The best art museums in France

The best art museums in France

by Erin McGann

Updated November 7, 2022

France is home to an incredible number of art museums and galleries. Paris alone has over 100 museums. From modern art to the cave art of prehistoric humans, there is an art museum to satisfy every curious art lover in France. The most visited art museum in France is the Louvre in Paris, with its iconic glass pyramid in the courtyard, visited by 8 million people every year, but there is so much more to see than just this one world-famous museum.

Read on for a list of the best art museums in France:

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1. Musée du Louvre, Paris

The most famous art museum in France and the subject of innumerable heist films, the Louvre in Paris holds many famous works of art including the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. Other notable artwork on display include Vermeer’s The Lacemaker, Rembrandt’s The Supper at Emmaus and Bathsheba at her Bath, and Caravaggio’s The Fortune Teller and Death of the Virgin. There is the extensive Egyptian Antiquities gallery featuring many fascinating works removed from Egypt by Napoleon, an impressive display of sculpture, and many other galleries displayed over 780 thousand square feet. It’s often very busy, so time your visit early in the day if possible.

2. Musée d’Orsay, Paris

The Musée d’Orsay is housed in what was once an elegant train station. Here you will find the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist works in the world, including works by Monet, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Renoir, Cézanne and Degas. It tends to be a bit less busy than the Louvre, and if you love the Impressionists, you won’t want to miss seeing Van Gogh’s Starry Night or Renoir’s Bal du moulin de la Galette in person.

3. International Centre for Cave Art, Montignac

Experience the very beginning of art with a visit to the International Centre for Cave Art in Montignac. In 1940, the cave art in the Lascaux caves was discovered by a young man and his dog, and has fascinated archeologists, artists and the world at large ever since. Now estimated to be around 17 thousand years old, the caves with the beautiful original art produced with mineral pigments is not open to the public, but a detailed reproduction can be examined at the International Centre for Cave Art, as well as interactive displays and new galleries.

4. National Museum of Modern Art, Paris

Located inside the iconic Centre Pompidou, the most famous contemporary art museum in Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne has an extensive collection of art works dating from 1905, and the exhibitions change regularly. Look for works by Dix, Duchamp, Klee, Kadinsky, Chagall, Beuys, Lichtenstein, Warhol, and more. Some of the well-known works housed at the Centre Pompidou include Matisse’s Le Peintre dans son atelier, Kadinsky’s To the Unknown Voice, and Bracque’s Man with a Guitar. The Musée National d’Art Moderne regularly stages big exhibitions including borrowed works as well, it is worth checking ahead.

5. Musée de Beaux-Arts, Lyon

In the picturesque southeastern city of Lyon, the Musée de Beaux-Arts is one of the largest art museums in France. Its extensive collections range from ancient French painting with works from Vernet and Rigaud, to contemporary works from Picasso and Miró. Degas’ Danseuses sans scène, one of his famous ballet works, is displayed here. Lyon’s history as a center of silk production is represented by a gallery of stunning textile works, including some by Jean-François Bony, who provided patterned silks to Marie Antoinette and Napoleon.

6. Musée d’art moderne et d’art contemporain, Nice

The Musée d’art modern et d’art contemporain, or MAMAC, is dedicated to displaying modern artists from the 1950s onward. They have an extensive selection of New Realists, including work by Deschamps, Klein, Rotella, Christo, and Raysse. You can also see various American Pop Art artists such as Oldenburg, Lichtenstein, Warhol and Rosenquist, and American Minimalism from Poons, Stella and Louis. The museum also has a lively program of temporary exhibitions.

France is for art lovers

Whether you spend all your time in Paris visiting the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, the Musée d’Orsay and one of the other many museums, or decide to travel around the country, you will not be disappointed in the iconic art on display in France. From the modern art in Nice to the cave art of Lascaux, art museums in France cover the full breadth of human artistic expression.

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Erin McGann is a Canadian freelance writer focusing on travel, living abroad, parenting, history, and culture. After nearly a decade living in the UK, Erin settled in Heidelberg, Germany with her husband and son. Dragging her family to every castle and open-air museum is a favorite activity, along with sewing, cooking, and weaving. You can check out her travel blog, and follow her obsession with half-timbered houses on her Instagram account.

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