#TravelTuesday: The best small museums in Paris you have yet to discover
It's hard to avoid museums in Paris. The city has an incredible history of art and the city's many galleries are lavish temples to centuries of artistic mastery. Unfortunately, encountering hoards of tourists are part and parcel of seeing Paris' best museums. So if you'd prefer to skip the crushing line to view Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, skip the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay, and check out the plentiful art — and other eclectic collections — at the museums below.
Tucked away in the heart of the Marais, Paris' first municipal museum — stuffed with items that are both historic yet ordinary — is a microcosm of Paris itself. Housed in a stunning mansion which dates back to 1548, the expansive museum boasts some 140 rooms that take you chronologically through the history of Paris, from pre-Roman Gaul through to the present. The resplendent rooms harbour a true treasure chest of objects. Think Robespierre's shaving disk; Rousseau's inkwell, Marcel Proust's bedroom, and locks of Marie Antoinette's hair.
In the 1830s and 40s, painter Ary Scheffer entertained the crème de la crème of Paris' artistic society — think George Sand, Frederic Chopin and Charles Dickens — in this charming green-shuttered mansion nestled amidst wild gardens. The legacy of these intellectual salons remains in this eclectic museum which is packed to the rafters with personal memorabilia of these erudite personalities.
You can't help but feel that you're in the presence of giants as you get up close and personal with casts of Chopin's hands and Scheffer's paintings. Be sure to visit the ground floor, a veritable homage to Sand, filled with portraits, furniture, and jewellery. The garden café is a great spot for some coffee and introspection.
The globetrotting legacy of banking heir Édouard André and painter Nélie Jacquemart lives on in their majestic mansion on Boulevard Haussmann. The property itself is reason enough to visit, with the couple's private apartments beautifully maintained for show, a lush garden, and a grand marble courtyard. But the real draw is the incredible collection of art which the couple collected while travelling the far-flung corners of the world — from Rome and Cairo to Istanbul and the Far East, and everywhere in between. Here, Canalettos and Bouchers are casually ensconced between Berninis, Sèvres porcelain and furniture that wouldn't have looked out of place in Versailles.
The lovely of-the-era Marais Mansion of Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jay is practically a mini Louvre — with the benefit of being far less crowded. The couple was famous for founding La Samaritaine, once Paris' largest, most glamorous department store, but their collection of objet d'art is their more enduring legacy. Spread across twenty Louis XV and XVI rooms are a masterful collection of paintings that includes Rembrandts and Canalettos, as well as display cases showing off a wonderful — if somewhat eclectic — collection of jewellery and sterling silver snuffboxes.
As eccentric as the artist for which it's named, this intriguing museum is a must-see for art lovers of all persuasions, but especially for devotees of Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau. Tucked away at the foot of Montmartre, the crowning glory of this space is the artist's own private apartments which have been lovingly preserved. Sneak around the dining room and bedrooms to get a sense of a real artist's life. Thereafter, ascend the spiral staircase to the second floor studios. Once the heart of Moreau's creative output — which saw him produce more than 8,000 works of art — the rooms have now been turned into galleries which display a vast quantity of paintings, watercolours and drawings.