Although Paris is known as the city of love, it also enjoys a status as one of the art capitals of the world. With a wealth of history and culture, there are few better places than Paris to immerse yourself in all things aesthetic. For any art or history buffs making the pilgrimage to Paris, here are what we consider to be la crème de la crème of the city’s museums.
Musée du Louvre
There’s no looking past the world’s most famous museum. The 21-metre-high glass pyramid of the Louvre is just as much a symbol of Paris as the Arc de Triomphe or the River Seine. Originally built in the 12th century as a medieval fortress, the French Revolution saw the Louvre transform into a public museum of the arts. Today, the Louvre’s mind-boggling collection includes over 35,000 works of art divided into eight categories: painting; sculpture; decorative arts; prints and drawings; Egyptian antiquities; Near Eastern antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities; and Islamic art. With 300 rooms sprawling over four floors, it’s virtually impossible to see everything in one visit. But then again, why would you want to? Try a pastry at one of the Louvre’s cafes, stroll through the lavish apartments of Napoleon III, return the Mona Lisa’s mysterious gaze –– and leave plenty to discover on your next visit to the Louvre.
While the Louvre contains works from the Middle Ages through to the mid-19th century, it’s at this point that the Musée d’Orsay takes over. Originally built for the 1900 World Fair, this former railway station is itself a masterpiece of Beaux-Arts architecture and design. The Musée d’Orsay contains the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in the world, plus a staggering number of iconic works from the Expressionist, Romantic, Neoclassicist, and Art Nouveau movements. Although the museum only showcases pieces from a relatively short period (1840 to 1914 or so), this was the era which saw the rise of names such as Renoir, Cézanne, van Gogh, Degas, Monet and Rodin.
Auguste Rodin was a prolific sculptor known for his striking realism. In fact, one of his works, The Age of Bronze, was so lifelike that some claimed it had been moulded straight from a model’s body. In 1916, after a decades-long career smattered with various controversies, Rodin donated his entire collection of works to the French state. Today, the Musée Rodin is one of the most peaceful places in Paris, with more than 6,000 sculptures and 8,000 drawings on display throughout the grandiose Hôtel Biron and its charming rose-filled gardens. This museum is still smaller than the Louvre and the d’Orsay, though, and the atmosphere decidedly more intimate.
Musée de l’Armée
The Hôtel national des Invalides was constructed in 1678 as a home and hospital for injured soldiers and retired war veterans. Today, it houses France’s largest collection of war memorabilia, including around half a million weapons, pieces of armour, uniforms, artilleries and paintings. One highlight is the magnificent tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte, whose remains are enshrined in a pedestal-mounted sarcophagus made from black marble, green granite and aventurine quartz. At 12,000 square metres, a tour of the Musée de l’Armée is not something to be undertaken lightly. However, the museum will reward visitors with a fascinating chronicle of war history from antiquity through to the end of World War II.
Petit Palais (Paris Museum of Fine Arts)
Just behind the Champs-Élysées is the Petit Palais, also known as the Paris Museum of Fine Arts. Like the Gare d’Orsay, the Petit Palais was built in the lead up to the 1900 World Fair. Designed in the ornate Beaux-Arts fashion, the building was constructed around a picturesque garden and courtyard, and its interiors filled with fine paintings, jewellery, sculptures, artefacts and other objets d’art from antiquity to around 1920. Enter the grand foyer and marvel at the decadence of its design; intricate mosaics cover the floor and columns of pink marble loom from every direction. With huge glass windows that allow its masterpieces to bathe in natural light, the Petit Palais feels pleasingly spacious, despite its popularity.
Feature Image Credit: The Cookiemonster.