Art lovers visit Paris with international institutions like the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, Musée Carnavalet, Musée de l’Orangerie and Musée Jacquemart-André in mind. But this vibrant city is also home to an astonishing number of lesser-known exhibition spaces. We explore five museums offering a slightly different perspective on French history, literature and art.
Musée de la Vie romantique
Musée de la Vie romantique (Museum of Romantic Life) is located near Montmartre in a two-storey 19th century townhouse, which has its own Romantic-era history. The museum feels akin to an elegant family home; visitors can leisurely walk through the rooms examining items related to the life and work of writer George Sand, as well as artifacts from the lives of some of her contemporaries. Sand is best known for her writing, but the museum also features some of her watercolor paintings. Although Sand is the main focus of the museum, other artists are also represented in the collection, such as composer Frédéric Chopin.
Musée les Arts Décoratifs
Located within the Louvre, the Musée les Arts Décoratifs is well worth a visit for its astonishing collection of furniture, textiles, and fashion. While it’s not exactly ‘tucked away’, it has a huge, must-visit collection of objects related to interior design through centuries of history. There are often exhibitions on famous fashion designers, French or otherwise.
Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine
Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine (architecture and heritage), and within it the Musée des monuments François, features authentic re-creations of architectural sites around Paris, including arches, walls, and other architectural ornaments exhibited within one modern building. Walk through different eras of French architectural history, ducking under the interior of a medieval monastery or examining the figures carved atop an ornamental lintel. In addition to the columns and carvings, there is also a collection of stained glass windows. Like the Musée des arts décoratifs, this museum offers a different perspective on the development of French art throughout history, as embodied by architecture and decoration. The museum is located at the Roader, which is also worth exploring – not least for its views of the Eiffel Tower.
Musée des lettres et manuscrits
The Musée des lettres et manuscrits, located on a busy street in the middle of Paris, is another tiny museum composed of just a few rooms. Despite its size (or because of it) the contents of these few rooms make it well worth a visit. Within its collection, the museum features letters, manuscripts, and other hand-written notes from such diverse historical personages such as Louis Pasteur, Marcel Proust, and Charles Baudelaire. The manuscripts are grouped into categories, so you can skip to an area that interests you: science and discovery, history, music, art, and literature. The letters and manuscripts are all right in front of you and easy to see, although attempting to decipher the authors’ handwriting is another matter.
Musée de Cluny
This museum of medieval art and architecture is located in the fifth arrondissement, housing a collection of medieval artifacts in the remains of the town residence of a group of medieval abbots. The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are undoubtedly the stars of the museum’s collection. All six tapestries are housed in one hushed, dimly lit room, where visitors can examine them in silence. The museum’s collection however, also encompasses illuminated manuscripts, ornate caskets and much more. Indeed, even the building itself is worth studying. In addition to its medieval history, part of the site now dedicated to the museum once housed Roman baths.
Musée de Cluny, 6 Place Paul Painlevé, Paris, France, +33 1 53 73 78 00