Paris’s Most Beautiful Museums


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Les Invalides
Photo by Chris Card Fuller ©2008

The List

Earlier this year, the French magazine GEO came out with an entire issue devoted to Paris’s top fifty museums (forty located within the city limits). The ten remaining museums are found in the Paris metropolitan region and Versailles. if you do speak French, beg, borrow, or steal a copy of this Special edition if you can.

In addition to including a pictorial visit to some of the ‘biggies’, i.e. Le Louvre, Musee du Quai Branly, Centre Pompidou, this Special edition issue includes a number of articles discussing the trends and evolution of Paris Museums in the last thirty years.

Eric Chassey ‘A Chaque musee, son Enjeu’ suggests that nowadays you’re much more likely to see contemporary mixed media events – like slam dancing at the Louvre – where contemporary art collides with traditional.

Emmanuel De Roux in L’Effet Beaubourg pinpoints the turning point in the cultural ‘revolution’ – the construction of Centre Pompidou in 1977. Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers saw their ‘oil refinery’ take shape – within walking distance from Notre Dame Cathedral. Today this contemporary museum/public library remains the focal point for the street activity which continually animates its esplanade and the surrounding pedestrian walkways.

Even though some people continue to complain bitterly about the Pompidou ‘refinery’, I agree with De Roux’s assessment – the audaciousness of the project set the tone for the years to come: the whole concept of going to a museum has changed in many ways.

The idea is to find within the museum the work of art that talks to you personally. Accessibility is the keyword. And to that end, a number of Paris museums, in particular, the City of Paris museums have insured free access on certain days of the week with an emphasis on free access to those under 26 years old.

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If you’re under 26 years old, you can, for example visit The Louvre, Musee d’Orsay and Musee du Quai Branly for free on at least one evening out of the week from 6:30 pm to 9 pm. Other museums such as the Musee de Carnavalet and most City of Paris museums offer free admission (except for special exhibits) to all visitors. (See Free Paris for free museums listing).

In addition to city and state museums, private museums have blossomed – making Paris all the more richer in choice and variety. Needless to say, during a three-day or one week stay, you may only have the opportunity to visit one or two museums out of all fifty.

For Dominique de Saint-Pern’s report on the Louvre ‘Une Semaine dans la Ville-Musee’, the journalist spent five days in the Louvre. For the first day, de Saint Pern didn’t even get past the shops! Sound familiar?

What thrilled me about de Saint Pern’s report was the encounter with a chef who walked through the Louvre every day to get to his restaurant. He finally stopped long enough to identify with one of Chardin’s still life paintings: a ready to eat raie fish. The painting spoke to him.

The key to choosing a museum in France is partly luck and partly keeping an open attitude. Let yourself be surprised. In order to best appreciate whichever museum you choose from among the over eighty museums (just within the Paris city limits), prepare for the event. Wear comfortable shoes – but dress up a bit in case you want to take advantage of some of the trendy cafes that are close to the big museums.

(Geo suggests)

Café du Marly near the Louvre ( I have eaten here with friends – the wait staff look like parttime fashion models) The food is not bad either.

Le Saut du Loup – Musee des Arts Decoratifs (overlooking the Carrousel gardens –Louvre)

Restaurant Georges – just on the rooftop of Centre Pompidou – the best time to get here is for afternoon tea – you’ll have a great view of Paris rooftops and a corner of Notre Dame.

Restaurant du Musee d’Orsay – (2nd floor restaurant and tea salon)
Great for afternoon tea or lunch. (You’ll want to wear a dressy blouse with your jeans or a well-cut jacket – of course your converse trainers will pass muster just fine)

Les Ombres – 5th floor Musee du Quai Branly
Café Jacquemart Andre – tea salon in the Jacquemart Andre museum (Sunday brunch) We had brunch here and the ambiance lives up to its reputation.

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