Last Updated on December 14, 2022
For art historians, “Modern Art” references the period between roughly 1850 and 1960. Think Impressionism to Pop Art. Édouard Manet up to, but not including, Andy Warhol. Monet, Degas, Renoir, Georges Seurat, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin, Lautrec, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, Chagall, Dalí, Marcel Duchamp – that crowd and their contemporaries. Each of them either was French or spent time working in Paris. As a result, Modern art museums in Paris feature much of the greatest artworks from the period.
Technically, Modern art and Contemporary art are not the same although the terms are often used interchangeably. Modern art, in the history of art movements, followed Romanticism (think Eugéne Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People) and neo-Classicism, (think Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat). The Modern art era included Impressionism, post-Impressionism, Pointillism, Expressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Dada and Surrealism through Abstract Expressionism. The Modern art museums of Paris are full of such treasures.
Who was the first “Modern” artist? Opinions vary, but Manet, Gustave Courbet, J.M.W. Turner, Delacroix and Goya all belong in the conversation.
Here are the top Modern art museums in Paris France.
Modern Art Museum of Paris
Along with New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Musée d’Orsay is the most famous, popular and important Modern art museum in the world housing scores of the most famous, popular and important works from the period. Courbet’s The Burial at Ornans, Manet’s Olympia and Déjeuner sur l’Herbe, Seurat’s The Circus, Degas’ Little Fourteen-year-old Dancer sculpture and Absinthe painting, James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s The Artist’s Mother, Renoir’s Ball at the Moulin de la Galette, Gustave Caillebotte’s Planing the Floor, Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone, Cézanne’s The Card-Players, a small selection of the Orsay’s instantly recognizable and outrageously important Modern artworks.
The Orsay is particularly stout with its collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings – none finer in the world.
Paris art gallery once a railway station
Looking for the “Paris art gallery once a railway station?” That’s the Orsay.
Converted from a train station to a museum in 1986, the Orsay stands as a pilgrimage site for art lovers around the world. Long lines of entry attest to that fact.
Hours: Open Tuesday – Sunday from 9.30am to 6pm with special late-night hours on Thursday extending to 9.45pm. These late-night hours are always the best for avoiding the museum’s typically huge crowds. The Orsay is closed on Mondays.
NOTE – holiday hours at all of the Modern art museums of Paris subject to change. Inquire with each museum for specifics.
Paris’ three biggest state owned and operated art museums – the Louvre, the Orsay and Centre Pompidou – divide art history between them with the Louvre taking the older material – antiquities, Renaissance, Baroque, etc. – the Orsay handling Modern art through 1914 and Centre Pompidou displaying Contemporary art. That’s why you don’t find van Gogh or Picasso in the Louvre or da Vinci in the Orsay.
The division is not absolute with the result being that Centre Pompidou is also one of the best Modern art museums in Paris. It does not display the Impressionist or post-Impressionist pictures, but kicks into high gear with the display of important Modern artists after 1900.
Matisse, Chagall, Kandinsky, Frida Kahlo, Otto Dix, Fernand Léger. Works from these artists to present day reside at Centre Pompidou.
Perhaps the most famous piece in the collection is Duchamp’s Fontaine 1917. The artist – or perhaps a female friend of his – took a urinal, turned it upside down, signed it and called it art. Shocking then as now upending century’s old definitions of art and artists. Revolutionary in concept, what was considered “art” would never be the same.
Centre Pompidou is also famed for its 1977 Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers-designed architecture which places the building’s air conditioning, electrical and water systems, along with escalators and lifts, in colorful tubes on the outside of the structure.
Hours: Open daily, except for Tuesdays, 11am to 9pm.
Musée Marmottan Monet
Named after a wealthy French family – the Marmottan’s – and Claude Monet – this Modern art museum in Paris France owes its present-day legacy to Monet’s son Michael, the artist’s final heir, who bequeathed more than 100 Monet paintings, as well as masterpieces given or traded with his father, to the museum.
Ironically, Paul Marmottan, who founded the museum, was a vocal critic of Impressionism.
