Paris has always attracted artists, many of whom, such as Monet, Picasso, and Duchamp, became famous not only as artists but as individuals who changed our view of the world. From Neo Classicism to Realism to Impressionism, from Cubism to Surrealism, Paris has been the epicenter of monumental changes in the art world, altering socio-cultural identity while re-defining what is considered “art.” As a result, Paris is full of museums ranging from the intimate exploration of a single artist to huge institutions that showcase centuries of art. Though just a fraction of the museums visitors can enjoy in Paris, the following five are among the most popular and iconic attractions.
Everyone has heard of the Louvre. Set in what was originally the palace of the French kings, the Louvre is a huge museum exhibiting works of art from prehistory to the 21st century. Famous for the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, there are many more paintings and sculptures worth a visit. It would take several days to see everything in the Louvre so it’s a good idea to choose a particular gallery or works of art and limit your time to two or three hours so you don’t suffer from museum fatigue.
The Musée d’Orsay, which opened in 1986, is housed in what was originally a train station (the Gare d’Orsay) and is home to 19th and early 20th century art works by artists such as Courbet, Bougerau, Delacroix, and Bonheur and has one of the largest impressionist and post-impressionist paintings in the world including works by Monet, Manet, Morisot, Degas and Renoir. Like the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay is a huge museum and very popular so expect long lines but the wait is worth it.
The Centre Pompidou (or Beaubourg) opened in 1977 much to the disgust of many Parisians who thought it ugly and a blight on the beauty of their city. It has now become a cultural icon and was one of the earliest modern buildings to be constructed “inside out” – the pipes and structural elements exposed rather than hidden. Inside there is a Public Information Library, a Museum of Modern Art and a Center for Music and Acoustic research. You can find many works by 20th century artists such as Chagall, Duchamp, Delaunay and Kandinsky in the permanent collection and there are always two or three exhibitions on show. Even if the art isn’t to your taste, it’s worth a visit just to ride the escalator to get breathtaking views of the surrounding city.
The Rodin Museum in the Hotel Brion is exactly what its name implies – a museum dedicated to the great 19th century sculptor. Opened in 1919 the museum contains many of his most famous works including The Kiss, The Gates of Hell and The Thinker. Also included are works by friends of Rodin; Van Gogh, Renoir and Monet as well as works by Camille Claudel who was a student and a model as well as a lover, close friend and collaborator of Rodin’s.
Finally, if you are a fan of impressionism and particularly of Monet, be sure to visit the L’Orangerie, so named because it was originally built by Napoleon III as a hot house where oranges and other exotic citrus fruit were grown. There are several impressionist and post-impressionist works in the museum but it’s most famous for Monet’s giant Water Lily series (Nympheas), eight of which the artist gave to the French government in 1922 as a tribute to the end of WWI.
Whichever museum you are able to visit, the richness of the French artistic heritage is sure to leave a lasting impression.
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