Whether you’re into the gracious curves of art nouveau masters Gallé and Guimard, or you prefer the blurry sweeps of Monet and the figurative detail of Gustave Moreau, you won't be disappointed in Paris’s museums. 19th century art and architecture is everywhere – inside world class establishments like the Musée d’Orsay, and in lesser-known gems like the Musée Marmottan, a gorgeous stately home on the edge of town that holds the largest Monet collection in the world.
This wonderful museum combines the small private apartment of Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau (1826-98) with the vast gallery he built to display his work - set out as a museum by the painter himself, and opened in 1903. Downstairs shows his obsessive collector's nature with family portraits, Grand Tour souvenirs and a boudoir devoted to the object of his unrequited love, Alexandrine Dureux.Upstairs is Moreau's fantasy realm, which plunders Greek mythology and biblical scenes for canvases filled with writhing maidens, trance-like visages, mystical beasts and strange plants. Don't miss the trippy masterpiece Jupiter et Sémélé on the second floor.Printed on boards that you can carry around the museum are the artist's lengthy, rhetorical and mad commentaries.
Couturier Pierre Cardin has owned belle époque restaurant Maxim's since 1981, and now he has added a museum of art nouveau, which he has been collecting since the age of 18. There are rooms and rooms of exhibits, arranged so as to evoke a 19th-century courtesan's boudoir.Read Zola's Nana before your visit to grasp the full effect of the dreamy lake maidens sculpted in glistening faience, pewter vanity sets in the shape of reclining nudes, and beds inlaid with opium flowers to promote sleep. Dinner settings on display include Gustav Eiffel's own chunky tureens, just crying out for turtle soup.
The reopening of this Monet showcase a few years ago means the Orangerie is now firmly back on the tourist radar: expect long queues. The look is utilitarian and fuss-free, with the museum's eight, tapestry-sized Nymphéas (water lilies) paintings housed in two plain oval rooms. They provide a simple backdrop for the astonishing, ethereal romanticism of Monet's works, painted late in his life. Depicting Monet's 'jardin d'eau' at his house in Giverny, the tableaux have an intense, dreamy quality - partly reflecting the artist's absorption in the private world of his garden. Downstairs, the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume collection of Impressionism and the Ecole de Paris is a mixed bag of sweet-toothed Cézanne and Renoir portraits, along with works by Modigliani, Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso and Derain.
Originally a museum of the Empire period left to the state by collector Paul Marmottan, this old hunting pavilion has become a famed holder of Impressionist art thanks to two bequests: the first by the daughter of the doctor of Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley and Renoir; the second by Monet's son Michel. Its Monet collection, the largest in the world, numbers 165 works, plus sketchbooks, palette and photos. A special circular room was created for the breathtaking late water lily canvases; upstairs are works by Renoir, Manet, Gauguin, Caillebotte and Berthe Morisot, 15th-century primitives, a Sèvres clock and a collection of First Empire furniture.
The Musée d'Orsay, originally a train station designed by Victor Laloux in 1900, houses a huge collection spanning the period between 1848 and 1914, and is home to a profusion of works by Delacroix, Corot, Manet, Renoir, Pissarro, Gauguin, Monet, Caillebotte, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and others.Alongside the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre, it's is a must-see in Paris, especially its famed upper levels, which have just undergone a serious brush-up. The top floor is still devoted to Impressionism, while you'll find Art Nouveau, decorative art, sculpture, Post and Neoimpressionism art, and Naturalism on the middle floors, including a section on Nabi.
On ground level, the school of Barbizon, realism sculpture before 1870 and symbolism take pride of place.
Despite it’s elegant, Belle Époque allure the ‘Little Palace’ is overshadowed by its big brother, Le Grand Palais, just across the road. But ignore it and you’ll miss out on one of Paris’s loveliest fine arts museums, with an extensive mish-mash of works by Poussin, Doré, Courbet and the impressionists, as well as other paintings and sculptures from the Antiquity to 1900. Art Nouveau fans are in for a treat downstairs, where you’ll find jewelry and knickknacks by Belle Epoque biggies Lalique and Gallé, furniture by Hector Guimard (the man behind of Paris’s iconic metro entrances) whose entire wooden dining room is reproduced; and the ceramicist Jean Carriès, whose grotesque creations (think witch-like masks and frogs with rabbit ears) add an element of supernatural fantasy. The building, built by Charles Girault for the 1900 for the World Fair, is lit entirely by natural light and sits around a pretty little garden - a plum spot for coffee and cakes.
The sculptor Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929), a pupil of Rodin, produced a number of monumental works including the modernist relief friezes at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, inspired by Isadora Duncan and Nijinsky. The museum includes the artist's apartment and studios, which were also used by Eugène Carrière, Dalou and Chagall. A 1950s extension tracks the evolution of Bourdelle's equestrian monument to General Alvear in Buenos Aires, and his masterful Hercules the Archer. A new wing by Christian de Portzamparc houses bronzes, including various studies of Beethoven in different guises.
When Dutch artist Ary Scheffer lived in this small villa, the area teemed with composers, writers and artists. Aurore Dupin, Baronne Dudevant (George Sand) was a guest at Scheffer's soirées, along with great names such as Chopin and Liszt. The museum is devoted to Sand, although the watercolours, lockets, jewels and plastercast of her right arm that she left behind reveal little of her ideas or affairs.
Eugène Delacroix moved to this apartment and studio in 1857 in order to be near the Eglise St-Sulpice, where he was painting murals. This collection includes small oil paintings, free pastel studies of skies, sketches and lithographs, as well as his palette.
At the back of a garden, this 17th-century manor displays the history of the hilltop, with rooms devoted to composer Gustave Charpentier and a tribute to the Lapin Agile cabaret, with original Toulouse-Lautrec posters. There are paintings by Suzanne Valadon, who had a studio above the entrance pavilion, as did Renoir, Raoul Dufy and Valadon's son Maurice Utrillo.