Paris has a huge number of many of the best museums in the world. You could spend a week doing nothing but museums, and still not really see all of them. We, therefore, are selective. We visit some of our favorite museums virtually every trip and then visit others more selectively, as when we haven’t been to it in a while or when it has a special exhibit in which we are interested.
Although we certainly visit the Louvre, we must admit to being somewhat intimidated by the museum and the throngs of people. We also tend to prefer 19th and early 20th century French art to that of previous centuries (as in the Lourve) and of more contemporary times (as in the George Pompidou Center). Our favorite museums, therefore, are the Musee d’Orsay, Musee Rodin, Musee Picasso (which has been closed our last two times in the city) and L’Orangerie.
Musee d’Orsay is not only our favorite Museum in Paris, but one of our two favorite museums (along with the Art Institute of Chicago) in the world. This trip, we limited our visit to a mere 3.5 hours, with an overview of the entire museum and a particularly detailed focus on the Impressionist galleries. We also took a brief tour though a special exhibit on Impressionist’s characterization on the fashions of the time, where we practically OD’ed on the work of our favorite Impressionist (Renoir) and got our second chance this year to see our favorite picture from the Art Institute of Chicago (which is now on loan to d’Orsay), Gustave Caillebotte’s “Paris on a Rainy Afternoon.”
Musee Rodin. We were in for a very pleasant surprise. Since the last time we visited the museum, they added a new exhibition center, in addition to the Rodin’s mansion (Hotel Biron) and his outside garden. While there are certainly some lovely pieces in the mansion, the garden had always been our favorite spot, with bronze masterpieces including The Thinker, Balzac, the Burghers of Calais and the extraordinary Gates of Hell. The special exhibition was almost as beautiful, with a couple dozen sculptures we had never seen before, including an absolutely beautiful bust named "Diane" (unfortunately, no photos allowed in this exhibition).
L’Orangarie. A small gem of a museum in the Tuileries. The highlight is certainly the two large, oval upstairs rooms that are covered with four huge murals of Monet’s Giverny gardens (no pictures). L’Orangerie, however, is much more than water lilies: The downstairs is effectively a retrospective of late 19th- and early 20th-century French art. One long wall is filled with Renoirs and two galleries are devoted to three "Primitive Modern" (Rousseau, Laurentian and Modigliani), three "Classical Modern" (Picasso, Matisse and Derain) and two lesser-known artists of the period (Maurice Utrillo and Chaim Soutine).
Petite Palais. The collection, which is contained in four wings and a courtyard, consists largely of early 20th-century decorative art, and smaller numbers of earlier pieces. Although there are certainly some lovely pieces in the museum, we find the building itself to be the highlight. The beautiful building, designed for the city’s 1900 Universal Exhibition, has beautiful mosaic floors, stained glass windows and Symbolist-style murals covering the ceiling of the large entry hall. The wrought iron circular staircase that takes you to the downstairs galleries is particularly beautiful.
Musee Carnavalet. This museum, which was built in the 16th-century as a Marais townhouse, has been converted into a museum to house part of the city’s municipal art collection. It has been adapted to showcase architectural elements from a number of old Parisian mansions. Two of the initial galleries contain a number of iconic shop signs from and scale models of the 16th-century city that vividly demonstrate the stifling atmosphere of a growing city consisting of six- and seven-story, shared-wall buildings that were build all the way out to streets that were too narrow to accommodate more than two horses at a time. Most of the galleries contain portraits and other representations of the homes, lives and people (especially the rich and famous people) of the 16th through early-20th centuries.
Missed Opportunities. We were absolutely in the mood for the Musee Picasso which, as mentioned above, was closed for renovation during our last trip to Paris. Unfortunately, it is still closed and is not expected to reopen until summer of 2013. The good news is that the 17th-century mansion in which it is housed (The Hotel Salé) was in desperate need of renovation and is likely to be beautiful when it eventually reopens.
We would have also liked to visit the Louvre to see the recently opened Islamic wing. We decided, however, that we didn’t want to visit the museum for this one wing, and did not have the time to devote a full day to the many other galleries that we would have liked to visit. Next time.
Our other museum disappointment: we left the city a week and a half before the opening of temporary exhibit on the work of another of our favorite artists: Edward Hopper. We would have also loved a chance to revisit the beautiful building in which it is housed: the Grand Palais. And as if missing the exhibit (and the building) weren’t bad enough, Hopper’s premier painting, The Nighthawks, will probably still be on loan when we return to its home (Art Institute of Chicago) when we return to that museum in the spring.