An Art Lover’s Guide to France’s Best Museums
A comprehensive list of the best places in France to view iconic works of art.
Vacationing in France means access to some best culture that the world has to offer. Whether you are a serious art student or simply a dabbler with an appreciation for beauty, the country has a number of museums that are not to be missed.
The Musée D’Orsay is located right off the Seine river, making it a particularly nice place for a dray trip. Take the morning to walk along the water, grab lunch, and then head to this museum, housed in a re-purposed railway station. While the station itself is over a century old, the museum wasn’t planned until 1974 and did not begin moving pieces in until 1986.
This is also a great choice for those that are interested in local art in particular, as most of the collection comprises French works from 1848-1915, including paintings, sculptures and photography. It houses the most Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings than any museum in the world, movements that include such important artists as Monet, Manet and Van Gogh.
On the sculpture side, visitors can see works from Sarah Bernhardt, Paul Gauguin and Camille Claudel.
A large complex in the 4th arrondissement, the Centre Pompidou is home to a number of important destinations, including a large public library and a center for music research. For art lovers, however, the crown jewel is the Musée National D’Art Moderne, the largest museum of its kind in all of Europe. It has the second largest collection in the world, surpassed only by New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, showcasing more than 100,000 works from 6,400 artists who hail from 90 different countries.
The museum is divided into two collections, Modern and Contemporary Art. The former features styles such as Fauvism, Cubism, Dada and Surrealism, and has paintings by such luminaries as Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, George Grosz and Kurt Schwitters. The Contemporary collection, dedicated to work produced after 1960, explores tendencies like Pop Art, New Realism and Conceptual Art. Visitors can see work from Daniel Buren, Richard Hamilton and Andy Warhol.
After whetting your appetite for sculpture at the Musée D’Orsay, continue on to the Musée Rodin. Not only is this museum dedicated to sculptures, it is focused completely on one of the most dynamic and influential sculptors of all time: the eponymous Auguste Rodin. There are two sites, the Hotel Baron in central Paris, and one just outside the city, the Villa des Brillants at Meudon, Rodin’s former residence.
Rodin, who is widely considered the father of modern sculpture, was negatively critiqued during his lifetime. It was only after his passing that many of his techniques that allowed him to form complex, turbulent surfaces in clay, were fully appreciated. Today, the museum receives about 700,000 annual visitors, as guests flock to admire his artistic mastery. Also on exhibition are works by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, and even some of Rodin’s personal paintings.
Another notable museum, the Musée Ingres, is dedicated solely to the works of two artists: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Antoine Bourdelle. Established in 1854, it is located in the small city of Montauban, found in Southern France.
Ingres’ biggest legacy is his portraits, including one of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was adept as both a painter and a drawer, and the museum showcases thousands of his drawings. Bourdelle was a prolific sculptor and painter, whose work is featured in Italy, Japan and the United States. Stylish and well-appointed, this museum is the ideal choice for a serious art fan, and one who wants to learn a bit more about two of Montauban’s most influential cultural figures.
Of course, no exploration of French artwork is complete without a visit to the Louvre, one of the world’s oldest and most significant museums. Founded in 1793, it is a central landmark in the city of Paris, and is on the right bank of the Seine. The museum itself is in the Louvre palace, originally a fortress under Philip II and holds a history nearly a millennium long.
Visitors should be warned that there is a ton to see. The fort takes up over 650,000 square feet, and has almost 35,000 objects, spanning prehistoric times to the current century. The sheer breadth of art on display continually attracts tourists the world over, as more than 9,000,000 people visited in 2014.
While all of the art is worth a look, perhaps the crown jewel of the collection is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Its value has been approximated at $762 million, and the reasoning is clear: it has had a strong and enduring affect not only on painting, but on art and culture as a whole. The subtle modeling and atmospheric illusionism are as breathtaking today as they were groundbreaking at the time of its creation.
Of course, France has so much more to offer than art. Lovers of food, wine, and music will also have a wonderful experience, making France tours perfect for the whole family. To see beauty that can’t be found anywhere else on the globe, book your trip today.
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