A mammoth’s molar; the chair in which Volatire died; Robespierre’s shaving dish. The collection of the Musée Carnavalet (the first municipal museum in Paris) documents the history of the city in the eclectic and eccentric way a museum about Paris should: through its everyday objects (there’s a gallery filled entirely with street signs) and historical curiosities (hello, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s inkwell). Bonus: it’s right in the center of the Marais (around the corner from Carven; opposite a Petit Bateau), and therefore a perfect place to break from an afternoon of shopping.
2) Pagoda Paris
You can’t miss this bright red pagoda in the eighth arrondissement: it’s six stories tall and flanked by two classic Haussmann apartment blocks. The building is the former home of Ching Tsai Loo, a renowned collector of Chinese and Asian art and artifacts who converted it to a museum in 1925. The pagoda’s galleries still contain much of Loo’s original collection of terra-cotta figurines, jade carvings, and porcelain. But the real attraction is the interiors, which are lavish with Shanxi lacquered panels, beautiful hardwood floors, and glass art deco ceilings.
A short walk from the Paris Pagoda is the Musée Nissim de Camondo, a time capsule of life in Belle Époque Paris. The mansion was commissioned by a wealthy banker, Moïse de Camondo, as a setting to show off his collection of 18th-century furniture and objets d’art. This is the place to see rare Sèvres porcelain, intricate Savonniere carpets (some of which were originally woven for the galleries of the Louvre), and all the gilded furniture you could ever wish for.
The Musée National Gustave Moreau is the definition of an eccentric artist’s museum, containing the personal apartment of the Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau, his strange collection of souvenirs, and the galleries of artwork he arranged on the upper floors of his private home. The walls, hung floor-to-ceiling with melodramatic mythological canvases, are a fantastic shade of plummy pink.
This is a mecca for architecture nerds worldwide—above all for fans of French-Swiss design legend Le Corbusier, who designed this listed house in 1923, along with the adjoining Maison Jeannaret. Today it houses the Fondation Le Corbusier, which owns 8,000 original drawings, plans, and paintings by the architect, as well as the building’s original furniture.
The former home of the Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) is now a jewel box of a museum filled with the artist’s work. Walking in, through a lush garden punctuated by large Cubist stone and metal figures, feels like chancing upon forgotten treasure. Plus, it’s just a short stroll from the Jardin de Luxembourg.
Another beautiful mansion hidden in the Marais, the Musée Cognacq-Jay is home to the private collection of Ernest Cognacq and his wife Marie-Louise Jaÿ—the founders of La Samaritaine (once the largest and most glamorous of Paris’s department stores). A stroll around the twenty Louis XV and XVI rooms offers paintings by Rembrandt, Canaleto, and Reynolds, as well as cases of jewelry and sterling silver snuffboxes.
The Musée Bourdelle is one of the few remaining examples of the artists’ studios that filled the Montparnasse area of Paris at the turn of the last century. Arranged throughout its darkly atmospheric interiors are close to 500 works by the monumental sculptor Antoine Bourdelle—a pupil of Auguste Rodin and a mentor to Alberto Giacometti—as well as works by Ingres, Delacroix, and Rodin himself. The artist’s studio is still arranged as it was during his lifetime, complete with intriguing details like a full set of Samurai armor and scraps of medieval architecture.
The Musée de Cluny (or the National Museum of the Middle Ages) isn’t exactly small—it occupies a walled medieval townhouse so large it looks more like a castle—but it is lesser visited. The current exhibition, “Les Animaux Font le Mur” (through January 5), displays spooky stuffed specimens of the animals featured in the museum’s famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.
Edouard André, a banking heir, and Nélie Jacquemart, a well-known painter, filled their mansion on the Boulevard Haussmann with art from their travels to Rome, Cairo, Istanbul, and the Far East. After André died, Jacquemart continued to add to the couple’s shared collection, amassing galleries filled with Italian Renaissance art, which she then bequeathed to the Institut de France. The couple’s private apartments are also on view, as is their celebrated winter garden, a grand marble courtyard filled with an enviable collection of exotic potted plants.
Written by: Alice Newell-Hanson for Conde Naste