Paris has some of the most magnificent museums and art galleries in the world, but a handful of hidden gems lie just off the beaten tourist track.
Musée Edith Piaf
They called her “The Little Sparrow,” a voice that comes along once in a century, steals hearts with its melancholic resonance and filters into a city’s heart and soul. Such was the short but extraordinary life of singer Edith Piaf, dead for more than 40 years, but whose memory lives on in a fascinating museum in Ménilmontant, a slightly seedy suburb in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, not far from the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery where she is buried. Although Piaf spent some of her childhood in the area, she never actually lived here. The two-room, fourth-floor apartment is run by Les Amis d’Edith Piaf (Friends of Edith Piaf) and owned and maintained by its secretary-general (and one of Piaf’s life-long fans) Bernard Marchois. Themuseum is something of a shrine, brimming with memorabilia including the iconic singer’s records, paintings, photographs, letters, furniture, bags, shoes, trademark tiny black dresses, and her voice singing constantly in the background-almost as if she were there.
Open strictly by appointment, Monday to Thursday, 1-6pm. Entry is free, but a donation is appreciated.
Phone: + 33 (0)1 43 55 52 72
5, rue Crespin-du-Gast, 11e | Paris 75011 France
Musée Nissim de Camondo
This astonishing museum is like stepping back in time to Paris’s Golden Age, set in an opulent 19th century mansion and stuffed with Arts Décoratifs treasures that will take your breath away. Commissioned by Comte Moïse de Camondo, and named for his son Nissim, the museum has one of the finest private collections in France: Savonnerie carpets, rare Beauvais and Aubusson tapestries, period furniture and paintings, exquisite wall panels, fireplaces, glass-paneled doors, clocks, chandeliers and cabinets adorned with jaw-dropping mounted vases. The highlights are two masterpieces of tableware: a silver dinner service commissioned by Catherine II of Russia, and a Sèvres porcelain buffet setting in which each piece is decorated with a different bird. The mansion is located on the edge of Parc Monceau, in the 13th arrondissement of Paris and was designed to resemble the Petit Trianon at Versailles. The Salon Dore is the most dazzling room in the house and opens onto a delightful garden and the park beyond…simply wonderful.
Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-5:30pm, entry €8.
www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr | Phone: +33 (0)1 53 89 06 40
63, rue de Monceau, 8e | Paris 75008 France
Musée Maillol Fondation Dina Vierny
I love the story behind this super museum: early in the last century, 15-year-old Dina Vierny was so uncannily like a female figure that leading French artist Aristide Maillol had been sculpting for many years, he took her on as his model and muse. She not only became the core inspiration for his collection, but also forged a career as a renowned art dealer and collector herself, and on Maillol’s death in 1944 pledged to create a museum in his name. Et voilà! A small but eclectic museum housing about 400 of Maillol’s best works, as well as a treasure trove of 20th century drawings, engravings, paintings, sculptures, decorative art, and original plaster and terracotta work by masters such as Matisse, Rousseau, Cezanne, Degas, Picasso, Gauguin, Renoir and Rodin, among others. Aside from the permanent galleries, the museum has a schedule of temporary exhibitions, which are always exciting and unique. It’s located in a lovely townhouse in the 7th arrondissement, surrounded by antique stores and fashion boutiques, so you can get in a little retail therapy at the same time!
Open daily except Tuesday, 11am-6pm, entry €8.
www.museemaillol.com | Phone: +33 (0)1 42 22 59 58
61, rue de Grenelle | Paris 75007 France
Musée de la Mode et du Costume
Paris has long been the fashion capital of the world, and nowhere is it more apparent than at the chic Costume and Fashion Museum, where you can sashay through 300 years of French haute couture. Set in the Palais Galleria, a spectacular 1890s mansion located (not surprisingly!) in the city’s Fashion District, the museum charts the history of French fashion from 1735 to the present day: lavish Marie Antoinette-style gowns to Brigitte Bardot’s Dior wedding dress, classic 1930s Chanel wool suits, and a dress worn by stage legend Sarah Bernhardt. The permanent collection is rotated every four months, largely to protect the fragile garments, which must be stored in total darkness for four years at a time to prevent damage by light and air. You can also see to-die-for fashions by some of the world’s top couturiers and designers, among them pieces by Balmain, Givenchy and Balenciaga, as well as outfits donated by the late Princess Grace of Monaco, Duchess of Windsor, and Baroness Helene de Rothschild. One for fashionistas…
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-5.40pm, entry €7.
www.museums-of-paris.com | Phone: +33 (0)1 56 52 86 00
Palais Galliéra, 10, av. Pierre 1er de Serbie | Paris 75116 France
Musée Marmottan Monet
If you don’t have time to visit Monet’s home at Giverny, the Musée Marmottan Monet is the next best thing. Home to an extraordinary collection of Impressionist art, including the world’s largest portfolio of works by Claude Monet, the museum lies off the beaten tourist track, set in a former hunting lodge belonging to the Duke of Valmy and close to the Bois de Boulogne. It’s actually a 3-in-1 museum-First Empire art, medieval sculpture and Impressionist art-but by far the most popular attraction is the Monet collection, notably works from his last years at Giverny, including The Water Lilies, The Japanese Bridge and The Weeping Willow. The museum falls under the auspices of the Académie des Beaux Arts (the Paris School of Art) which displays the iconic works in a sublime setting that’s like being in the home of a French aristocrat. Spend a few hours here and then stroll in the Bois de Boulogne, a peaceful haven, which seems a million miles from the hubbub of central Paris.
Open daily, 11am-6pm, entry €9.
www.marmottan.com | Phone: +33 (0)1 44 96 50 33
2, rue Louis Boilly | Paris 75016 France