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Paris has long been an art capital, popular with artists from all over the world, who often moved to France to find a bigger audience for their work. Today, the art galleries in Paris house some of the most extensive and impressive collections of art in the world. Alongside their huge permanent collections, galleries and museums have regular special exhibitions collating works from all corners of the globe, from other galleries, art stores and previously unseen private collections.
The trouble is: with so much on offer, how do you choose what to see? Not even Superman could see all of the artwork in Paris, so try our guide to the best art museums in the city.
It’s one of the most famous art galleries in the world, covering artwork from prehistoric times up until the 19th century. The gallery boasts ancient Egyptian, Roman and Greek collections, Islamic art, Decorative art and huge rooms filled with white marble sculptures. There are also impressive collections of paintings organised into sections such as 18th century French or Italian renaissance. It is the permanent home of the Mona Lisa, as well as massive canvases from Caravaggio, Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael.
The best way to see the Louvre is to pick out the part that most interests you, and start there. The place is so big, it can take ten minutes walking to get to where you want to be! Look out for late night openings, which make the illuminated building look more sinister.
Located in an old railway station, this is the temple of French art. Home to masterpieces by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Gauguin and Van Gogh, it is one of the widest collections of impressionist and post-impressionist work. Most of the paintings date from between 1848 and 1915, and if you like the art movement, the gallery is a must-see.
The building faces the Seine, so if all the fine art gets too much, you can stroll along the riverbank, or cross over the bridge to the famous Tuileries gardens.
This smaller gallery is almost a hidden gem! Despite containing work by some of the most famous painters in the world, this impressionist gallery is not visited by many tourists. It is most famous as the home of Monet’s infamous Water Lillies canvas, which featured in the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris. However, the gallery also exhibits work by Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso and Rousseau, which often are never moved and so cannot be seen anywhere else.
If you find the old masters dull, this is the place for you. The inverted-factory style building is home to the biggest contemporary art collection in Europe. It was named after the French president in the early seventies who dreamt up the centre, and is a paragon of modern architecture. The silver scaffolding exterior is fronted by a staggered external escalator providing access to its six cavernous floors of modern and contemporary art.
The collections include sixties photography, minimalism canvases and wacky conceptual sculptures. When you’re done examining the varied visions of reality, try exploring the streets around the gallery, which are home to off-the-beaten-track cafés, restaurants and boutiques.
This national gallery for contemporary art is lesser-known than its super modern counterpart, but exhibits first class work. It originally held all the works from the Musée d’Orsay, and was redeveloped as a more modern space. It opened again with retrospectives into internationally famous contemporary artists such as Eva Hesse and Robert Gober, but has since changed to film and photography. It now houses collections by Ed Ruscha and Cindy Sherman.
The views from the huge bay windows show the nearby Tuileries gardens and the Eiffel Tower. Cafés nearby are aimed at tourists, but taking a picnic into the park to eat in the sunshine is a truly Parisian way to spend the day.
This gallery stands in the converted house of Édouard André and Nélie Jacquemart, who dedicated 158 Boulevard Haussman as a public gallery to exhibit the art collections they built up during their lives. The gem is the Italian museum, housing 15th and 16th century sculptures, alongside masterpieces by Donatello, Bellini, Carpaccio and Boticelli. However, equally as grand are the unchanged reception rooms used by the former owners, as well as their private quarters and winter gardens. A decadent palace dedicated to Italian beauty.
This is France’s biggest collection of Dalí sculptures and engravings, containing over 300 works. It represents the lesser-known side of Dalí’s surrealism, allowing you to see his conceptual ideas in 3D. With your mind truly boggled, why not explore the local Montmatre area, known for its vibrant café culture, or take a trip to nearby Sacré Coeur.
With that, you have an art showdown, from prehistoric to modern day art, with everything from everywhere in between. Now there’s no excuse!
By Emily Wassell