Last Updated on November 7, 2023
The birthplace of countless artistic movements, Paris is also– unsurprisingly– home to some of the world’s finest modern art collections. From key works in Impressionism and Expressionism to Cubism and Dada, Pop Art and experimental video, the masterpieces within the vast galleries at these museums are too numerous to comfortably count.
Keep reading for an overview of the best modern art museums in Paris– and for tips on to enjoy them to the fullest on your trip. Use the “Explore This Article” menu below to quickly navigate to items on the list.
Many people are surprised to learn that the Musée d’Orsay is considered a modern art museum, since most of its collections center around works from the nineteenth and early 20th centuries. Yet the 1986 opening of the world-famous site in fact represented a way for curators to mark the beginning of modernity in art, effectively “bridging a gap” between classical artistic movements and the contemporary period.
Think of the collections at the Orsay– featuring masterpieces of Impressionism, Expressionism, Fauvism, and other movements from the period 1848 to 1914– as connectors of sorts between the classical works of the Louvre and the contemporary ones held at the Centre Pompidou and other sites in Paris.
The sprawling permanent exhibit at the Orsay is full of masterpieces. A visit to it grants you access to some of the most famous works of Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Dégas, André Dérain, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Paul Gaugin, Alfred Sisley, Gustave Caillebotte, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec– among many others.
Many of these key works were formerly held at the Jeu de Paume gallery near the Jardin des Tuileries, prior to the former Gare d’Orsay train station across the river being transformed into a new modern art collection.
Meanwhile, temporary exhibits offer a deeper look at key artists, movements, periods and/or themes in late nineteenth century and early 20th century art.
How to Enjoy: Before your visit, we suggest familiarizing yourself with some of the key masterpieces at the Orsay and making some strategic choices when exploring the collections. This will help you avoid burnout and make the most of your visit.
Also consider booking skip-the-line/dedicated entrance tickets to the Musée d’Orsay in advance (via Tiqets.com) to save time and avoid long waits.
Not to miss: Degas’ mesmerizing, delicate pastels of dancers and ballerinas; portraits and landscapes from Monet, Sisley, and Van Gogh, and the startling, enchanting neo-realism of Caillebotte.
If time allows, also explore the textiles and design sections, which notably features some remarkable tapestries from English artist, designer, and writer William Morris.
Musée d’Orsay: Practical Info & Getting There
For more info, including on opening times, tickets, and tours, see this page.
I also recommend booking a guided tour of the Orsay to really make the most of your visit, such as this Impressionist tour from Viator.
2. National Museum of Modern Art (Centre Pompidou)
Set within the walls of the Centre Georges Pompidou, the National Museum of Modern Art (MNAM for short) holds one of the world’s richest collections of modern and contemporary masterpieces– from painting to sculpture, photography to design and objets d’art.
Taking up several floors of the quixotic, glass-and-steel Center, the MNAM boasts a permanent collection comprising more than 100,000 works dating from roughly 1905 to the present, and masterpieces from the likes of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Robert and Sonia Delauney, Georges Braque, Rene Magritte, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Piet Mondrian, Louise Bourgeois, Mark Rothko, Yves Klein, and countless others.
The collections here were originally presented at the Palais de Tokyo (see more below) before the Pompidou Center opened in the late 1970s. Today, curators frequently refresh the displays, so even if you’ve been before there’s a good chance you’ll see works and artists that weren’t being showcased on an earlier visit.
In addition to the permanent collection, the MNAM also hosts several temporary shows a year, focusing on single artists, periods, or cross-disciplinary themes. In my experience, these are almost always worthwhile.
How to Enjoy: While the permanent collection displays are substantial, they aren’t so overwhelming that they can’t be appreciated in a single morning or afternoon. A coffee or tea break on the mezzanine-level cafe is recommended to avoid getting burned out. If you have the stamina, also reserve some time for one of the temporary shows, or for the Atelier Brancusi (see below).
Not to Miss: In addition to the permanent collection, check out the free Atelier Brancusci, located outside of the Center’s main building in a basement-level studio (look for the signs to the right side of the sloping plaza when you exit the Center).
Often overlooked, the Atelier reproduces the workspace and displays key masterpieces from the French sculptor.
Also make sure to ride the escalators to the top of the Centre Pompidou, from which you can take in some pretty remarkable panoramic viewpoints. If time allows, have a drink out on the terrace at Georges restaurant.
MNAM at the Pompidou: More Info & Getting There
For more on the MNAM and visiting the Centre Pompidou, including info on location, tickets, tours, and discounts, see our full guide.
To save time, we also recommend booking skip-the-line tickets to the Centre Pompidou and the NMMA (via Viator).
3. Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris
Not to be confused with the Pompidou’s own collections of modern art, which is nationally operated, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris is, as its name suggests, a city-run museum dedicated to the history (and present) of modern creation.
Opened in 1961 during a period of flourishing avant-garde movements, the museum hosts both a compelling permanent collection– showcasing some 15,000 works from artists including Alberto Giacometti, Picasso, Juan Gris, Amedeo Modigliani, Pierre Bonnard, Marc Chagall, and Georges Braque- as well as a regular program of compelling temporary shows.
Overall, the collection offers a stunning and in-depth look at the major movements in 20th-century art, from the Paris school to cubism, abstract Art, new realism and pop art. The best part about the permanent galleries? They’re entirely free to the public.
Confusingly enough, it’s located in the early 20th-century building known as the Palais de Tokyo– the east wing of which houses the modern art space of the same name (also worth a visit, by the way).
How to Enjoy: The museum is situated in close reach of the Eiffel Tower and the Palais de Chaillot, opened with great pomp and circumstance to fete the occasion of the 1937 World Exposition. After basking in the permanent collection or exhibits, wander around the outside plaza area, taking the the perspectives of the Tower and beyond– and if time allows, visit the adjoining Palais de Tokyo exhibition hall for a temporary show.
