The Paris art lover’s top ten

Need-to-know museums and galleries to know in the French capital


BY SKYE SHERWIN
Skye Sherwin writes on art for The Guardian, ArtReview, W Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.

 

Paris is one of those culture capitals whose long-standing museum and gallery scene never fails to spring surprises. While recent feats of modern architecture housing fresh collections can’t help but turn heads, there’s always something to discover, or rediscover, in the art hoards of the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay. From glittering newcomers to stalwarts, these are the spaces worth discovering and which deserve repeat visits – and they’re all just a short taxi ride away from Mandarin Oriental, Paris.

The cultural icon

The Louvre’s Abu Dhabi outpost is making headlines, but nothing can steal thunder from the world’s largest museum. It takes days to navigate its vast collections, from pre-history onwards. Most visitors head for the painting and sculpture, not least the Mona Lisa in the Salle des Etats. The Islamic Department opened in 2012 and is another must-see, with 3,000 antiquities on show. 

The modern art stand-out

It is impossible to miss The Pompidou, the modern art museum with an inside-out façade of air con pipes, escalators and supportive scaffolding, courtesy of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. The rival to Tate Modern or MoMA has plenty to shout about. The collection is a one-stop shop for art of the past century, spanning all the major movements, as well as design, photography, new media and experimental cinema.

The 19th-century classic

There is always a reason to return to the Musée d’Orsay, one of Paris’s most visited museums. Within its collections of 19th- and early 20th- century art movements, including Impressionism, pointillism and expressionism, this former train station boasts some of the Victorian era’s truly radical works. The once-scandalous game-changers include Manet’s defiant prostitute, Olympia, and Courbet’s L’Origine du monde.

The contemporary art favourite

The Palais de Tokyo has been a magnet for a hip younger crowd of art lovers since it opened in 2002. Everything about this space has edge, from the forward-thinking programme to its interior’s raw aesthetic. The late-night hours also mean the open-plan galleries double as a packed nightspot during exhibition openings.

The city retreat

From the instantly recognisable The Kiss and The Thinker to figures from Rodin’s The Gates of Hell, the Musée Rodin – in the former home of the father of modern sculpture – is packed with his greatest hits. The biggest draw though are the serene sculpture gardens which include masterpieces like his controversial Monument to Balzac.

The Anthropology museum

Open since 2006, the Jean Nouvel-designed Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac is one of the city’s most striking buildings: a wilfully screwball jumble of coloured boxes, columns, glass and façades sprouting vegetation that defies Western architectural traditions. Within, the 3,500 pieces on show, culled from a near half a million strong collection, trace the history of peoples from Oceania, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

The hidden curiosity

Musée National Gustave Moreau is the artist’s home-turned-studio-turned-museum, and offers a truly exceptional mix of family possessions and artwork. Created by the eccentric symbolist Gustave Moreau in his own lifetime, it offsets memorial apartments with arrangements of his deceased family and friends’ things with his strange, erotically charged paintings channelling dreams and mysticism.

The glamorous newcomer

Opened in 2014, the Frank Gehry-designed building of the Fondation Louis Vuitton is worth visiting for its architecture alone. Upon a manmade lake in the Bois de Boulogne park, its iceberg shell resembles 12 glass sails, designed to throw back reflections from the watery surrounds. Inside you can peruse a changing selection of Louis Vuitton magnate, Bernard Arnault’s art collection, including pop art and expressionism.

The photography gallery

Though you can find Magnum photographers and big stars such as Jeff Wall among its exhibition programme, there is far more to not-for-profit gallery Le Bal than traditional photography. Housed in what was once France’s biggest betting shop, it’s become a hub for debate around ‘the image’, across photos, film and new media, with an ambitious schedule of exhibitions, talks and education projects.

The star recluse

It’s perhaps thanks to its position to the west of Paris that the Musée Marmottan Monet has managed to avoid becoming a tourist staple. Housed in a former royal hunting lodge, it has the largest collection of Monets in the world, at around 165, and includes a notable circular gallery dedicated to his water lilies.

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