In the previous Paris museum, article we told you about the lesser-known museums we visited. I hope you didn’t think that those were the only museums we enjoyed during our three months in Paris. We saved the bigger museums, the ones you’ve heard of, for this article.
The Louvre is probably the one museum everyone has heard of. But the thing you should know is that the place is HUGE, so I was looking for a way to save money to go more than once. Without a deal, the entry is about $17/pp. Years ago in Florence, I was able to buy a “Friends of the Museum” pass. That pass got us in everywhere and it was a great deal.
In Paris, I was able to buy a ‘Friends of the Louvre‘ annual pass for Mike for $80 and he could bring me for free on Friday nights. So, we went to the Louvre most Friday nights for the next seven or eight weeks. While it was a tremendous amount of walking just to get there and back, we were able to pick different sections to visit so we didn’t feel like we missed too much.
The Louvre has some of everything and since it is so large I’ll tell you what I thought was most interesting. First, the building was built as a palace on top of a more modest fortress building. They have spent a lot of time, excavating below the center building and you can now see the structure of the original fortress. There are exhibits on the lowest floor of the Sully wing that describe the structure.
Navigating the Museum
The museum is divided into three sections, as you can see on this map. Sully which is the central square section. Richelieu, which is on the right if you are looking toward the Concord monument. Then Denon, next to the Seine, which is on the left as you are facing the Concord monument. The reason I mention the relative locations is there were many evenings when I had to look out the windows of the museum to figure out where I was. I also used the opportunity to take some awesome pictures of the Louvre Pyramid and the Paris skyline.
Louvre Regular Collections
The regular collections include sculptures, antiquities, paintings, and furniture. There is a section with Roman sculptures and another section of French sculptures. Since they are in separate wings of the museum, it takes quite a while to find them all. There are several floors of antiquities in the Sully wing, including Greek, Roman, Etruscan, and Middle Eastern. Some of the most impressive antiquities came from temples and palaces in Iran and Iraq.
The furniture sections are vast and are mostly organized into Napoleon’s Apartments. It seems like miles of rooms, one after the other with beautiful furniture, walls and ceilings. It is easy to get overloaded, so our multiple visits were a benefit. There are also crown jewels; it took me weeks of visits to actually find them.
Then There Are the Paintings
Of course, everyone wants to see the Mona Lisa, me included, but I found the other paintings in her gallery to be very engaging as well. From that gallery, there are two long galleries of paintings, one Italian and one French. Again, it seems like miles of paintings. If go all the way to the end of the gallery, you are rewarded with Spanish masters, such as Goya. On the staircase leading to the painting galleries in Denon, I stumbled on the famous Winged Victory sculpture.
There are more painting galleries on the upper floor of the Richelieu wing. These galleries have newer paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries. Included in this area is a room full of Rueben’s paintings of the life of Marie di Medici. I remembered this from previous visits and it took a few visits this time to find it open.
Louvre Special Exhibits
While we were in Paris, there was a special exposition at the Louvre called “Naples in Paris,” on loan from a museum in Naples. The exhibit was in three sections. The first one I saw had some very large paper drawings with holes in them. Apparently, this is how the great artists of the 15th and 16th centuries painted on ceilings. The drawing would be done on paper and the paper was affixed to the ceiling. Then the artist would make tiny holes around the outline of the picture and use the holes to mark the ceiling as guide for the real painting. It was fascinating.
Another part of the exhibit interspersed art from Naples along grand galleries with part of the permanent collection. Each of the Italian paintings had a long written explanation next to the picture. The special exhibit was very interesting and enjoyable to view. To learn more about special exhibitions at the Louve check here.
Many years ago I visited the Musée Marmottan before it became the Marmottan-Monet. At that time, the museum had a painting by Monet that coined the phrase Impressionism because he titled it Impression, Sunrise. The painting is still part of their collection. But most of the museum is now rooms with furniture and paintings.
Apparently, one of Monet’s descendants donated many more of the artist’s works to the museum. Now the entire lower floor is all Monet paintings and is worth a visit. The rest of the museum focuses on Impressionism and post-Impressionism and is also worthy of a visit. Since this museum isn’t too large, you can visit all of it in a few hours.
My favorite museum in Paris is the Musée d’Orsay because I am quite partial to Impressionism by Degas, Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Matisse, Manet, Sisley, Morisot and Cassatt. The last two are women who were appreciated during their own time. The D’Orsay is built in an old train station and is very large. It will take more than three hours to see everything. They also let you see the movement of a huge clock at the top of the structure. Unfortunately, we only visited once during our stay in Paris. The next time you stay in the City of Light, be sure to carve out some time to go there.
The l’Orangerie is situated in the Jardin de Tuileries near the Concord monument. This museum also has an excellent extensive collection of Impressionist paintings. But it is most famous for the two large, oval rooms containing huge canvases of Monet’s Water Lilies. The exhibit was donated by the artist to the French people in 1926 and he supervised the installation himself. If you like Impressionism or Monet at all, this is a don’t miss.
We actually visited this museum twice because, toward the end of our stay in Paris, they had a special Modigliani exhibit. Years ago in Montmarte, I went to a small Modigliani museum and I was very impressed with his work. So, I bought tickets for a special trip to the L’Orangerie to see the Modigliani exhibit. We also revisited the rest of the museum. Both the special exhibit and the permanent collection were wonderful.
The Musée Rodin is a fairly small museum in the artist’s villa in the middle of the city. While there are sculptures inside, most of his famous works are outside in the garden. The interior is filled with studies and models that he used for The Thinker, The Burgers of Calais, The Kiss, and the Gates of Hell. This museum will take one to two hours and is highly recommended.
In all honesty, we have been to so many Picasso museums they have all started to blur together. The Musée National Picasso-Paris is unique because it is situated in a restored Hotel Sale villa. The restoration left exposed rafters in the ceiling with Picasso’s trademark fisherman’s shirt fabric. The museum is fairly small and won’t take more than a few hours to visit. The museum contains an eclectic collection of art that Picasso donated to the French people in lieu of taxes that he owed.
The Sainte Chapelle chapel is next to the Conciergerie on Isle de la Cite. It isn’t a museum, but the chapel has very ornate stained glass windows and was built as the private chapel for a queen. We happened to be near there one day and there was no line, so we hopped in. My memory of this chapel was more impressive than the chapel itself. It seems to be more than ready for another renovation but the wall and ceiling paintings and the stained-glass window are definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
Visiting These Museums
Most people visit Paris for a week or less. If that is the case for you, it is most economical if you buy the Paris Museum Pass. The pass is good for all of the museums I mentioned (except the Marmottan-Monet) but it is only good for a period of two, four, or six days in a row, depending on which one you buy. For most museums, you still need to reserve an entry time. Many places implemented timed entry during the Covid and I guess they liked it so well they decided to continue it. I personally think it is a pain.
For those of you who are in Paris longer, the first Sunday of every month is Free Museum Day. Sounds great, however, you must still make a reservation and they usually sell out within 24 hours of becoming available. So for the museums you are interested in, figure out when you want to visit and when you need to reserve for that date.
Which museum is most compelling to you?