The Petit Palais in Paris continues to be one of our favorite museums in the city. We stop in whenever we're nearby. And what's not to love? It's a small museum and easy to cover in a couple of hours, it's free (there is a small fee for the temporary exhibits), it has an amazing range of art and a fantastic gift store, plus it has a peaceful interior garden with a tea room.
Built for the 1900 Paris World Fair, the Petit Palais is is made up of four wings around a semi-circular garden bordered by a richly decorated arcade. Although it's relatively small, there are plenty of wonderful details to admire. The two decorative murals in the large exhibition galleries took twenty years to complete, the wrought iron gate was designed by the architect Charles Girault, the entrance features stained glass windows, and (look down) the floors were designed by Giandomenico Facchina, a famous Italian mosaic artist. The permanent collections of the Petit Palais are divided into eight categories. Let's take a peek at each for a brief description and the highlights.
Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt by Georges Clairin, 1876
The 1900s (1899 to 1909) were defined by the triumph of Art Nouveau. The French art of adornment and decoration were ushered into a new century by the likes of Emile Gallé, Hector Guimard, Rene Lalique, and Georges Fouquet. This stunning collection holds jewelry by Georges Fouquet, Greek revival vases from Baccarat, Hector Guimard's entire dining room (he of Metro entrance fame), and ornamental motifs of the era.
Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt, Winter Effect by Claude Monet, 1880, photo by Mark Craft
In these galleries of the Petit Palais you can see highlights of 19th-century French art — paintings, sculptures and art objects from the Restoration to the Third Republic (1814-1870). The Troubadour style shows the decadent lifestyles of kings, painters, and knights of the Middle Ages. A room devoted to Romanticism was inspired by the travels of the painters who founded that artistic movement.
Also on display are sculptures, terracottas, and plasters from Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Jean Carries, and Jules Dalou. From the Barbizon school to Impressionism, you can also see paintings by Alfred Sisley, Gustave Courbet, and Camille Pissarro. It's worth the visit just to see Claude Monet's Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt, Winter Effect, every bit as magnificent as Impression: Sunset.
Jérôme de La Lande by Fragonard, 1769
The heart of this collection was donated by American collector Edward Tuck and his wife Julie in 1921. The 18th-century treasures are displayed in four rooms that cover paintings, furniture, tapestries, porcelain, watches, silverware and enameled objects. The paintings encompass landscapes by Hubert Robert, portraits by Jean-Honore Fragonard, and historical painting by Jacques-Louis David. Also on display are art objects from the reign of Louis XIV, like Beauvais tapestries, marquetry furniture, silverware, and Sèvres porcelain.
A Scene of Gallantry in a Palace by Van Delen, 1636
Almost all of the 17th-century paintings at the Petit Palais Paris were donated by Auguste and Eugene Dutuit in 1902, creating the backbone for the then-burgeoning museum. The vast collection includes antiques, medieval and Renaissance art objects, rare books, drawings and prints, and 17th-century Dutch art. Thanks to the Dutuit's generosity, the Petit Palais has one of the leading collections of Dutch painting in France, rivaled only by the Louvre.
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Knight, Death and the Devil by Dürer, 1513
The collection of Renaissance artworks is divided into two main groups — France and Northern Europe; Italy and the Islamic world. In this collection you will see rare Moorish ceramics, Venetian glass, Iznik (Turkish) ceramics, French glazed earthenware, Saint-Porchaire pottery, and painted Limoges enamels. There are also Renaissance clocks, watches and jewels illustrating the precious arts of Europe.
Adoration of the Child, 1480
In this collection you'll find art objects, paintings, and sculptures from the Middle Ages to the early Renaissance. Things like French ivory works, earlier Limoges enamel works, medieval manuscripts, and some of the first printed books. Also on display is a rare set of wooden sculptures depicting the most popular religious scenes and holy figures from the era.
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Rhyton (drinking vase), 500 BCE
Here's the chance to see rare gems from the Greek and Roman worlds in one room. There are bronzes from the the Archaic Greek era, circa 520 BCE; a collection of Etruscan vases; terracottas and jewelry from the Hellenistic Age of Ancient Greece; ancient Roman glass and gold works from the Golden Age of Augustus.
Saint George, Russia, 16th century
A gift from wealthy industrialist and art collector Roger Cabal, when his collection of icons was donated to the Petit Palais in Paris it became the finest public collection in France. Seventy-six icons span the period from the 8th century to the 19th century — Greek icons from after the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Russian religious images, a Pieta from the Cretan-Venetian school. In case your art history is failing you, an icon refers to a painting of Jesus Christ or a holy figure that appeared in Byzantine churches.
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Although we've visited the Petit Palais in Paris many times, it's their temporary exhibitions that always lure us back. Recent shows included From Watteau to David, Baroque During the Enlightenment, The Art of Pastel from Degas to Redon, and Paris 1900. These are just a taste of what may appear here. There are usually about six exhibitions per year.
The cafe opens onto to an enclosed garden with blue and gold mosaics, colonnades and exotic plants. You'll feel like you're far from the crowd in this peaceful Paris oasis. The cafe is open daily (except Mondays & holidays) from 10 to 5.
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While you're in this prestigious corner of Paris, the 8th Arrondissement, spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the Champs Elysées neighborhood. Just across the street is the Grand Palais and between the two palais runs the very short Avenue Winston Churchill, which crosses the Seine at the magnificent bridge, Pont Alexandre III. All three — Petit Palais, Grand Palais, and the Pont Alexandre III — were built for the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition. And to illustrate how compact the city of Paris is, it's a short 15-minute walk to the Eiffel Tower.
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