Boutique museums in Paris
Le carnet de France
By Martine P. Dulles
First of all, je voudrais vous présenter mes meilleurs voeux pour 2021. (I want to wish you all the very best for 2021.) For many of you, I know one of your wishes is to be able to come back and visit France soon. Be assured, we shall be very happy to welcome you again.
Having heard from some of you that you cut out and keep my articles (which I feel honored by), I would like to introduce you to some of the “boutique” museums in Paris that you may want to put on your list for your next visit.
Most visitors always go to the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, but there are more than 200 other museums in Paris and more than 1,000 art galleries. (The total number of museums in all of France is above 1,200, and new ones open constantly.) Just reading the list of museums, one is impressed with the diversity. There is one for almost every interest: the arts (architecture, drawings, paintings, photography, sculptures, music …), history, military, religions, fashion, food and wine, nature, hunting and fishing, games and toys and many more subjects.
So where to start? As I mentioned the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, this time I will indicate several other museums close to them, starting with the Place de la Concorde and finishing at the other end of the Boulevard Saint-Germain
Standing on the Place de la Concorde at the entrance to the Jardin des Tuileries, with the Champs-Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe at your back, you have on your left (the north side) the Musée du Jeu de Paume and on your right (the south side, closer to the Seine) the Musée de l’Orangerie, both buildings framing the space with similar façades.
They were built during Emperor Napoleon III’s reign — l’Orangerie in 1852 and le Jeu de Paume in 1862. The palm game — le jeu de paume — was created in France and is the ancestor of tennis. Originally, one hit the ball with the palm of one’s hand; later players introduced a racquet with a short handle. In the 1920s the building became a museum. First, it showed impressionist art, but since 2004, it has been the photography museum of Paris. Quentin Bajac, who worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, became its new director in 2019. From September 2021 to the end of January 2022, there will be an exhibit of part of the vast collection of the German lawyer Thomas Walther.
L’Orangerie houses one of the masterpieces of French art: “Les Nymphéas” (“Water Lilies”) by Claude Monet (1840-1926), one of his last creations before his death. It took Monet (almost blind at the time) four years from 1914 to 1918 to paint the eight panels; all of them are two meters high, but their length varies from six to 17 meters. They are hanging in two oval rooms created especially for those paintings. As you enter these rooms, you can only be impressed, and you will notice that there is not a sound, as visitors are asked to be silent. To admire more of Claude Monet’s work, you also should visit the Marmottan-Monet Museum in the 16th arrondissement or go to Giverny, where he lived along the Seine River in Normandy (more information to come in future articles).
In the temporary exhibit areas of L’Orangerie, an exhibit of Willem de Kooning, the American abstract expressionist painter born in the Netherlands (1904-1997), is planned from September 2021 to January 2022.
As you cross the Seine, toward the left bank is the beginning of the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Just left of the Assemblée Nationale at 121 rue de Lille is the Fondation Custodia, unknown to many. In 1947 a Dutch couple, Frits Lugt (1884-1970) and his wife, Jacoba Klever (1888-1969), bought the beautiful 18th-century private mansion, l’Hôtel Turgot. They gathered one of the largest collections of old-master drawings as well as engravings, prints, books and letters, some of which are displayed permanently. Temporary exhibitions are also organized; the next one in September 2021 will be entitled “True to Nature: Open-Air Paintings 1780-1870.” The foundation is connected to two other institutions, one in Florence, Italy, and the other in the RKD (Netherlands Institute for Art History) in The Hague.
As you continue along the Boulevard Saint-Germain, go south one block to the rue de Grenelle. At n° 61 (between the rue du Bac and the Boulevard Raspail) is the Musée Maillol, which was created in 1995 by Dina Vierny, the muse of the sculptor Aristide Maillol. You can see many of his sculptures in the Jardin des Tuileries. (Madame Vierny also posed for Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard). The Musée Maillol also organizes temporary exhibits, usually of 20th-century artists.
Back on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, behind l’Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which is being restored at the moment, is the charming little Place Fürstenberg. There is the Musée national Eugène Delacroix, which was his home from 1857 to 1863. Displayed are some of his works and some of his correspondence with other painters and admirers. Eugène Delacroix was born in 1798 outside of Paris and died in 1863 in Paris. You may know one of his most famous paintings, “Liberty Leading the People,” inspired by the people’s revolt in 1830, which hangs in the Louvre. He also painted many walls and ceilings in churches and chapels. One such chapel is in l’Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which prompted him to live next door. L’Église Saint-Sulpice, not far away, just had his two paintings restored. Le Palais du Luxembourg (site of the French Senate) and la Chambre des Députés (l’Assemblée Nationale) both have walls decorated by him.
At the corner of the Boulevard Saint-Germain and the Boulevard Saint-Michel is the Musée de Cluny/Musée national du Moyen Âge. It certainly is one of the oldest in Paris located in the Hôtel de Cluny, which dates from the 13th century. It is built around Gallo-Roman baths, which are believed to date from the first or second century of our era. Its collection consists of antique sculptures, Byzantine sculpture (ninth to 12th century), Romanesque art (12th century) and Gothic art. It also owns six exceptional tapestries of “The Lady and the Unicorn,” which date from 1500. The museum is going through a second major renovation to expand its space, so it does not plan on reopening before 2022.
We finish our promenade with the Musée de l’Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA or Arab World Institute) at the end of the Boulevard Saint-Germain. The idea for this museum came from then-president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (who just died on December 2) in the late 70s. He felt the Arab world needed to be better known and understood. The architects were Jean Nouvel (who has also designed the Philharmonie de Paris and, recently, the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the National Museum in Doha, Qatar), Pierre Soria, Gilbert Lézénès and the Architecture Studio. The IMA was inaugurated by the then Minister of Culture Jack Lang in 1987. The outside of the building is filled with mashrabiyah, a typical architectural element of the Islamic world. The IMA owns a large collection of Islamic art, old and contemporary, which ranges from carpets and fabrics to sculptures, musical instruments, calligraphy samples, ivory and much more. Once or twice a year they organize temporary exhibits related to specific Arab countries and their culture and history.
At the top of the IMA building is a terrace from which you have one of the most beautiful views of Paris. I have provided for your enjoyment a photo I took in 2012 that shows Notre-Dame de Paris, the Île de la Cité and the Île Saint-Louis.
While researching many of the Paris museums, I found that generally they are not planning any temporary or special exhibits before next September.
Stay healthy and have a good year in 2021.
Martine P. Dulles lives in France. Martine was a docent at the MET in New York and later a licensed tour guide in Charleston for many years. She now organizes bespoke tours in France and is a translator for cultural material.You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.