Whenever we go to a big city we find one or two museums to visit. Last year we stopped by the British Museum and the Tate Modern during our stay in London. We visited the Van Gogh in Amsterdam the year before that. But Paris must be the museum capital of the world and we visited a total of ten museums there last Spring but if we had more time we could have easily doubled that number. Seven of the ten we visited were within walking distance from our apartment in the Odéon neighborhood (sixth arrondissement).
1. The Louvre (Musée de Louvre). I guess I would have to say this is my favorite museum in the whole world (The Vatican Museums run a close second with the British Museum in London and the Prado in Madrid and the Uffizi in Florence close behind). This is the only museum we visited twice and still didn’t see half of it! We each had a museum pass for our first visit and entered via the Rivoli entrance and it only took 10 minutes (it took that long because we were behind a group of 30 kids at the security point). Our pass had expired by the time we visited the Louvre again and we used the main Pyramid entrance. This time it took 40 minutes to get by security and another 20 minutes in line to buy tickets. We focused our attention on the world-famous art in the Denon wing during our first visit: Italian and French paintings of the Renaissance and the French Romantic painters of the 19th century. On our second visit we spent most of the time in the Richelieu wing with French sculptures and Dutch and Flemish painters of the 16th-17th centuries. On our way out we stopped by the ancient Roman and Greek display in the Sully wing to see Venus de Milo and friends. One disappointment: The Winged Victory of Samothrace display was walled off for restoration.
2. The D’Orsay Museum (Musée d’Orsay). The D’Orsay is a converted railway station right across the Seine from the Louvre. We waited in line for an hour and 15 minutes — and this was the museum pass line! We went on a day when the Louvre was closed. We skipped the specal exhibit – Van Gogh / Artaud. The Man Suicided by Society — which required another line. No cameras allowed — one of 2 museums on this list with this rule. Stay away from the Louvre on Mondays when the D’Orsay is closed and from the D’Orsay on Tuesdays when the Louvre is closed! The D’Orsay covers paintings and sculptures from 1848 to 1915 and has the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings in the world. Lots of Monets and Manets. Go to the Louvre for earlier art and the Pompidou Centre for later.
3. The Orangerie Museum (Musée de l’Orangerie). The Orangerie is located on the other side of the Tuileries Garden from the Louvre, not far from the Place de la Concorde. It is the other museum that doesn’t allow cameras. Most people go to this museum for one reason only: to visit the two circular rooms that feature Monet’s Water Lillies. Special exhibits — usually on late 19th century paintings — are located on the lower floor. The exhibit we saw was called Archives of the Dream and featured drawings by Seurat, Degas, Cezanne, Moreau, Millet and others.
4.Luxembourg Museum (Musée du Luxembourg). The Luxembourg was the most convenient museum we visited (two blocks from our apartment). See here for my posting on the special exhibit on Josephine in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of her death. Hemingway in A Movable Feast writes about stopping by to see some large Cezannes for inspiration. Most of the paintings he saw in the 1920s are now in the Louvre or the d’Orsay. The Luxembourg Museum today is restricted to temporary exhibitions.
5. Delacroix Museum (Musée national Eugène Delacroix). This house is where he lived from 1857 until his death in 1863 — halfway between our apartment and the d’Orsay. The exhibit entitled Eugène Delacroix, “the most legitimate of Shakespeare’s sons” featured several drawings and lithographs on Shakespearean themes. Most of Delacroix’s famous paintings are in the Louvre. His later works are in the d’Orsay. We also saw a couple of his murals in St Sulpice.
6. Cluny Museum, also known as the National Museum of the Middle Ages (Musée national du Moyen Âge). See here for my posting on the Kings of Judah and Notre Dame. Highlights of this museum are the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. The museum is in the 5th arrondissement on the site of ancient Roman baths and a 17th century chateau that used to be the Paris home of the abbots of Cluny.
7. Rodin Museum and garden (Musée Rodin). Rodin is buried in his garden under the statue of The Thinker. Some of his most famous works are in the garden which is free to visit. Rodin was prolific and the mansion contains hundreds of his works. The museum is right across the street from Les Invalides in the 7th arrondissement.
8. The Army Museum (Musée de l’Armée). The museum is part of Les Invalides.There was a special exhibit on the Three Musketeers when we were there. There are weapons and uniforms galore in this museum but we were not too impressed. Napoleon’s Tomb under the magnificent Dome next door, however, is a must-see. Admission to the museum includes Napoleon’s Tomb.
9. Nissim Camondo Museum (Musée Nissim de Camondo). We took the Metro to Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement to visit this museum. It’s an early 20th century mansion with 18th century decorations. There is a sad story here of a wealthy Jewish family: the war-hero son was killed in action during World War I; the daughter and her entire family perished in the Holocaust.
10. Victor Hugo House (Maisons de Victor Hugo). One of the 14 City of Paris museums, this museum can be found in the Place des Vosges on the border of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. See here for my posting on Hugo. We took the Metro to the Bastile stop and then walked to Place des Vosges and afterwards walked all the way back home.
Some of the museums we missed: Centre Georges Pompidou (modern art); Carnavalet Museum (the history of Paris); Petit Palais; Musée Marmottan Monet (more than 300 paintings by Monet); Grand Palais; National Museum of Natural History.
If you plan to go to several museums it’s best to purchase museum passes beforehand. You will save some money and often some time (though we didn’t save much time at the d’Orsay). Click here for more information on museum passes.
Click here to see Wikipedia’s list of all museums within the city limits of Paris.
One final note: The Picasso Museum in the third arrondissement has been closed for several years for remodeling but is scheduled to reopen on October 25, 2014.