10 Small Secret Museums in Paris -- That Aren't the Louvre
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Listen up, culture vultures. Here's my guide to the best small and almost secret museums in Paris.
I've been to many Paris museums, both large and small, in my many visits over the years. Most visitors to Paris are hitting the big three -- the Louvre, the D'Orsay, and the Pompidou Center. But, let's face it, a visit can be utterly terrible and a bit of a buzzkill, especially at the Louvre.
The hordes of tourist are all vying for a spot in front of a masterpiece, with cell phones, selfie sticks, and tablets held aloft. It's almost like the Louvre invented crowds, the situation is so dire. Do something different, delve deeper, pick a Paris hidden gem.
Paris is literally overflowing with small museums where you can escape the crowds and and still admire high quality fine art. You could spend a month visiting them all. To help you along, I've picked my top 10 must see secret museums in Paris (in no special order).
Best Small Secret Museums in Paris
1. Musée National Eugène Delacroix
The Delacroix Museum is an eccentric little gem of museum. It's off the beaten track in Paris and designed for art lovers. It's set on the lovely Place de Furstenberg, off the Rue Jacob, in the trendy Left Bank neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. When I lastvisited, it was nearly empty.
It has an intimate setting, housed in Delacroix's final apartment and studio before his death in 1863. I tend to love museum-ateliers. They're so revelatory.
Delacroix is known as the founder of the Romantic Period of painting. He rejected the Academy's idea of precise drawing. Instead, he adopted a flowing, convulsive brush style. When you look at a Delacroix, you see "fuzziness, smears, fibrillating paint, irradiated color that destabilize space and emulsify objects."
You won't see anything as stunning as Delacroix's famous Liberty Leading the People (that draws massive crowds at the Louvre) at his studio. What you'll find is lush religious and historical paintings and drawings by Delacroix and others, as well as personal objects and mementos. Delacroix had an obsession with large cats, and you'll see some of those paintings.
The museum's most important piece is Mary Magdalene in the Desert, which was admired by Baudelaire. He said Delacroix's works had “a kind of furious rivalry with the written word.”
There's also a short film about Delacroix's paintings at Saint Sulpice, the nearby 17th century church in the Latin Quarter. I would advise coming to the museum before visiting the church to have a more informed view of the recently restored paintings on display there, which are Delacroix's best murals.
Practical Information for the Eugene Delacroix Museum:
Address: 6 Rue de Furstemberg, 75006 Paris
Entry Fee: 7 €, under 18 free, free to visit with a Louvre ticket, Paris Museum Pass, or Louvre Membership
Hours: Wed to Mon, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., night opening until 9:00 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month, Daily free guided tours at 3:00 pm and 4:30 pm
2. Musée National Gustave Moreau
The Gustave Moreau Museum is another utterly uncrowded art spot. It's tucked away in the 9th arrondissement in an area of grand mansions known as Nouvelle-Athènes or South Pigalle. If you are sightseeing in Montmartre, it's just a 15-20 minute walk.
Gustave Moreau was a prolific 19th century French symbolist painter. He was an art school dropout inspired by Delacroix. Some consider his oeuvre a precursor to Surrealism. Henri Matisse was one of his students, and Moreau influenced many 20th century artists.
This museum, like the Delacroix Museum, was Moreau's family home. He transformed it into an atelier and kept the first floor as his apartment. It's absolutely stuffed with his sometimes macabre paintings and drawings. With copious art and half finished sketches, you can almost imagine what life was like for a Fin de siècle artist in Paris.
There are over 1,300 paintings, watercolors and sketches. There are 5,000 drawings of mythological, biblical, and literary subjects. There's not much curation; you are largely left to interpret the works yourself. This is fairly typically of museums self-designed by eccentric artists or art collectors. But that's OK, you can come up with whatever narrative you want or that suits your mood.
Once you head up the gorgeous spiral staircase, you'll find Moreau's bright well-lit studio. Many drawings are behind curtains and some have to slid from drawers to be viewed. Don't be lazy, take a peak.
