From the exhibits to the streets you can find artistic and literary gems on every corner of Paris’ streets.
There are around 130 art museums in Paris, some containing the most famous artworks in the world and others the not so famous artworks. It really depends how you want to go about it. The most famous museums like Musée du Louvre are extremely overrated in my opinion and bucketloads of tourists line up just to see the Mona Lisa, an artwork which I believe is also extremely overrated. However, this does not mean in any way that you should skip the museum (unless you are short on time because you need 4 hours to see this place in depth). Putting Mona Lisa aside, there are another 35,000 pieces which I definitely recommend seeing. At first you will be overwhelmed by the sheer size and wealth of its collection and as you walk from one room to another you will travel through centuries and centuries of treasures. If you are extremely serious about art I suggest doing your research beforehand by picking up a guide and highlighting what interests you most. Then note down the rooms because the Louvre is so huge you will most definitely miss something.
If you want something less chaotic that the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay is a tasteful reminder of the masterful creations of the nineteenth century. The Musée d’Orsay is a revamped old monumental railway station on the banks of the Seine. It features artworks from Millet, Courbet, Manet, Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, Van Gogh, Degas, Gauguin, Bonnard and Vuillard, highlighting the decisive nineteenth century period. It also catalogues the major movements in painting such as academism, the Barbican school, Realism, Impressionism, Neoimpressionism, Nabis and Symbolism.
If you like sculpture work you should visit the Musée National Rodin which is the mansion where Rodin lived at the end of his life. It now contains an unbeatable collection of the sculptor’s work, including his famous Balzac, the Burghers of Calais and the Gates of Hell. Take note of the way he revolutionised sculpture at the end of the nineteenth century as you walk around his arranged rooms and beautiful garden.
For something more modern visit the Centre Pompidou, the second largest collection of modern and contemporary art in the world. It features artworks from Kandinsky, Picasso, Dalí and Andy Warhol. If you’re trying to save money visit the free Atelier Brancusi modern art museum on Pompidou’s plaza. Constantin Brancusi was a Romanian sculptor who spent most of his life in Paris. The museum is constructed to look exactly like his studio did the day he died and features a glimpse into the creation of his abstract work and his obsession with the spatial relationship of his pieces.
The Centre Pompidou isn’t just an art gallery — its one of the most famous and radical buildings of our time. In the 1970s architects Piano and Rodgers collaborated to erect the monumental cultural centre that it is today thanks to the President of France. In their initial design plans they agreed on two concepts; the first was to portray the building itself as movement, and the second, which is perhaps the most obvious, was to expose all the infrastructure of the building. The skeleton itself engulfs the building from its exterior, showing all of the different mechanical and structural systems.
If you want to escape from the crowded city The Villa Savoye is located just outside Paris. For those of you who aren’t really into this stuff you will probably Google this building and think to yourself how on earth it made it onto this list. Basically, this building was designed by Le Corbusier in 1929 and represents the culmination of a decade where modern architecture began to flourish. It might not be the epitome of grandeur and feature a multitude of architectural features but it makes the cut simply because of the architect itself and the time in which it was constructed.
For something less modern visit the Paris Opéra that was designed by Charles Garnier. It is the most famous auditorium in the world with 2,200 seats and is one of the most prominent architectural masterpieces of its time. It was initiated by Emperor Napoleon III of the Second Empire as part of the great Parisian reconstruction.
You can find the Louvre of street art in Paris’s Belleville neighbourhood where you can find works from every major French street artist including Blek le Rat, JR, Fred le Chevalier, Kouka, Invader, and the 1984 crew.
If you enjoyed the Atelier Brancusi museum in the Pompidou Centre you can find some of the subjects of Boulet’s work in everyday street sites that you may not have been aware of till now. He photographs regular objects and then adds illustrations to transform them. For example, an ironing board becomes a butterfly and an oil stain becomes the hair of Amy Winehouse.
Paris’ most reclusive street artist, Princess Hijab exhibits her work in train stations and creates her temporary exhibits late at night. She paints black veils over the faces and airbrushed half-naked bodies of subway fashion advertisements. She probably does this to draw attention to France’s laws against Muslim headdresses or to combat in-your-face sexuality. Honestly though, no one really knows who she is, if she even is a female or a Muslim.
If you enjoyed the 1831 publication of The Hunchback of Notre Dame you should visit the Maison de Victor Hugo which is now a small museum with an impressive collection of his personal drawings and portraits.
You can also visit the Latin Quarter which boasts an impressive literary history. James Joyce completed Ulysses in a flat down one of the passageways, Ernest Hemingway lived a few doors down and the club beneath his house was inspiration for the book where Jake Barnes meets Brett Asley in The Sun Also Rises. Lastly, George Orwell also worked as a dishwasher on those streets.
Alternatively, grab something to read at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France which houses 14 million books on 418 kilometres of shelves. It has four glass towers shaped like half-open books which is also quite cool.
THE NOT SO FAMOUS BUT STILL FAMOUS
One of Paris’ hidden gems, the Musée Marmottan – Claude Monet has an abundance of Empire furniture and the world’s largest collection of works by Claude Monet, most of them donated by the artist’s family. You can find some of his most famous impressionist works such as Soleil Levant. You can also find paintings on display by Pissarro, Renois, Manet, Degas and Caillebotte.
La Pinacothèque is a private museum that organises four major exhibits per year. The gallery contains a non-linear approach to art history that range from Mayan masks to Edvard Munch retrospectives.
For more modern art visit the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. With particular emphasis on the cubist movement, the Ecole de Paris and works by the Delaunays and Fautrier, this modern art collection has more works central to Paris than the Centre Pompidou.
If you like classical architecture you should take a walk around the Church of La Madeleine. It was designed by Pierre Alexandre Vignon in 1806 along with the Arc de Triomphe and the Vendôme Column. It is one of the monuments that Napoleon used in order to turn Paris into an imperial capital. Looking a lot like a Roman temple with its Corinthian colonnade, the Madeleine reflects the taste for Classical art and architecture that predominated in France during the Empire phase of the Neoclassical movement.
If you have the time also visit:
- Musée Jacquemart – André – nineteenth century works by Boucher, Fragonard, Nattier and Canaletto as well as a small Rembrandt and Botticelli.
- Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine – architecture museum.
- Musée Bourdelle – houses the collections of Antoine Bourdelle (assistant of Rodin and teacher of Giacometti).
- Musée Maillol – works by twentieth century sculptor Aristide Maillol, featuring paintings from his Nabis period as well as some drawings by Matisse, Dadaist objects and more.
- Musée de l’Orangerie – home to Monet’s eight water lily canvases plus some Jean Walter, Paul Guillaume and some impressionist and Ecole de Paris paintings from Matisse, Renoir, Derain, Rousseau and Soutine.
- The Panthéon – one of the most impressive buildings of the Neoclassical period (yes there is one in Paris, no its is not in Rome)
- Abbesses (Line 12 metro entrance) – street art featuring the finest examples of Hector Guimard.
- Bastille (Line 5 platform) – street art featuring a mosaic replicates of the signatures of Latin Quarter luminaries, including Molière and Robespierre.
- Concorde (Line 12 platform) – street art containing 45,000 tiles spelling out the text of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, organised to look like children’s building blocks in blue and white.
Prep yourself by reading the following books:
- Notre Dame de Paris, by Victor Hugo
- Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs, by Jeremy Mercer
- The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
- Rodin’s Lover, by Heather Webb
Prep yourself by watching the following films:
- Midnight in Paris (2011)
- Hugo (2011)