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Visit Paris Museums off the Tourist Track

Aug 17, 2007
Sure, you know about the Louvre and the Impressionists at the Musee d'Orsay, but are you familiar with the Marmatton? Or Paris' Cluny Museum on the Left Bank? In addition to the famous "first tier" museums, the city of light offers scores of fascinating and less crowded smaller museums. Whether this your second (or third or fourth) trip to Paris, or if you just want to try something a little different, consider visiting one of these exciting lesser-known Paris museums.


Located west of downtown Paris, in the stylish and affluent 16th arrondissement, lies the Marmatton Museum, a small gem of a museum, filled with the works of Impressionist painter Claude Monet and his talented friends. Named for the owner of the spacious 19th-century town house that houses the museum, the Marmatton's collection is centered on a group of 65 Monet paintings bequeathed to it by the painter's son Michel in 1965. This core grouping includes "Impression Sunrise," the painting that gave a name to the entire art movement, as well as one of Monet's series of Rouen Cathedral studies.

The highlight of the collection, however, is the large number of water lily paintings of Monet's garden at Giverny, done late in Monet's life, mostly from memory as he had lost most of his eyesight. These massive canvasses are displayed in a round gallery, where they virtually envelop the viewer. The Marmatton also contains a number of paintings from Monet's personal art collection, including works by Pissarro, Renoir and Sisley. The walk through the park from the Muette metro stop to the museum is a lovely throwback to the 19th century and helps to set the scene for a museum visit.

Le Carnavalet

Paris' Musee Carnavalet, dedicated to the history of Paris, is housed in a unique Parisian 16th-century mansion. The luxury town house, with a typical French center courtyard, was once home to Madame de Sevigny, noted for her detailed letters to her daughter (more than 1500 of them) that tell of Parisian life in the late 17th century. The museum is located in the trendy Marais neighborhood, just steps away from the Place des Vosges.

Rarely crowded, the Musee Carnavalet is an intriguing mixture of old and new. Entire rooms have been recreated within the museum, such as an 18th century Louis XIV-style salon, complete with gold-leaf paneling, and the Art Deco early 20th century ballroom from the Hotel de Wendel. Other of the 140 rooms are devoted to such things as prehistoric artifacts from the Parisii tribe who once inhabited the Ile de la Cite, souvenirs from the Revolution, antique maps and important paintings, as well as the furniture from the room where Marcel Proust wrote his lengthy "A Recherche du Temps Perdu." There is also a spectacular ceiling painted by the French muralist Le Brun. The gardens, too, are spectacular, and are a pleasant oasis in the middle of the bustling city.

The Paris Fashion Museum

Brigitte Bardot's Dior wedding dress, a classic 1930s Chanel wool suit, and a robe worn by stage legend, Sarah Bernhardt: These are just some of the treasures to be found at Paris' Musee du Mode et du Costume. Located in a 19th-century Renaissance-style town house, this three-story museum's collection includes more than 100,000 outfits, dating from the 18th century to the present. Such fashionable women as Princess Grace of Monaco, the Duchess of Windsor, and Baronne Helene de Rothschild have contributed to the museum as have renowned designers including Balmain, Givenchy and Balenciaga.

Because clothing is so delicate, and because the collection is so vast, the displays are rotated several times a year, usually arranged to focus on one time period or one designer's work. That means you're sure to see something new, even if you have visited here before. (Take the metro to the Iena or Alma stations.)

The Cluny Museum

Set amidst the 19th and 20th century attractions of the Left Bank are ruins of the old Gallo-Roman baths from the Roman city of Lutece. These artifacts are part of the structure that makes up the Cluny Museum, officially the Musee National du Moyen Age (middle Ages).

This peaceful spot houses the elegant 15th century "Lady with a Unicorn" tapestries, wonderfully displayed in a round gallery space. The Cluny also boasts the "Gallery of the Kings," a collection of 21 of the original 28 stone heads of the Kings of Judah, carved in the 13th century and found during excavations in 1977 near the Place de l'Opera. Together with hand-lettered manuscripts, gold artifacts, and other stone carvings, they form the world's finest collection of Medieval art.

Periodic medieval poetry readings and concerts held at the museum are a special treat. (Take the Metro to Cluny, St-Michel, or Odeon.)
About the Author
Gerald Robinson has a passion for Paris and provides help for planning and enjoying travel to Paris at his website, www.paris-travel-insider.com . The content is derived from his trips to Paris and exhaustive research.
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