Practical Information for the Musée National Gustave Moreau:
Address: 14 rue de La Rochefoucauld
Entry fee: € 6, reduced rate: € 4, Under 18 free
Guided tour: one Thursday a month at 6:00 pm € 8, reduced rate: € 6, duration: 1 hour
Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 12:45 pm & from 2:00 pm to 5:15 pm, closed Tuesdays
Metro: Trinité d’Estienne d’Orves (line 12) or Pigalle (line 2)
3. Musée Jacquemart-André
The Jaquemart-André is another oddly overlooked museum, located just off the Champs-Elysées in the 8th arrondissement. It's usually empty unless there's a special exhibition. Then, the Parisians flock in and you'll need to pre-purchase a ticket. When I was there one February, I seemed to be the only English speaking person in line.
The mansion dates to Baron Haussmann's massive renovation of Paris. Édouard André and Nélie Jacquemart wanted their home to be as grand and beautiful as the new Paris. So they set about creating a gorgeous art collection and renovating the mansion to showcase their pieces.
And there are some masterpieces. The museum has Dutch pieces by Rembrandt and Van Dyke and a large collection of 14th and 15th century Italian art. The painting of St. George and the Dragon, shown above, is deemed one of the greatest achievements in Italian Renaissance art. It's the jewel of the Jacquemart-André.
Another astonishing piece is a massive 1745 Tiepolo fresco titled Henri III Being Welcomed to the Contarini Villa. It greets you at the top of the spectacular main stairway.
Practical Information for theMusée Jacquemart-André:
Address: 158 boulevard Haussmann, 8th arrondissement
Entry fee: €13.5
Hours: Daily 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, late hours until 8:30 pm during special exhibitions
Metro: Miromesnil or Champs-Elysées Clemenceau
4. Musée Marmottan Monet
The Musée Marmottan Monet is a small jewel of a museum, tucked away in Paris' sleepy, posh 16th arrondissement. Because of its far flung location, it's largely devoid of tourist throngs.
I was dragged there against my will -- I don't like Impressionism much. But I had no excuse. I was staying in the 16th arrondissement, and little effort was required to get there. If you're staying in the center of Paris, it's absolutely worth a detour by metro. And it's not far past the Eiffel Tower.
The Musée Marmottan Monet was once home to art critic and collector Paul Marmottan, who bequeathed his collection of Napoleonic art objects. It has a specially built basement gallery with an exceptional overview of Monet's work, over 300 pieces, from his early caricatures to his late works at Giverny. The museum also has paintings by fellow Impressionists Renoir, Dégas, Gaugin, Manet, and Morisot.
But Monet's water lilies are the star of the show. They're massive, especially compared to the usual postage size Impressionist painting. And they sparkle with pure vivid color. I found them mesmerizing.
The museum also has Monet's famous painting, Impression, Sunrise. The painting is significant because it gave birth to the name of the art movement. It was first shown at what was derogatorily dubbed the "Exhibition of the Impressionists" in 1874.
Practical Information for the Musée Marmottan Monet:
Address: 2 rue Louis Boilly | 16th Arrondissement, 75016 Paris, France
Hours: Daily: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Thursday until 9:00 pm, closed Mondays
Entry: 11 €
Phone: +33 1 44 96 50 33
Metro: Line 9 to La Muette
5. Musée de Montmartre
Most people come to Montmartre, but never visit the Montmartre Museum, lost in the twisty cobbled streets of the charming Parisian neighborhood. That's a shame. The museum's a compelling charmer and full of history.
It's housed in an atmospheric 17th century manor house, Maison bel Air. It has a beautiful inner garden with the famous swing from Renoir's 1876 painting. The Swing is a companion piece to the Ball at the Moulin de la Galette, which is also in the Musée d’Orsay. I couldn't resist it on a wintery geographical cure.
Founded in 1960, the museum chronicles the raucous, bohemian history of late 19th century Montmartre. It captures a celebrated time, steeped in history and immortalized in art. Artists like Pissarro, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Dongen, and Modigliani lived in Montmartre, and paved the way for modern art.
Renoir, Valadon, Bernard, Dufy, and Utrillo lived in the museum itself. Eric Satie the composer also lived there, and there's a room dedicated to him. On the second floor, you'll find an exact replica of the studio of Valadon and her son Marcus Utrillo.
