Paris museums house some of the world’s most iconic works of art. You could spend a whole week wandering the galleries at the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, and the Centre Pompidou, drinking in masterpiece after masterpiece to your heart’s content. But, museums aren’t the only places in Paris to marvel at compelling, beautiful, sometimes startling artwork. Visitors to the City of Lights can also satisfy their hunger for sculpture, painting, and design, at the many public and private parks that dot the metropolis. Here are some of our favorite Paris parks for the art aficionado and a sampling of works they can find there.
The Medici Fountain at the Jardin du Luxembourg
Tucked away from the more heavily trafficked areas of the Luxembourg Garden, the most centrally-located and famous monumental garden on the Left Bank is a quiet, tree-shaded grotto known as the Medici Fountain. A long reflecting pool bordered by a low rail leads to a fountain at the rear of the grotto featuring, as its most prominent element, the bronze and white marble sculpture Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea by Auguste Ottin. Marie de Medici, the widow of French King Henry IV, originally commissioned the fountain between 1623 and 1630 in connection with the construction of the surrounding Luxembourg Gardens and Italianate palazzo, now known as the Luxembourg Palace, that she had designed to remind her of her native Florence. The fountain underwent several significant renovations and moves over the next two centuries. Ottin’s sculpture was added in connection with the last of these in the mid-1800s. Today, the Medici Fountain serves as a peaceful retreat into the past for tourists and Parisians alike. Be sure not to miss the “hidden” fountain on the back side of the main fountain structure.
The Garden at the Musée Rodin
The Musée Rodin occupies an eighteenth-century hotel particulier built by financier Abraham Peyrenc de Moras in the 7th Arrondissement, a stone’s throw from Les Invalides. It houses a significant collection of the work of Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel, among others, in addition to hosting temporary exhibits and displaying works of other artists from Rodin’s personal collection. Still, the not-to-be-missed part of any visit to the Musée Rodin is the private sculpture garden that stretches the length of several city blocks behind the main building. The garden features some of Rodin’s most famous bronze sculpture, including The Thinker, Les Bourgeois de Calais, and the Gates of Hell, as well as a large collection of his works in marble. Visitors wishing to spend their time outdoors among the statuary can purchase access to the formal garden only, or in combination with access to the indoor collection. A cafe in the garden serves light fare, making the Musée Rodin the perfect stop for a midday Parisian snack for any art lover.
Building-Side Murals as Seen From Square Gustave-Mesureur & Square Luis Say
The 13th Arrondissement in southeast Paris has become a hot-spot for some of the most compelling public art in all of France. Take the Metro to the Nationale stop on the 6-line and exit onto Boulevard Vincent Auriol, a wide avenue with a leafy median. The Boulevard runs through a neighborhood of what were once uninspired-looking concrete block buildings, but which now serve as giant canvases for huge, colorful murals by renowned French and international street artists like C215 and Inti. Two public parks, Square Gustave-Mesureur and Square Luis Say, straddle the Boulevard and serve as convenient vantage points from which to take in the multi-story images that adorn the buildings fronting the Boulevard and its cross street, Rue Jeanne d’Arc. (There’s also a sushi restaurant with outdoor seating at corner if you get hungry.) Use these parks as your jumping-off point for discovering the other mural art that decorates buildings throughout the 13th.
Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air at the Jardin Tino-Rossi
On the left bank of the Seine, in the 5th Arrondissement, sits the Jardin Tino-Rossi, a riverside ramble that doubles as home to the Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air (the Open Air Sculpture Museum). This collection of contemporary sculpture at the water’s edge features works by such notable artists as César, Brancusi, and Zadkine, among others. Many tourists discover Tino-Rossi and the sculpture garden from the water while passing by on one of the sight-seeing riverboats that trawl the Seine day-and-night, resolving to double back to find the access point (a stairway across from the Institut du Monde Arabe) to this hidden gem. Adding to the park’s charm, in July and August dancers gather here for evenings of outdoor tango and salsa.
Marché de la Création
Want to talk to an artist and buy some original work? Head to the Marché de la Création, held every Sunday at the foot of the Montparnasse tower in the 14th Arrondissement. Since its founding in 1994, this open-air art fair has served as a hub for talented emerging artists to showcase their work. This is no tourist trap (an accusation that’s been leveled at other outdoor art venues, such as Place du Tertre near Montmartre). The organization that founded the Marché screens artists carefully through a rigorous selection process. It also requires the artists themselves to man the booths where they display their work, giving buyers the opportunity to engage them in discussion of their technique and subject matter. Who knows? Maybe an artist you meet will be the next Monet or Toulouse-Lautrec!
About BellaTerra Travel
BellaTerra Travel specializes in creating tailor-made travel experiences in Europe. Our aim is to plan vacations personalized to our individual clients’ tastes and interests, allowing them to soak in the place and culture, rather than to simply travel through it. We draw on our decades of experience voyaging abroad to treat our clients to one-of-a-kind adventures, not one-size-fits-all tours. If you have a mind to discover the Paris that exists beyond the tourist attractions, whether your interest is in art, wine, architecture, or something else entirely, call the experienced, client-focused travel professionals at BellaTerra Travel today.