Museums in Paris

Paris, being the rich historical treasure trove that it is, boasts dozens of museums catering to specific and general historical topics and eras.

Auguste Rodin Museum

The Museum is the former Hôtel Biron, where Auguste Rodin rented quarters for the ten years prior to his death from a stroke in 1917.

He gave his works to the nation of France, on the condition that they would always remain in the hotel. His rooms, which were on the first floor, are open and airy, with plentiful windows overlooking the surrounding gardens.

The former hotel now houses the world's greatest collection of Rodin works, including Le Penseur (The Thinker), Balzac, La Porte de l'Enfer, and Ugolin et ses enfants. These are displayed in the garden, due to their size.

Indoor displays feature some of his marble sculptures such as Le Baiser and La Main de Dieu.

Particularly fascinating are Roméo et Juliette, and La Centauresse, two "half-finished" statues, where the figures are only partly liberated from the stone.

Address: 77, rue de Varenne.

Maritime Museum

Celebrating a time when the seas were the only way to travel from country to country –the roads and byways on which many wars were fought–, the Maritime Museum is built on a collection first given to King Louis XV in 1748.

It contains models of war ships, steam and sail vessels, merchant ships and fishing boats from the last two hundred years. Also on display are magnificent figureheads, navigational instruments, maritime paintings, lighthouse optics and other items that figured in France's maritime history.

Regular cultural events include lectures, model making, conferences, seminars and archeological displays.

Address: Palais de Chaillot, 17, Place du Trocadéro.

Orsay Museum

This beautiful building, featuring a long arched ceiling with plenty of glass and light, was originally built in 1900 as a train station for the Orleans line.

However, it fell into various uses when it turned out the train platforms were too short.

Refurbished inside and out, it became an art museum focusing on the period 1850-1914, and covering all areas of the arts from music, through painting, to sculpture, architecture, and the memorabilia of everyday life.

Address: 1, rue de la Legion d'Honneur.

Musée de Clunée (Medieval Museum)

At one time known as the Hôtel de Cluny, the structure is an outstanding example of a 15th century private residence. The actual building is an amalgam, starting with private houses built into the remains of Roman structures erected over the thermal baths.

By the 1500s, the present edifice was erected on the walls of the original Roman structures. The interior was renovated and windows installed during the 19th century.

The collection housed there was started by Alexandre du Sommerard, who gathered armour, chests, ivories, mirrors and hangings of the medieval period.

However, its true gems were acquired under the stewardship of Sommerard's son. He added some of the most intricate and fascinating examples of wall hangings still in existence, the most valuable of which, is an incredible piece with six scenes of a woman with a lion and a unicorn, titled La Dame à la licorne.

The ethereal red background of each panel is embroidered with a thousand flowers, birds and animals, surrounding the mysterious woman who is seated in various poses on a green island.

Address: 6, place Paul Painlevé.

Museum of Mankind

A broad range of sciences are represented here, including anthropology, ethnology, paleontology, genetics, and linguistic studies. Originally the Museum of Ethnology, the collections and displays date back to the curiosities owned by Kings in the 16th century, with items from every international expedition undertaken by French explorers or adventurers.

Two of the more interesting exhibits are the Gallery of the Night of Time, showing the creeping progress of knowledge through the evolution of Man; and the American Galleries, featuring a trip from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

Address: Palais de Chaillot, 17, place du Trocadéro.

Picasso Museum

Housed in a fifteenth century mansion in the Marais district, the museum contains the progressive works of Picasso, completed between 1894 and 1972. The collection began with works the government received in lieu of death duties when Picasso passed away in 1973, and was added to after the death of his widow in 1990.

The number of paintings is low in relation to what was snapped up by museums in other countries, but the collection does contain his engraving works, some ceramics, and such unusual pieces as The Bull's Head, a cast bronze work that placed bicycle handlebars over the bike's saddle.

Address: 5, rue de Thorigny.

Louvre Museum

And of course, Paris is home to that most famous museum of all, Le Louvre —the most visited art museum in the world, and also one of the oldest and largest. We'll take a quick look at the museum’s official website (available in French, English, and Japanese), since it offers an excellent way to prepare for your visit to the museum itself...

First, the website contains information on the museum itself, its history, its garden and its tuileries.

Next, there is information about the collection: some 35,000 works of art, displayed in over 60,000 square meters of exhibition space. There is a “kaleidoscope” with a list of visual themes, and an overview of the four online databases that can be accessed through the web site:

  • The Atlas describing the works of art exhibited at the museum
  • The illustrated Inventory of the Department of Prints and Drawings, a catalogue of the museum’s 140,000 works on paper
  • The La Fayette Database of American Art, presenting the more than 1,700 works produced by United States artists that entered the national collections of France before 1940
  • The Joconde, with 120,000 descriptions of drawings, prints, and paintings from the 7th century to the present day, from the collections of over sixty French museums

Then there’s an overview of past, current and future exhibitions; information on the Auditorium and the lectures and symposia, readings and performances held there; and an overview of the other activities at the Louvre, such as guided tours, workshops, and classes.

Finally, the web site contains practical information for visitors, e.g., opening hours and admission fees, and online stores where one can buy both tickets and museum-related items, such as books, DVDs, and casts of sculptures.

Our verdict: highly recommended resource, 5/5!