Just steps from the elegant Champs Elysées is a beautifully curious building called the “Petit Palais”. It is not actually a palace and never has been, but rather a small art museum holding some of the most world-famous artworks in the world.
It is across the street from the Grand Palais and leads towards the famed Pont Alexandre III bridge. Originally, all three were constructed to serve as venues for the “Exposition Universelle” World Fair of 1900.
Both the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais were constructed on a site that was home to an equally impressive building called the Palais de l’Industrie. However, it was deemed to be unworthy for the World fair, and so the Petit was built, with construction taking around 3 years.
The fair took place between April 14-November 12, 1900 to mark the start of the 20th century and attracted millions visitors to Paris from all around the world. (Similarly, the Eiffel tower was built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, to mark 100 years of the French Revolution.)
After the fair, the Petit Palais became a museum run by the city, officially named “Palais des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris“.
These days, the Petit Palais holds a collection of medieval paintings as well as more recent works from the likes of famous artists like Rembrandt, Rubens and more. It also holds items furniture and plenty of other eclectic objects. So let’s explore what is inside the Petit Palais, shall we? Allons-y!
The permanent exhibits of the Petit Palais are free, making it a popular attraction with both tourists and locals. However, there are times when timed tickets are required to avoid overcrowding.
1. Galleries of Statues
When you first enter you are greeted with two large galleries of statues on either side of the entrance. At the end of the 19th century, the nobility enjoyed putting up statues everywhere in Paris, from private gardens to streets corners and more.
Many of the paintings and sculptures were acquired by the City of Paris either as commissions or bought directly from artists.
Some of the statues are small versions that were prepared before the larger versions were finalized. There are also large collections of donations from private individuals.
2. 17th, 18th, 19th Century Paintings
On the walls around the Petit Palais, almost hidden behind the sculptures, you will see paintings dating from the 17th to the early 20th century. Some of the famous names featured here include Rembrandt, Rubens, Delacroix, Monet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Modigliani, Rodin and more.
There are several sections where you can see clear style changes from the landscapes of Claude Monet to more classical paintings that date back to the Renaissance.
3. Antique furniture
Along with paintings, there are also several priceless antiques and tapestries. During the 1789 French Revolution, many of the palaces and private residences of the nobility were ransacked, with many items being disbursed across the land.
Some items ended up in private hands, eventually being donated to reduce estate taxes. You can see items like Queen Marie-Antoinette’s armchairs at the Petit Palais, along with elaborate cabinets, exquisite vases, and much much more.
4. The Staircase by Charles Girault
In one corner of the Petit Palais is the large circular staircase leading downstairs. It was designed by Charles Girault, who also designed the entrance gate, and is considered one of the finest works of wrought iron in the country.
The staircase leads downstairs to the Medieval arts sections as well as the temporary exhibition sections.
5. Medieval artworks
Some of the art objects dating back to the medieval ages include paintings and sculptures of religious subjects from churches and other historical buildings from across France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy.
Along furniture, there is also pieces of jewellery dating back to the Renaissance era, which is certainly very interesting to look at.
6. Religious icons and artefacts
The Petit Palais holds a large collection of religious icons dating from the 8th century to after the fall of the Byzantine Empire, in 1453. They were donated by Roger Cabal (1929-1997), a rich industrialist and include around 76 icons from of Greek origin, Russian religious images, a Pieta from the Cretan-Venetian school, etc.
There is also pieces of gold cutlery, ivory work, and Limoges champlevé enamel works. The museum collection also holds medieval manuscripts and some of the first printed books in France.
7. The Ceilings
As you walk throughout Petit Palais, don’t forget to look up. The museum has some beautifully painted ceilings that were painted during the early 20th century, and beautifully preserved ever since.
The 2 decorative murals in the museum’s entrance lobby are meant to symbolize “Matter, Thought, Formal Beauty and Mysticism”.
There are also usually temporary exhibitions which do require paid tickets. Check the agenda and book your tickets in advance, as they can get crowded for special exhibitions.
Café and Gardens
Inside the Petit Palais is a lovely little café on the inside with a terrace to enjoy in good weather.
There is indoor and outdoor seating, with a variety of small snack and beverages like coffee, tea, juice, etc.
So are you planning a trip to the Petit Palais? If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read about more things to do in Paris. A bientôt!