An Australian’s guide to the best Paris art galleries
Paris is known as one of the art capitals of the world. Got only a few days in Paris in which to view as much art as possible? Well, let me share what I have learnt from visiting 9 galleries in 5 days to save you money and time.
Plan your visits
Many of the smaller art galleries are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays. So I would recommend visiting the smaller, quieter galleries on the weekend and visiting the more famous galleries (like the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay) midweek when they are hopefully less busy.
Many of the museums are open late until 6pm, 8pm or even 10pm on some nights. So plan ahead and save some visits for the evening to maximise your gallery viewings.
Tickets to the museums can be bought ahead of time online to avoid having to wait in line. Annoyingly they don’t let you check out as a guest and you may have to set up a user account for each gallery. The tickets can be stored on your phone and scanned as you enter. Even if you have a Paris Museum Pass, or entry is free, some museums still require you to book a time slot ahead of time.
Paris Museum Pass
The Paris Museum Pass gets you into the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay and many other galleries over a 2-day, 4-day or 6-day period. I wish I had purchased one of these to start off with as it also gets you into the Arc de Triomphe, the Chateau de Versailles, for which I paid separate admission fees. Even with this pass, you may have to reserve a time slot to enter the most popular museums. For a list of all the Paris Museums and more information go to https://www.parismuseumpass.fr/t-en
List of Galleries included in this article:
Of course, everyone wants to go to the Louvre. Be prepared for crowds of people and long queues. I suggest you book well in advance so you can skip the queues (even with a Paris Museum Pass you still need to book a time slot). The Louvre is absolutely huge, and with marble floors and very little seating, I recommend wearing your most comfortable shoes and allowing at least two hours for this visit. If you want to get a picture of the Mona Lisa there is a long wait in line, but you can still view her from the side without having to wait in queue (no photos allowed from this position though).
The whole experience is quite overwhelming as there is so much to take in before you even look closely at the artwork. There are boldly coloured walls, richly decorative frames, paintings hung in salon style (above one another) as well as the building itself with beautifully high painted ceilings. You can book a private tour guide if you want to be in and out as fast as possible. We booked ours via Trip Advisor and she gave us a personalised tour of the highlights in under 1.5 hours.
If you want to escape the crowds and have a break from the seemingly endless walls of paintings, I recommend you head down to the basement where you can walk through the excavated ruins of the original mote that operated when the Louvre was a fort.
Alternatively, you can view the grandeur of Napoleon III’s rooms. They are quite spectacular and are away from the main art spaces, so there are fewer people there. You can view photos here: https://www.louvre.fr/en/explore/the-palace/the-splendour-of-the-second-empire.
The Tuileries gardens are located just outside the Louvre so it’s a good place to visit just after the Louvre when you need a rest. It’s basically an outdoor sculpture gallery, and it is free, with plenty of places to sit. It includes sculptures by famous artists like Auguste Rodin and contemporary artists like Louise Bourgeois. The Welcoming Hands by Louise Bourgeois are my favourite, and they are easy to miss: they are right up the end near the Concorde. This article from 2019 outlines many of the sculptures in the gardens, so you can perform your own self-guided tour: https://www.discoverwalks.com/blog/discover-the-statues-of-the-tuileries-garden/
Musée de l’Orangerie
Within the Tuileries Gardens is the Musée de l’Orangerie which houses Impressionist works and artworks by Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso. Unfortunately, I was unable to visit as it was already booked out days in advance so book ahead!
The Musée d’Orsay has to be my favourite gallery, covering works from 1848 – 1914, including works by Monet, Degas, Manet, Renoir Van Gogh, Gaugin and Rodin. Like the Louvre it is primarily a museum of paintings, displayed on boldly coloured walls in ornate frames. The museum is not as large as the Louvre and can be viewed in 2 hours or less. Although only a short walk from the Louvre I wouldn’t advise seeing both galleries in one day as they are both so large and overrun with people that it is just too much to take in secession.
To view the famous clock windows, make your way to the upper floor and stick to the left of the building. There is a café on the top floor near the far clock window which is a good place to stop and recharge.
The Pompidou Centre is located a few metro stops away from the main action and is less plagued by crowds. It houses modern and contemporary art including works by Kandinsky, Picasso, Leger, Miro, Dali, Matisse, Holzer and Kawara. It was fantastic to see so many artworks studied at art school all in one place.
The building itself is quite modern and stark when compared to traditional galleries like the Louvre and the d'Orsay. Even the bag storage and audio tours are more modern, with self-service lockers and self-guided audio tours for which you use your camera and phone. Make sure your phone is fully charged and click over to the gallery wifi to ensure you can access the audio material in all corners of the gallery.
The layout was somewhat confusing. You must travel up through tunnels and escalators past the libraries to the two top floors to view the permanent exhibition. Then travel back down to the foyer and up the other side to view the temporary exhibition, which may incur an additional entry fee.
There are plenty of places to sit and rest, with deck chairs scattered across the outdoor terraces where you can enjoy the view of Paris. There is also an area for children to play and lots of merchandise geared towards children, so it is much more child-friendly than the Louvre.
The Picasso Museum is located a 15-minute walk from the Pompidou Centre, so both can be viewed in one day. The museum isn’t usually very busy and the building itself is quite charming with a peaceful garden at the rear which you enter for free if you enter via the basement past cloakroom area.