You'll feel thrust into the wild, gritty period that was Belle Epoque Paris. You will learn about the avant-garde artists' studios at the Bateau Lavoir and the infamous animated cabarets of the Lapin Agile and the Moulin Rouge. There's an entire room dedicated to the French can can. The museum provides great cultural background for a trip to the D'Orsay.
Practical Information for the Musée de Montmartre:
Address: 12-14 Rue Cortot, 75018 Paris
Entry Fee: 9.50 €
Hours: Daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (to 7:00 pm during Summer)
Metro: Ligne 12 Lamarck Caulaincourt or Ligne 2 Anvers (then take the Funiculaire)
6. Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Off the typical tourist circuit, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (or "MAM" as it is known) is a must see nerve center for modern art.
MAM is in a prime location in the eastern wing of the Tokyo Palace, overlooking the Seine and the Eiffel Tour. It was inaugurated in 1961 and boasts over 10,000 works of art from the 20th and 21st centuries. The museum has high ceilings, open spaces, and is filled with colorful eye-catching art.
The permanent collection is free to the public and and showcases major artistic movements, including Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, and Orphism. There are works by Matisse, Picasso, Derain, Chagall, Modigliani, and Sonia and Robert Delaunay.
The Electricity Fairy (shown above) is the pièce de résistance of MAM. It's a monumental work, 10 x 60 meters and the world's largest painting, which makes it impervious to theft. It was commissioned for the curving walls of the Pavilion de L'Electricite et de la Lumiere at the Exposition Internationale de Paris in 1937. It has 250 painted panels covering an entire room of the museum.
MAM was also the scene of a dramatic one man "Spiderman" art theft that has been described as the "heist of the century." On a chilly spring day in 2010, in the dead of night, Vjeran Tomic did the deed. He cut a padlock, smashed a ground floor window, and snuck into MAM unhindered when the museum's security system failed. The stolen paintings, which included a Matisse, Picasso, Modigiliani, Léger, and Braque, are still missing.
Practical Information for the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris:
Address: 12-14 avenue de New York - 75116 Paris (entrance until fall 2019)
Entry fee: permanent collection is free
Hours: Open Tues-Sun from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Thurs night until 10:00 pm
Metro: Alma-Marceau or Iéna
7. Petit Palais: Musée des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris
Why does no one stop in here?
It's inexplicable. The newly renovated museum collection is free, absolutely free, and a joy to take in. Like its sister palace the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais was built for Paris’ 1900 World Fair. It became a museum in 1902. Designed in the beaux arts style by famous architect Charles Girault, it's a charming small museum that's easy to cover in an hour or so.
It has French paintings, sculpture, and artifacts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its collection includes artists as diverse as Rembrandt, Fragonard, Delacroix, Cézanne, Courbot, Corot, Monet, Rodin, Sisley, Pissarro, and many others. There’s also a section dedicated to Roman and Greek art.
scope and quality.
Practical Information for the Petit Palais:
Address: Avenue Winston Churchill, 8th arrondissement
Entry fee: permanent collection is free
Hours: Open Tues-Sun, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed Mondays and bank holidays.
Metro: Champs-Elysées Clémenceau
8. Musée National Picasso-Paris
Ah, I adore Paris' Picasso Museum. It's not exactly "secret," I suppose. But I love it so much I had to include it on my small museum list. It definitely qualifies as small, as are most single artist museums. The eponymous museum is housed in the gorgeous Baroque Hotel de Sale in the Marais neighborhood.
What I love most about the museum is that it houses all the art that Pablo Picasso could not part with, donated to France by his heirs. It's a personal collection that he created, curated, lived with, and kept nearby his entire life. It represents all the artistic periods of his life, all the women he loved, and reveals his extraordinary range and talent.
Picasso was a lothario and chronic womanizer. He was a one man female wrecking ball who once said "love is the greatest refreshment" and then never left the concession stand.
As you stroll through the Picasso Museum, which is organized chronologically, you can see the progression of his artistic styles and the succession of his long suffering female casualties -- Fernand Olivier, Olga Khoklova, Dora Maar, Marie Therese-Walter, Francoise Gilot, and Jacqueline Roque. His art and his loves were always intertwined.