Monet’s Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise) (1872), the painting which gave the movement its name, resides at the Musée Marmottan Monet.
Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 6pm, last entry at 5pm, late-night hours on Thursday through 9pm with last entry at 8pm. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Musée de l’Orangerie
Speaking of Monet, if you’re in Paris looking for his ENORMOUS Water Lilies paintings, you’ll find them on view at the Orangerie, a short walk from both the Orsay and the Louvre.
In addition to the stunning Water Lilies, the Orangerie’s permanent collection includes best-of-the-best Modern art from the major name Impressionists as well as Cézanne, Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, Picasso, Matisse, Joan Mitchell and many more. The Orangerie also presents a knock-out temporary exhibition schedule featuring Modern art.
Hours: Open daily from 9am to 6pm except on Tuesdays when the museum is closed.
Impressionist art galleries in Paris France
In Europe, the terms “gallery” and “museum” are used more or less interchangeably whereas in the U.S., galleries specifically refer to private businesses offering art for sale and museums are exclusively public institutions. If you’re looking for “Impressionist art galleries in Paris France,” I’ll bet you’re looking for museums heavy on Impressionism, that would the Orsay primarily, the Marmottan Monet and then the Orangerie.
A year before his death in 1917, sculptor Auguste Rodin bequeathed all his works and possessions to the French state. France quickly purchased the Hôtel Biron, turning it into a museum dedicated to the artist which opened in 1919.
In addition to fully realized sculptures, Musée Rodin displays the artist’s drawings, letters, models, personal effects, photographs and a paintings he collected, including the only Edvard Munch canvas owned by a French museum.
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 6.30pm, last entry at 5.45. Closed Mondays. The sculpture garden closes at nightfall, which means times vary significantly throughout the year.
Musée national Picasso-Paris
As you’d imagine, this Modern art museum of Paris highlights Pablo Picasso. The world’s richest public collection of Picasso. 297 paintings. 368 sculptures and three-dimensional works. 200,000 archival objects – letters, sketches, photographs. 92 illustrated books by Picasso.
Picasso may have been the most prolific artist in history and Musée national Picasso-Paris reinforces the point with a voluminous collection which features items from some of his early Blue Period paintings to items created just before his death in 1973.
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 10.30am to 6pm, Saturdays and Sundays 9.30am to 6pm, last admission at 5.15. Closed Mondays.
Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris
With more than 13,000 works, this Modern art museum in Paris France is one of the biggest museums in the country.
Both Modern and Contemporary art are represented with the permanent collection presenting all the major artistic trends from the beginning of the 20th century to present day. Included are Picasso, Raoul Dufy, Modigliani, Andre Derain, Francis Picabia and Chagall.
Two of the museum’s highlights are rare and exceptional in situ works, the first two versions of Matisse’s La Danse and Dufy’s monumental masterpiece La Fée électricité.
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm, ticket offices close at 5.15pm, nights on Thursdays for temporary exhibitions until 9.30pm. Closed Mondays.
The permanent collection is free to visit, special exhibition tickets can be found here.
The City of Paris’ museum of fine arts, the Petite Palais, displays work from antiquity through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the 18th and 19th centuries all the way through Paris of 1900. While not focused on Modern art, you’ll find some gems here, particularly if you’re interested in Art Nouveau.
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 6pm, last admission at 4.45pm. Closed Mondays.
Access to the Petite Palais’ permanent collection is free; tickets to special exhibitions can be purchased here.
Fondation Louis Vuitton
Mostly a Contemporary art museum, Fondation Louis Vuitton, opened in 2014, hosts one special exhibition of Modern art every year. These range from outstanding to mind-blowing, as its 2022 presentation of Claude Monet and Joan Mitchell was.
Before visiting Paris, check the museum’s website to see if there’s an unmissable exhibition on view, it’s very likely.
Hours: Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday 11am to 8pm, Thursday 11am to 9pm, Friday and Saturday, 9am to 8pm. Closed Mondays.
Looking for a more comprehensive listing of art museums in Paris? Here you go.