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6 PARIS ART MUSEUMS TO RIVAL THE LOUVRE

Musée National du Moyen Age

Amusingly, the most famous inhabitant of the flamboyant ex-home of the Abbots of Cluny is female – the captivating Lady and the Unicorn. Six 15th-century Flemish tapestry panels, full of charm and hidden symbolism, are housed in an impressive circular room here. Five of the elegant images are believed to portray the senses – taste, hearing, sight, smell, touch – while the meaning of the sixth, bearing the inscription “To my only desire,” remains a mystery. Elsewhere, there are glorious 7th-century crowns; stained glass; armor; Limoges enamels; a medieval waffle iron; travel chests; shoes; and textiles from Iran, the Byzantine Empire, Italy, and England.

Stone heads of the Kings of Judah, ripped from the façade of NotreDame during the Revolution by angry crowds, are the treasures of the sculpture section. These were discovered in 1977, along with a host of other damaged statues and fragments, in the basement of a Parisian bank. Outdoors there’s a flourishing medieval physic garden, with a “unicorn forest” and “carpet of 1,000 flowers,” as well as the ruins of the Thermes de Cluny (thermal baths), from the 2nd to 3rd centuries. The frigidarium (cold bath) retains traces of remarkable mosaics, including the delightfully named “Love Riding a Dolphin.”

Institut du Monde Arabe

Traditional Arab style meets high-tech here, in the hundreds of solar-activated shutters which cover the Institut’s southern façade. These lovely geometric apertures, that open and close according to the intensity of the light, were designed by celebrated French architect Jean Nouvel to echo the intricate wooden balconies of Moorish palaces. Opened in 1987 with the aim of fostering exchange between Western and Arab cultures, the Institut houses a library, cultural center, exhibition spaces and the “Museum of Arab Museums.” This displays several hundred items, many on long-term loan from Syria and Tunisia, that trace the history and art of Arabic-Islamic civilization.

There are terracotta urns; slabs from ancient Carthage; frescoes from the Kairouan Mosque and stuccos from the palace of Sabra al-Mansouriya, both in Tunisia; a mesmerizing array of gold astrolabes; costumes and jewelry; ancient manuscripts donated by Yemen; and a magical collection of carpets. Temporary exhibitions showcase Arab life and culture, and have included paintings of Algeria by 19th-century French artists; Napoleon Bonaparte’s travels in Egypt; Venice and its relationship with the Arab world; and Arabian horses and their riders.

Musée JacquemartAndré

Banker Edouard André and his society painter wife, Nélie Jacquemart, traveled the world amassing their treasures. Their splendid 19th-century townhouse – which, when glimpsed from the sweeping Boulevard Haussmann, looks quite unremarkable – positively drips with art and atmosphere. The library is hung with Dutch paintings, including portraits by Rembrandt and Van Dyck, while the superb upstairs “Italian Museum” boasts Uccello’s St George and the Dragon, Botticelli’s Virgin and Child, Mantegna’s Ecce Homo, and sculptures by Donatello and Della Robbia. The pink Venetian Room is crowned with a grand coffered ceiling by Murano-born Mocetto.

Other rooms house works by French artists Boucher, David, Chardin, and Nattier, and the double spiral staircase is presided over by Tiepolo frescoes depicting the arrival of Henri III in Venice. The Smoking Room displays Nélie’s eclectic collection of curios picked up on her passages through India, Persia, and the British Isles, and the private apartments include Edouard’s anteroom, housing his portrait painted by his wife ten years before they were married.

Musée Cognacq-Jay

While Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jay owed their considerable fortune to factory-made goods (he founded the department store La Samaritaine in 1869), their personal tastes were anything but modern and middle-of-the road. They preferred the 18th century, and spent an impressive amount of time and corresponding coinage amassing their collection. Works by French Rococo artists La Tour, Fragonard, Van Loo, Boucher, Greuze, and Watteau decorate the beautifully restored 16th-century Hôtel Donon.

Musée Nissim de Camondo

Once settled into the vast Right Bank mansion that he modeled on Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon in Versailles, Count Moïse de Camondo, former banker to the Ottoman Empire, indulged his passion for the 18th century. Today, it almost feels as if the Count has just stepped out: the table in the dining room is sumptuously set for a dinner, while photographs of his fallen son, Nissim, nestle amid other precious keepsakes. Six Aubusson tapestries line the walls of his study, and the grand reception rooms brim with exquisite items – country scenes painted by Jean-Baptiste Huet in 1776, Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture, portraits by François-Hubert Drouais, and Sevrès and Meissen porcelain.

Musée National Eugène Delacroix

While it’s true that the most famous work of France’s leading Romantic painter – the barebreasted Liberty Leading the People – resides in the Louvre, Delacroix’s former home and studio is worth a visit for its artistic insight. Here, you’ll find small oil paintings; drawings and pastels; lithographs; and his only three attempts at fresco; as well as the tools of his trade – palette, brushes, and easel. Also on display are items collected on his travels to Morocco, including ceramics, sabres, and kaftans. There are also letters from friends, including George Sand and Charles Baudelaire. Indeed, he had a quite a band of admirers, including nowlegendary artists such as Cézanne, Manet, and Van Gogh, all of whom copied his compositions.

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