Not to Miss: La Danse by Henri Matisse and Raoul Dufy’s large-scale masterpiece, La Fée électricité (The Electricity Fairy). The latter was commissioned in 1937, for the occasion of the Universal Exposition of the same year.
Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris: More Info & Getting There
- Address: 11 Avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris, France
- Metro: Iéna
- Visit the official website for info on opening times, tickets & tours
4. Fondation Cartier Pour l’Art Contemporain
Situated in south Paris near Montparnasse, the Fondation Cartier hosts some of the city’s most interesting and provocative contemporary arts shows, with an eclectic program that pivots between painting and sculpture, video, film, music and performance.
Opened in 1994 and featuring an eye-catching facade from architect Jean Nouvel, the Cartier Foundation is a hub for contemporary creation, staging some of the city’s most-anticipated– and attended– shows in the capital. In recent years, exhibits have showcased the work of photographer William Eggleston, American cult filmmaker and experimental multimedia artist David Lynch, and a sprawling multimedia show on the theme of Trees.
In addition to the temporary exhibits, the Fondation Cartier also boasts a permanent collection of works from some 350 artists, some of which are on loan to other institutions around the world
How to enjoy/Not to miss: In addition to the temporary exhibits, make sure to check out the leafy back garden, with its enormous trees and careful layout from landscaping artist Lothar Baumgarten. Oak, maple, cedar, yew, beech, and numerous other species of trees form a lush canopy, creating a haven from the urban commotion. There’s also an impressive green wall.
Fondation Cartier: More Info & Getting There
- Address: 261 Boulevard Raspail, 75014 Paris (14th arrondissement)
- Metro: Denfert-Rochereau
- Visit the official website for info on opening times, tickets & tours
5. Fondation Louis Vuitton
This is one contemporary art center whose building is as stunning and noteworthy as the exhibits it houses. Opened in 2014 in cooperation with luxury-goods group LVMH, the Fondation Louis Vuitton (FLV) features a breathtaking facade conceived by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, situated at the woodsy edges of the Bois de Boulogne in far west Paris.
Inside intricately designed, glass and steel marvel, some 126,000 square feet are reserved for large-scale exhibitions and retrospectives; there’s also a worthwhile permanent exhibit on the conception and construction of the building itself.
Although the FLV is a relative newcomer to the capital, several blockbuster exhibits have occupied the 11 galleries of the Fondation in recent years, including a recent retrospective on the American-Haitian painter Jean-Michel Basquiat in 2018.
There’s also a noteworthy collection of semipermanent, commissioned works from contemporary artists, offering another excellent opportunity to acquaint yourself with recent artistic oeuvres.
An onsite cafe, restaurant, gift/bookshop and auditorium seating up to 350 people occupy the other areas.
How to enjoy: Spend some time exploring the commissioned works– falling into four categories, Contemplative, Pop, Expressionist, Music & Sound– before soaking in the architectural displays, temporary shows and other spaces.
Not to miss: The Fondation’s four multi-level terraces each offer different, equally interesting vantage points over the Bois de Boulogne in the near distance. From the central terrace, you can see the skyline of the La Défense business park– including its enormous Grand Arch, dwarfing the Arc de Triomphe– seeming to hover above the lush woods.
Fondation Louis Vuitton: More Info & Getting There
For more information on the Fondation, including tickets, tours, opening times and exhibits, see our full guide.
Opened in the former premises of a municipal morgue in northeastern Paris in 2008, this lively, community-centric arts space is little-known among tourists. But it merits a visit if you’re interested in contemporary creation, and want to get a sense of what Paris’ current-day artistic scene.
The sprawling, airy space houses a central open gallery and several smaller ones, performance areas, studio spaces for working artists and artisans, shops, and restaurants. Entry is free for all, and tickets to paid temporary exhibits are modestly priced.
This is also one of Paris’ more family-friendly museums and cultural centers, with special workshops and exhibits organized specifically for kids.
The eclectic program of exhibits at the 104 (Cent-Quatre in French) focuses on all manner of genres and mediums, from experimental and interactive installations to paintings, sculptures, dance, concerts and performance art.
Some spaces are reserved for spontaneous artistic “happenings”, and one Saturday a month there’s a ball dance within the premises– one that’s open to all, including curious tourists.
How to enjoy: After checking out the exhibits and perhaps attempting to sneak a peek at the artists at work in their studios, grab some pizza from the onsite truck and sit out in the courtyard if it’s a warm day. There’s also a restaurant, cafe, bookshop, clothing shops, and a dedicated play area for younger visitors.
104/Centquatre: More Info & Getting There
For more information on current shows and events, ticketing, and more, see our full guide to the 104 Arts Center.
For still more modern and contemporary art museums in the capital, see our review of the Atelier des Lumières, whose mesmerizing multimedia exhibits have earned wide acclaim; this page at the Paris Tourist Office offers a more comprehensive list of museums and galleries, including ones in the wider Paris region.
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Courtney Traub is the Founder and Editor of Paris Unlocked. She’s a longtime Paris resident who now divides her time (as well as she can manage) between the French capital and Norwich, UK. Co-author of the 2012 Michelin Green Guide to Northern France & the Paris Region, she has been interviewed as an expert on Paris and France by the BBC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Le Figaro, Matador Network and other publications. Courtney has also written and reported stories for media outlets including Radio France Internationale, The Christian Science Monitor, Women’s Wear Daily and The Associated Press. In addition to pursuing an insatiable interest in French culture, history, food and art, Courtney is a scholar of literature and cultural history whose essays and reviews have appeared in various forums.