montmartre, shows several contemporary artists in changing exhibitions. It is fitting that this phantasmagorical world of artwork and furniture (a Mae West lips sofa anyone?) should be situated in Montmartre. This is where Dalí moved after being expelled from Madrid’s School of Fine Arts, where he met Pablo Picasso and where he joined the Surrealism group, which was based in the famous artists’ enclave.
On the bustling Boulevard Haussmann, the Musée Jacquemart-André is an opulent, 19th century mansion stuffed with art, antiques, furniture and objets d’art. It was created from the private home of the banker Édouard André (1833–1894) and his society portraitist wife Nélie Jacquemart (1841-1912) to display the art they accumulated and bequeathed to the French Institute. Their annual trips to Italy resulted in one of the finest collections of Italian art in France, including works by Botticelli, Canaletto, Bellini, Tiepolo and Signorelli. Also dotted throughout the lavish apartments are works by Rembrandt, van Dyck, Frans Hals, Reynolds, Gainsborough and many more as well as a stupendous sculpture collection. There is an exquisite cafe with an outside terrace overlooking the inner courtyard, where you’ll find relative calm.
Located in a 19th century townhouse on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, the Musée Marmottan Monet celebrating its 80th anniversary last year. Its fantastic Impressionist collection is the result of several donated collections, notably that of a doctor whose patients included Manet, Monet, Pissaro, Sisley and Renoir and from the painter’s second son, Michel, who bequeathed the world’s largest collection of his father’s Giverny work. The museum’s most iconic possession is Monet’s ‘Impression, Soleil Levant’ (‘Impression, Sunrise’), the painting which gave its name to Impressionism. It is deemed to be displayed at the Musée Marmottan Monet and nowhere else. In the lower level, dedicated to Monet, you can sit surrounded by some of the most recognisable scenes in all of art, such as waterlilies, the cliffs at Etretat and depictions of Rouen Cathedral, London Bridge and the Houses of Parliament.
In the heart of Paris in the Tuileries Gardens, the Musée de l’Orangerie houses two prestigious collections. (The Orangerie itself was originally built to shelter the gardens’ orange trees.) Lining two oval-shaped rooms are eight huge decorative panels of water lilies by Claude Monet, which he donated in the 1920s as a monument to the end of WWI. Permanently displayed there, they create an atmosphere of quiet contemplation. Sharing the building is the astonishing Walter-Guillaume Collection amassed by the art dealer and promoter Paul Guillaume and his wife Domenica. After Guillaume’s early death, Domenica, remarried to the architect Jean Walter, completed and modified the collection and donated it to the state. It is a virtual Who’s Who of early 20th century art, with works by Modigliani, Matisse, Brancusi, Picasso, De Chirico, Apollinaire, Soutine, Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Utrillo and many more.
Constructed for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, two buildings facing each other on Avenue Winston Churchill are grandiose even for Paris. Held up by more steel than the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Palais is awesome in proportion. It soon became the place for any budding artist to catch attention and over the years it became a landmark in Western art. This is where Cubism made its first appearance, spearheaded by a then unknown Pablo Picasso, and where what one critic called “la cage aux Fauves” (the wild beast cage), a roomful of stridently coloured paintings by the likes of Matisse and Derain, shocked the establishment and gave the Fauvist movement its name. Recently the Grand Palais hosted the largest Niki de Saint Phalle retrospective for 20 years.
Across the street is the Musée du Petit Palais, where a wide-ranging collection links the main artistic movements from ancient Greece to WWI. The building is a work of art in itself, with specially commissioned decorative murals and sculptures, wrought ironwork, stained glass and mosaics, all topped off with a soaring copula. The collections of fine art, furniture, decorative items, sculpture and artefacts are grouped into themes or periods. The highlights are so numerous, it is almost pointless to mention them. Artmag particularly admired Georges Clairin’s ‘Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt’, Leon Lhermitte’s enormous ‘Les Halles’, depicting the famous Paris fruit and vegetable market (demolished to make way for the Centre Pompodou) and Jan van Beers’ ‘Funeral of Charles the Good’, in which every one of hundreds of onlookers has unique facial characteristics.
Reopened in its Marais district mansion last year on October 25 (the artist’s birthday) after a five-year renovation programme creating more exhibition space, the Musée Picasso Paris has over 5,000 works and tens of thousands of pieces from the artist’s personal archives. It is the only collection in the world which presents both Picasso’s complete painted, sculpted, engraved and illustrated oeuvre and a precise record – through sketches, studies, drafts, notebooks, etchings, photographs, films and documents – of his creative process. A largely chronological route takes the visitor from Picasso’s earliest works as a teenager in Spain to paintings produced shortly before his death in 1973. Some works are grouped thematically – self-portraits, guitars, bullfighting, portraits of women – tracing recurring subjects in many styles. Also on display is Picasso’s own collection, including works by Cézanne, Renoir, Modigliani, Matisse and Miró.
Occupying the east wing of the monumental 1930s Palais de Tokyo on the right bank of the Seine, the Musée d’Art Moderne houses the municipal modern art collection. It is particularly strong on the fauvists, cubists and the Paris School. These are mixed with Art Deco furniture, ceramics and a more international display of contemporary art. Don’t miss (as if you could) Raoul Dufy’s vast mural ‘La Fée Electricité’ (‘The Electricity Fairy’) and the Salle Matisse, with its two versions of the artist’s ‘La Danse’. The museum hit the headlines in 2010 after the theft of five masterpieces. The €100 million haul netted paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Modigliani and Léger.
Alyssa Flegg contributed to this article.