If you want to visit other Picasso museums in Europe, here's my guide.
Practical Information for the Picasso Museum Paris:
Address: 5 Rue de Thorigny, 75003 Paris
Entry fee: 14 €, under 28 free, audioguide 5 €, free the fist Sunday of every month
Hours: Tues–Fri: 10.30 am – 6:00 pm, Sat- Sun : 9.30 am – 6:00 pm, closed Monday
Metro: 1 Saint-Paul, 8 Saint-Sébastien-Froissart, 8 Chemin Vert
9. Musée Rodin: Founder of Modern Sculpture
The Rodin Museum is one of my favorites museums in Paris. It's an atypical, unstuffy museum. A verdant retreat.
You can stroll through a lovely verdant garden where you accidentally bump into the artist's masterful sculptures. Generally considered the father of modern sculpture, Rodin curated the museum and placed his sculptures amidst the garden's pointy hedges and leafy groves.
The museum is laid out in chronological order. Here, you'll find some of Rodin's most famous pieces -- The Thinker, The Kiss, The Gates of Hell, Monument to Balzac, Young Girl with Flowers in Her Hair, etc.
The early years of Rodin’s career were difficult ones. His work was non-traditional, unpopular, and often seemed unfinished. His subjects were unconventional too -- not royalty or the rich, just people he knew.
Rodin's sculptures were imbued with introspection and emotion – imperfect, pained faces, and tense bodies. The expressive and erotic nature was quite revolutionary for the time. His work was constantly rejected by the Salon. No one appreciated his penchant for realism until much later in his career.
The museum also has an impressive of Camille Claudel’s works. Claudel was Rodin's student and muse, an unsung sculptor herself, and had a tumultuous 10 year affair with Rodin. Like so many affairs with artists, it ended tragically. She eventually descended into madness, and destroyed many of her sculptures.
But she was likely the inspiration for Rodin's iconic The Kiss sculpture. She's also had posthumous fame. In 2017, she got her own museum in Nogent-Sur-Seine France, an easy day trip from Paris.
Practical Information for the Musée Rodin:
Address: 79, rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris
Entry fee: full price, 12 €, audioguide 6 €
Hours: Open daily except Mondays from 10:00 am – 5:45 pm, open late on Wednesdays until 8:45 pm
Metro: Varenne (line 13) or Invalides (line 13, line 8)
10. Zadkine Museum
Two blocks from the lush Luxembourg Gardens, in the heart of Montparnasse, lies the secret Zadkine Museum. You can blink and miss it, it's so well hidden. It's situated behind an industrial building that seems inconsistent with anything artistic. But just to the left is a small seemingly private driveway. If you follow it, you arrive at the Zadkine Museum. Voila!
The intimate museum occupies the first floor of a two story house and has an impressive sculptural garden. It was formerly Zadkine's home and studio, where he lived and created his atelier for 40 years.
Entering the museum, you'll find a procession of small well-lit rooms with glass ceilings and white walls. The museum presents all periods of Russian expat Zadkine's work in roughly chronological order.
It traces the "primitivism" of his first sculptures in wood or stone, to the strict geometry of his Cubist works, to his more expressionistic works, and finally to the pared down neoclassicism of his final years.
The heart of the museum, much like the Rodin Museum, is the lovely garden, dotted with terrific sculptures. There, you'll find Zadkine's Torso of a Destroyed City, a smaller scale version of his most famous piece, The Destroyed City, in Rotterdam. Other seminal garden works include Orphee, Rebecca, and The Human Forest.
The elegant little Zadkine Museum is well off the beaten path. But it's well worth an hour or two of your time, especially if you like sculpture.
Practical Information for the Zadkine Museum:
Address: 100 bis rue d’Assas 6th arrondissement
Hours: Tues to Sun from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, closed Mondays and holidays.
Entry: 7 €
Metro: Vavin or Notre-Dame des Champs
I hope you've enjoyed my guide to the best small museums in Paris. If you'd like to see great art in Paris without the tourists, pin it for later.