Good news for anyone balking at exorbitant entry fees for Paris's big collections: all night on 16 May, 1,300 French museums will open their doors for free for the 11th edition of Nuit des Musées. Prepare yourself a sandwich and some strong coffee, get ready to queue (particularly for the heavyweights), and delve into the depths of the Louvre, Palais de Tokyo, MAC/VAL, Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature and many more. You'll emerge shattered, but with your wallet not a centime lighter.
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Some participating museums
A two-year overhaul turned the three-floor hunting museum from a musty old-timer into something really rather special. When it reopened in 2007, it had kept the basic layout and proportions of the two adjoining 17th-century mansions it occupies, but many of its new exhibits and settings seem more suited to an art gallery than a museum. The history of hunting and man's larger relationship with the natural world are examined in things like a quirky series of wooden cabinets devoted to the owl, wolf, boar and stag, each equipped with a bleached skull, small drawers you can open to reveal droppings and footprint casts, and a binocular eyepiece you can peer into for footage of the animal in the wild. A cleverly simple mirrored box contains a stuffed hen that is replicated into infinity on every side; and a stuffed fox is set curled up on a Louis XVI chair as though it were a domestic pet. Thought-provoking stuff.Read more
Opened just days after the 2005 banlieue riots ended, this contemporary art museum has earned a fearsome reputation for artistic savvy. Its collection offers a stunning snapshot of French art from 1950 to the present, including installations by Gilles Barbier, Jesús Rafael Soto and Christian Boltanski. Recent acquisitions have branched out into contemporary art, representing artists of all nationalities including Yvan Salomone, Tsuneko Taniuchi and Jesper Just. Add to that its ongoing tradition of artists in residence, as well as a wide range of temporary exhibitions, and you’ve got one of Paris’s most exciting galleries.Read more
When it opened in 2002, many thought the Palais' stripped-back interior was a design statement. In fact, it was a response to tight finances. The 1937 building has now come into its own as an open-plan space with a skylit central hall, hosting exhibitions and performances. Extended hours and a funky café have drawn a younger audience, and the roll-call of artists is impressive (Pierre Joseph, Wang Du and others). The name dates to the 1937 Exposition Internationale, but is also a reminder of links with a new generation of artists from the Far East.Read more
Centuries of makeovers have made Versailles the most sumptuously clad château in the world – a brilliant, unmissable cocktail of extravagance. Architect Louis Le Vau first embellished the original building – a hunting lodge built during Louis XIII's reign – after Louis XIV saw Vaux-Le-Vicomte, the impressive residence of his finance minister Nicolas Fouquet. André Le Nôtre turned the boggy marshland into terraces, parterres, lush groves and a spectacular series of fountains. Allow yourself a good part of the day to appreciate the gorgeous state apartments and the famous Hall of Mirrors – a 73-metre (240-foot) gallery overlooking the garden, hung with 357 mirrors. It was commissioned in 1678 by Louis XIV, decorated by Le Brun and is easily the highlight of any visit. It was also where the famous Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919. After Le Vau's death in 1670, Jules Hardouin Mansart took over as principle architect, transforming Versailles into the château we know today. He added the Grand and Petit Trianons in the gardens – pink marble palaces hidden from the protocol of the court. The Grand Trianon retains the décor of Napoleon who stayed here with his second Empress, Marie-Louise, while the Petit Trianon is a wonderful example of neo-classicism. It later became part of the Domaine de Marie-Antoinette, an exclusive hideaway located beyond the canal in the wooded parkland. Given to Marie-Antoinette as a wedding gift by her husband Louis XVI in 1774, the domain also incluRead more
Since the banker Henri Cernuschi built a hôtel particulier by the Parc Monceau for the treasures he found in the Far East in 1871, this collection of Chinese art has grown steadily. The fabulous displays range from legions of Han and Wei dynasty funeral statues to refined Tang celadon wares and Sung porcelain.Read more
During his lifetime, Jean-Jacques Henner (1829-1905) was one of France's most respected artists, winning multiple prizes and official state honours. While the Impressionists were revolutionising the rules of painting in the late 19th century, Henner was carving himself out a sturdy reputation as a talented landscape painter and exceptional portraitist. Reopened in 2009 after four years of renovation work, the museum traces the artist's life from his humble beginnings in Alsace to his rise as one of the most sought-after painters in Paris. Although he never lived here, the building was the home and studio of his contemporary, Guillaume Dubufe, and the interiors have been widely refurbished to recreate the feel of the period. A Chinese-style fireplace on the ground floor and Egyptian mashrebeeyah in the striking red-walled studio testify to the eclectic tastes of the time, while many of the furnishings belonged to Henner himself. The closure of the museum also allowed the paintings themselves to be cleaned and restored, a process not helped by Henner's predilection for unusual raw materials, such as the top of a cigar box. The works are now spread across the museum's three compact floors in loosely chronological order. On the first floor, Alsatian landscapes and family portraits are a reminder of the artist's lifelong attachment to his native region. The annexation of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in 1871 prompted Henner to paint one of his most famous works, L'Alsace. Elle atRead more
Read Time Out's review of The Louvre below or click here for our exclusive photo tour of the museum. The world's largest museum is also its most visited, with an incredible 8.8 million visitors in 2011. It is a city within the city, a vast, multi-level maze of galleries, passageways, staircases and escalators. It's famous for the artistic glories it contains within, but the very fabric of the museum is a masterpiece in itself - or rather, a collection of masterpieces modified and added to from one century to another. And because nothing in Paris ever stands still, the additions and modifications continue into the present day, with a major new Islamic Arts department set to open in 2012, and the franchising of the Louvre 'brand' via new outposts in Lens (www.louvrelens.fr) and Abu Dhabi. If any place demonstrates the central importance of culture in French life, this is it.Some 35,000 works of art and artefacts are on show, split into eight departments and housed in three wings: Denon, Sully and Richelieu. Under the atrium of the glass pyramid, each wing has its own entrance, though you can pass from one to another. Treasures from the Egyptians, Etruscans, Greeks and Romans each have their own galleries in the Denon and Sully wings, as do Middle Eastern and Islamic art. The first floor of Richelieu is taken up with European decorative arts from the Middle Ages up to the 19th century, including room after room of Napoleon III's lavish apartments.The main draw, though, is the paRead more