Petit Palais is one of the must-visit museums in Paris for art lovers. It houses the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts and is a notable landmark of its own right. The museum is found in Paris' 8th arrondissement. It was built in 1897 and is an excellent example of the Beaux-Arts style of architecture.  

The fascinating and Insta-worthy art museum has a vast garden and uniquely circular courtyard. The treasures in its exhibits span from medieval times, with various Renaissance paintings from the collection of French politician and collector Eugène Dutuit to 19th-century sculptures.

Petit Palais features temporary exhibits that range from contemporary art to modern photography as well as a variety of other mediums. For an eclectic mix of classical and modern art, this is one of the coolest museums in Paris to check out.

Petit Palais in Paris - one of the highlights of 10 Things to Do Off the Beaten Track in Paris (Read all about Paris here)

A brief history of Petit Palais in Paris

Leading up to the 1900 Paris Exposition (Exposition Universelle) world fair, a competition was held in 1894 for the revamp of the rundown Palais de l'Industrie exhibition hall. The world fair aimed to celebrate past-century achievements and accelerate development into the next.

Located between the Seine River and the Champs-Élysées, this building was built earlier in 1855 for the Paris World Fair. French architect Charles Girault came out as the winner, and his design for the new Petit Palais soon had the old building demolished. Construction took place between 1897 and 1900.

Girault’s designs drew inspiration from the Beaux-Arts style – unsurprisingly, as he studied at the National School of Fine Arts (École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts) in Paris. He also designed Belgium’s Royal Galleries of Ostend and Royal Museum for Central Africa.

photo by François de Dijon (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

What are the highlights and features of Petit Palais?

The ornate Petit Palais faces another grand exhibition hall, the Grand Palais, which is larger – you’ll have plenty of angles for pretty exterior shots. Walking up to Petit Palais, you’ll be drawn to its magnificent facade. A huge, gray dome sits at its top with intricate sculptures.

It gets visibly more intricate as you come closer to its main entrance. Here, a tall and intricately sculpted archway houses an elaborate gold doorway, just a teaser of what Girault’s designs awaits inside. The wide set of steps lead you up to the central archway under the dome.

Inside, you’ll find the 2 wings of the palatial place – left leads you to the main pavilion of the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts. To the right, you’ll be heading into the grand hall with its free-standing columns framing tall windows. Look up to admire its ornamental ceilings and colorful murals.

What to see at the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts?

The City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts’ collections mainly comprises medieval and Renaissance artworks. Notable painters in history whose masterpieces are shown include Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, Dutch painter Rembrandt, and French Impressionist Claude Monet.

Petit Palais’ inner gallery features a collection of 18th-century furniture and decor, ranging from tapestry and metalworks to jewelry and porcelains. In 1904, acclaimed interior designer and decorator Georges Hoentschel gifted ceramics and sculptures by experimental sculptor Jean-Joseph Carriès.

Families of various late artists contributed to the collection. After the turn of the millennium, the family of engraver and independent designer, Georges Deraisme, contributed nearly 800 studies representing his body of work to the jewelry design collection at Petit Palais.

photo by Guilhem Vellut (CC BY 2.0) modified

Good to know about Petit Palais

You can find Petit Palais in the 8th arrondissement, just northeast of the Eiffel Tower. It’s just across the River Seine and near Avenue des Champs-Elysées. Even without going in for an art tour, the building’s spectacular architecture and contemporary sculptures on its exterior is a sight to behold.

Besides admiring the arts within, the interior garden at Petit Palais is also worth checking out. Its semi-circular inner courtyard has a small outdoor garden at its center with pools bordered by blue and gold mosaics. Lush exotic plants surround it, giving it its tropical charm.

Petit Palais is part of Paris’ network of municipal museums. You can visit the museum and check out the range of artwork in the permanent collection for free. The museum has a 14-seat library filled with valuable resources, though it’s only accessibly by appointment.

Petit Palais in Paris

Location: Avenue Winston Churchill, 75008 Paris, France

Open: Daily from 10 am to 6 pm

Phone: +33 (0)1 53 43 40 00

Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveler