Paris Museums with ‘la muséophile’: Le Petit Palais

MyFrenchLife™ - - la muséophile - Le Petit Palais - impressive architecture France’s capital is a treasure trove of hidden museums. Join la muséophile, or Gemma King as she’s known in the real world, as she takes us to her best picks when it comes to Paris museums. This week we explore a haven for Fine Arts at ‘Le Petit Palais’, where the sense of balance is key.

Many Paris museums work because they adopt a single point of interest and run with it.

  • Le Musée du parfum features nothing but perfume, but it investigates the topic like nowhere else.
  • The good people of Le Musée Clémenceau seem to think nobody on earth has ever mattered as much as Président Georges, but by the end of your visit, you’ll probably agree.

Contrast & contradiction: the perfect harmony

Paris museums go to all manner of extremes, favouring the most precise of objects (ahem, Museum of Eyeglasses) and exploring that object, its history, and its specificities, with incredible dedication.

These extremes of passion are often what make Paris museums so special.

But some Paris museums are beautiful for exactly the opposite reason; for their command of the fine art of balance. Balance between light and dark, between the minute and the momentous, between tradition and modernity.

Le Petit Palais is one of those museums.

Le Petit Palais: home to Fine Arts

Located in the regal eighth arrondissement, just off the Champs Elysées, Le Petit Palais seems oddly named.

MyFrenchLife™ - - la muséophile - Le Petit Palais - impressive architecture With an impressive stone façade, an elegant stairway and a huge arch framing a gilt entrance, the Petit Palais is far from little.

Yet, directly across the street, lies the explanation for the name: Le Grand Palais, an imposing exhibition hall with a lofty glass ceiling visible from any riverside point in Paris.

Le Grand Palais is an airy space used for temporary exhibitions and events. I had always assumed Le Petit Palais was merely an offshoot of its big sister.

But I was mistaken.

Le Petit Palais is, in fact, the home of the Musée des beaux-arts de la ville de Paris (Fine Arts Museum of the City of Paris), and it’s certainly one of those museums to be admired for its mastery of balance.

Finding the balance: an ideal equilibrium

Indeed, Le Petit Palais strikes the perfect harmony in many ways:

Decadence vs. simplicity

  • Its entrance, ceilings, and glasswork are decadent
  • Yet, its openness and sparse furnishing help the space retain a subtleness and simplicity

Light vs. dark

  • The upper rooms, with their monumental 19th-century paintings, are all natural light, white décor, and high ceilings
  • While the lower levels provide the perfect muted lighting, deeply-coloured walls, and small rooms to complement the museum’s earlier pieces, such as the delicate icons dripping in gold leaf

Grandeur vs. tranquility

  • The museum is large, yet surprisingly quiet
  • It is impressive yet humble
  • Comprehensive yet approachable
  • Popular yet peaceful

MyFrenchLife™ - - la muséophile - Le Petit Palais - the elegant stairway

Le Petit Palais: order vs. disorder

But it was when reclining in the museum’s coffee room with a fellow museum-loving friend, the lush, circular garden set out before us, that Le Petit Palais’ perfect balance really struck me.

In a museum dedicated to Parisian Fine Arts, one of the key attractions was the museum’s inner courtyard, with its tangle of ferns and its turquoise pond.

I liked Le Petit Palais for its collection.

But I loved it for its balance between interior and exterior, art and nature, order and disorder.

Le Petit Palais
Opening hours: Monday – closed. Tuesday  –  Sunday 10.00am – 6.00pm.
Address: Avenue Winston Churchill, 75008
Métro: Champs Elysées-Clémenceau

Have you had the pleasure of visiting Le Petit Palace? Which aspect of its mastery of balance struck you most? Share your comments and experiences with us below.

All images courtesy of Gemma King. 
This article was first published on Les musées de Paris and republished here with permission.


About the Contributor

Gemma King

I’m a Lecturer in French Studies at the Australian National University specialising in contemporary French cinema and museums. You can read my blog 'Les Musées de Paris' and find me on Twitter here.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

One Comment

  1. Sheila in SF Sep 6, 2019 at 12:24 AM - Reply

    I loved visiting this summer for the first time. It felt personal and such a beautiful building. Fortunately not crowded and since I was was alone it felt as though I was in a lovely home. The cafe was charming. Just beautiful.

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.