For most people in France, the name Belmondo is associated with Nouvelle Vague actor Jean-Paul Belmodo; that sexy, thick-lipped heart-throb, with a distinguished boxer’s nose, who shot to stardom in 1960s films like Jean-Luc Godard’s A bout de Souffle (Breathless). What most of us don’t know is that the actor’s father, Paul Belmondo (1898-1982), was actually one of France’s most important 20th-century sculptors; and one of the last to use neoclassical, academic techniques.
Many of his works - characterised by harmonious forms, unfussy lines and smooth surfaces - epitomise the 1930s style; particularly the gracious proportions of La Danse, in the Théâtre de Chaillot, commissioned for Paris’s Universal Exposition in 1937. You can also see two of his statues in the Jardin de Tuileries (a well-hung Apollo and an elegant Jeanette).
Thrusting his works into yet more limelight is this spanking new Musée Paul-Belmondo, set inside in the 18th-century, neoclassical Château Buchillot in Boulogne-Billancourt.
The space, entirely revamped by architects Chartier-Corbasson, is a predominant mix of stark white, black and timber materials that lend a different ambiance to each section. Several rooms harbour niches and alcoves in which Belmondo’s sculpture’s sit as if in a workshop; and numerous artificial backdrops, along with raised floors and frames, create multiple sight lines. A clever use of natural and artificial lighting also draws you to the detail on each of the sculptures. And a special ‘replica’ room on the 1st floor even encourages you to feel the works’ textures.
Your visit ends in the chateau gardens, where works created by Belmondo’s contemporaries pepper the lawns in 1930s glory – a treat for lovers of Art Deco and a godsend on a sunny day.
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 Rodin museum occupies the hôtel particulier where the sculptor lived in the final years of his life. The Kiss, the Cathedral, the Walking Man, portrait busts and early terracottas are exhibited indoors, as are many of the individual figures or small groups that also appear on the Gates of Hell.Rodin's works are accompanied by several pieces by his mistress and pupil, Camille Claudel. The walls are hung with paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Carrière and Rodin himself. Most visitors have greatest affection for the gardens: look out for the Burghers of Calais, the Gates of Hell, and the Thinker. Rodin fans can also visit the Villa des Brillants at Meudon (19 av Rodin, Meudon, 01.41.14.35.00), where the artist worked from 1895.
Surrounded by trees on the banks of the Seine, this museum, housed in an extraordinary building by Jean Nouvel, is a vast showcase for non-European cultures. Dedicated to the ethnic art of Africa, Oceania, Asia and the Americas, it joins together the collections of the Musée des Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie and the Laboratoire d'Ethnologie du Musée de l'Homme, as well as contemporary indigenous art. Treasures include a tenth-century anthropomorphic Dogon statue from Mali, Vietnamese costumes, Gabonese masks, Aztec statues, Peruvian feather tunics, and rare frescoes from Ethiopia.
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.
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.
Dina Vierny was 15 when she met Aristide Maillol and became his principal model for the next decade, idealised in such sculptures as Spring, Air and Harmony. In 1995 she opened this delightful museum, exhibiting Maillol's drawings, engravings, pastels, tapestry panels, ceramics and early Nabis-related paintings, as well as the sculptures and terracottas that epitomise his calm, modern classicism.Vierny also set up a Maillol Museum in the Pyrenean village of Banyuls-sur-Mer. This Paris venue also has works by Picasso, Rodin, Gauguin, Degas and Cézanne, a whole room of Matisse drawings, rare Surrealist documents and works by naïve artists.Vierny has also championed Kandinsky and Ilya Kabakov, whose Communal Kitchen installation recreates the atmosphere of Soviet domesticity. Monographic exhibitions are devoted to modern and contemporary artists. Last year saw a fascinating exhibition of death's heads from Caravaggio to Damien Hirst.
When Constantin Brancusi died in 1957, he left his studio and its contents to the state, and it was later moved and rebuilt by the Centre Pompidou. His fragile works in wood and plaster, the endless columns and streamlined bird forms show how Brancusi revolutionised sculpture.
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.
The world's largest museum is also its most visited, with an incredible 8.5 million visitors in 2009. 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 painting and sculpture. Two glass-roofed sculpture courts contain the famous Marly horses on the ground floor of Richelieu, with French sculpture below and Italian Renaissance pieces in the Denon wing. The Grand Galerie and Salle de la Joconde (home to the Mona Lisa), like a mini Uffizi, run the length of Denon's first floor with French Romantic painting alongside. Dutch and French painting occupies the second floor of Richelieu and Sully. Jean-Pierre Wilmotte's minimalist galleries in the Denon wing were designed as a taster for the Musée du Quai Branly, with art from Africa, the Americas and Oceania.Mitterrand's Grand Louvre project expanded the museum two-fold. But the organisation and restoration of the Louvre are still a work in progress: check the website or lists in the Carrousel du Louvre to see which galleries are closed on certain days to avoid missing out on what you want to see.The museum is also trying to strike a balance between highbrow culture and accessibility. Photography was banned in 2005 at the request of mainly French visitors, who complained that it interfered with their enjoyment; meanwhile, laminated panels found throughout provide a surprisingly lively commentary and the superb website is a technological feat unsurpassed by that of any of the world's major museums.Advance tickets and entryIM Pei's glass pyramid is a wonderful piece of architecture, but it's not the only entrance to the museum - there are three others. Buying a ticket in advance means you can go in directly via the passage Richelieu off rue de Rivoli, or via the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall (there are steps down either side of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, at 99 rue de Rivoli or from the métro).Advance tickets are valid for any day, and are available from the Louvre website or branches of Fnac and Virgin Megastore. You can buy one from the Virgin in the Carrousel du Louvre and use it immediately. Another option is to buy a ticket at the Cour des Lions entrance (closed Fridays) in the south-west corner of the complex, convenient for the Italian collections. The Louvre is also accessible with the all-in Paris Museum Pass. Finally, don't forget that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.Tips• The Louvre's website, much of which is in English, is an unbeatable resource. Every work on display is photographed, and you can search the Atlas database by room, artist or theme.• Laminated cards in each room provide useful background information. Audioguides (€6, €2-€4 reductions; ID must be left) are available at the main entrances in the Carrousel du Louvre.• Don't attempt to see more than two collections in one day. Your ticket is valid all day and you can leave and re-enter the museum as you wish.• On Fridays after 6pm entry is free for the under-26s, but if you plan to make several visits, the Carte Louvre Jeunes (€15 per year under-26s, €30 per year under-30s) is worth getting.• Some rooms are closed on a weekly basis - check on 01.40.20.53.17 or at www.louvre.fr.RefreshmentsTake your pick from Richelieu, Denon or Mollien cafés; the latter is just off the Mollien staircase and has a terrace. Under the pyramid, there's a sandwich bar and the smart, sophisticated Grand Louvre restaurant. The Restorama, in the Carrousel du Louvre, has self-service outlets. The terrace of Café Marly serves pricey brasserie fare and cocktails.