I’ve been to the Picasso Museum a few times but this time the exhibition has been rearranged and presented by Paul Smith in a riot of colour. Gone were the stark white walls, replaced with colourful rooms which predominately grouped Picasso’s work by subject and colour rather than in chronological order. I thought it a great improvement on the usual display and hope they make it permanent, although the present configuration is scheduled only until 27 August 2023.
I recommend you invest in an audio tour as none of the signage is in English and they had run out of English pamphlets when I was there. There was an audio tour for children and a craft area for them in the basement, so it is a child-friendly gallery.
Palais de Tokyo
Closed Tuesday & Thursday
If you like the Pompidou Centre, I recommend you check out Palais de Tokyo. It has a rotating exhibition schedule of contemporary artists and is open every day in the summer. It is an open exhibition space covering two levels that can be covered in an hour.
Unfortunately, it is not part of the Paris Museum Pass but tickets can be easily bought online. It is next door to the Paris Museum of Modern Art (which is free!) so I suggest you do them both in one day (not on a Monday, Tuesday or Thursday).
Paris Museum of Modern Art
It is right next door to Palais de Tokyo so I suggest you visit both these galleries in one day (provided it isn’t a Monday, Tuesday or Thursday). Even though this gallery is free, you still need to book a ticket: https://www.billetterie-parismusees.paris.fr/content#
Fluctuart Centro de Arte Urbano
This floating gallery, bookstore and restaurant is located on the south bank of the Seine near the Pont de l'Alma bridge. As the title suggests, it exhibits urban art on its lower 2 decks and has a restaurant on the top deck. It's only a small gallery but worth visiting if you're in the area. Entry is free and the restaurant serves good food and cocktails.
Musee Marmottan Monet
Reservations are not required as you can buy your tickets directly at the museum. The museum is located west of the Eiffel Tower and it contains many of Monet's later works, thanks to his son Michel Monet who donated his father's remaining works after his death along with works by other artists that his father had collected, including Eugène Delacroix, Eugène Boudin, Johan Barthold Jongkind, Gustave Caillebotte, Renoir, and Morisot. Apparently, the collection of works by Berthe Morisot is quite impressive.
The Rodin Museum is located south of the Seine River in an old mansion in which the artist once lived. It is set out to show the development of Rodin's work over his life. It also displayed Rodin's personal art collection which included a couple of Van Gogh's and a Monet.
I particularly liked Rodin's early paintings and his hand sculptures. I was also pleased to see work by sculptor Camile Claudel with whom Rodin had an affair.
The garden, which was developed after Rodin's death is laid out beautifully, with some of Rodin's larger works. So save some time to spend in the garden. There is a cafe and toilets also located outside.
Musée Gustave Moreau
This quirky little museum displays the works and memories of Gustave Moreau (1826-1898). It’s a time capsule of the apartment in which he lived and worked until his death. The walls are completely covered with his paintings and his own collection of artwork and memorabilia. He never married or had children. He lived with his mother until she died. Upon his own death, he bequeathed his house and all its contents to the State on the condition that the collection be kept there forever.
Alone at the end of his life, Moreau decided to create a museum for his work. He hung his paintings all over the house, continually reworking them and stacking them up in the small house. The paintings are in various stages of completion and his main themes were Greek mythology and Biblical stories. Upstairs he had a studio and gallery where he hung his largest, most ambitious works.
The museum is not part of the Paris Museum Pass, but you can also buy tickets online. If you purchase your ticket at the door there is an option to buy a twin ticket with the Jean-Jacques Henner Museum for an extra euro or two, which is a 30 minutes’ walk away. Entry to the museum is free on the first Sunday of each month.
Jean-Jacques Henner Museum
In a former mansion, the museum is dedicated to the work of Jean-Jacques Henner. The museum is part of the Paris Museum Pass, although you can also get a combined ticket with the Musée Gustave Moreau (30 minute walk away) if you buy the ticket in person.
Built at the end of the nineteenth century by Edouard André and his wife Nélie Jacquemart. The couple collected European eighteenth-century art and displayed it in this beautifully decorated private mansion.
This museum is not part of the Paris Museum Pass but you can buy tickets online. Admission includes a free audio tour of the permanent art collection and the house itself, as well as an activity book for kids. There is also a gorgeous café onsite. Unfortunately, the museum will be closed from 1 August 2023 to 1 September 2024.
Musée de Montmartre
The museum is open every day and is not part of the Paris Museum Pass. Located in the heart of Montmartre, its collection includes paintings, posters and drawings by Auguste Renoir, Émile Bernard, Raoul Dufy, Charles Camoin, Suzanne Valadon or Maurice Utrillo. The site also includes the reconstructed apartment of Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo who lived there in 1912 and gardens named after Renoir who once lived nearby.
Private Commercial Galleries
Closed Sunday & Monday
There are hundreds of small commercial galleries around Paris, and you will find a concentration of them north of Champs-Élysées and north of the river Seine, specifically near the following streets: Rue De Miromesnil, Rue Beaubourg and Rue Debelleyme. These articles will give you a list of the best commercial galleries in Paris: https://www.urbansider.com/10-best-art-galleries-in-paris/