Situated at the northwestern edge of the Jardin des Tuileries, the Jeu de Paume in Paris is one of the city’s most important exhibition spaces dedicated to photography, video, installation, and other works presented in mechanical an/or electronic forms.
The gallery, well known for its temporary exhibits highlighting important global work from 20th and 21st century photographers, video artists, and performance artists, is a relative newcomer, opened as a contemporary arts museum in 1991. It was only after 2004 that it narrowed its focus to become a center devoted primarily to photography and digital-based arts.
Past temporary exhibits have included retrospectives on 20th-century photographers such as Diane Arbus, Martin Parr, Lisette Model, Richard Avedon, Cindy Sherman, Garry Winogrand and Claude Cahun.
It has additionally highlighted the work of up-and-coming figures such as Israeli video artist Omer Fast, Portuguese multimedia artist Helena Almeida, Lebanese video and installation artist Ali Cherri, and Colombian multimedia artist Oscar Muñoz.
The Jeu de Paume is also an excellent place to head for film retrospectives, symposiums and seminars, multimedia installations, and multi-artist showcases highlighting interesting trends in “mechanical” and digital arts of the past century.
Finally, it’s well known for its art publications and online art platforms, which include works created exclusively for the web by a number of well-known and emerging global artists. One of the Jeu de Paume’s most important objectives is to encourage collaboration and dialogue between filmmakers and other visual artists.
The overall aim of such a space? To “draw parallels and engage a dialogue between the various strands of visual culture and images, leading to a re-evaluation and reinvention of meaning in all fields of thought”, according to a statement on the official website.
In short, if you’re interested in contemporary art and particularly photography, film and/or multimedia installations, a visit to this gallery is certainly a stop to make time for.
History (Including a Dark Period During World War II)
While the Jeu de Paume only opened as a contemporary arts museum in 1991, the premises have a much longer history. First of all, what does “jeu de paume” even mean?
It refers to an indoor tennis game played primarily by the French aristocracy, and from the 17th century onward, the site housed courts for the game in question.
The building you see today was built in 1861, during the reign of French Emperor Napoleon III. It extended an existing structure designed for the game.
Once modern-day tennis supplanted jeu de paume as a popular sport, the space was converted into a gallery. It initially held some of the modern artworks that have since been transferred to the nearby Musée d’Orsay, just across the river. It became an independent gallery in 1922 and showcased important exhibits from the likes of Picasso, Braque, and Léger.
A Site of Nazi Occupation– and Looting
The Jeu de Paume was also the site of considerable infamy during the Nazi Occupation of Paris and World War II.
Nazis requisitioned the building following the start of the Occupation in 1940. From 1942 to 1944, they used the Jeu de Paume as a storage facility for some 20,000 stolen artworks, many of which were masterpieces confiscated from Jewish families in France.
Sadly, these thefts were not considered illegal by the collaborationist French government headquartered at Vichy.
The prominent Nazi henchman Hermann Göring travelled to Paris on numerous occasions to oversee the storage and maintenance of the loot, some of which was earmarked for himself and for Adolf Hitler.
The galleries were used to stage private expositions of newly looted artworks, so that SS officers could survey the stolen goods and choose itsems for their own collections, as well as for the Fuhrermuseum in Linz, Austria.
Meanwhile, artworks deemed “degenerate” by the Nazis was held in a room at the gallery that would subsequently be called the “Marty’rs Room”. Much of it was sold abroad to help fuel the Nazi war machine.
But in one infamous night in July 1942, unsold “degenerate art”, including works from artists such as Picasso and Salvador Dalí, were burned in a bonfire on the grounds of the Jeu de Paume.
Some artworks were secretly protected by a curator named Rose Valland, who secretively maintained a list of all the works passing throuh the gallery. After 1945, some of these were returned to the families they had been stolen from. Many others remain missing.
The events following World War II, the heroism of Rose Valland, and efforts to restore the artworks to their rightful owners was the subject of a 2014 film, The Monuments Men, directed by George Clooney.
Current & Forthcoming Exhibits
To see a full and regularly updated list of current exhibits at the Jeu de Paume, see this page at the official website. For forthcoming shows, visit this page.
Getting There & Contact Information
The exhibition space is located within the Jardin des Tuileries, not far from the Louvre Museum and facing the Place de la Concorde. Its premises are adjacent to those of the Orangerie Museum, a gallery famous for its large-scale murals from Claude Monet.
- Access: 1 Place de la Concorde, 1st Arrondissement
- Metro: Concorde
- Main entrance is via the Tuileries garden, from Rue de Rivoli. There is a separate, fully accessible access for disabled visitors, from the Place de la Concorde (the ramp is to the left).
- Tel : +33 (0)1 47 03 12 50
Visit the official website (in English) for more information on exhibits and visitors facilities.
Opening Hours and Tickets
(Please note that the museum is currently closed due to the coronavirus crisis. Check back here soon for details on its re-opening, or visit the official website).
- The museum is open Tuesdays from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm; Wednesday to Sunday from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm. Closed on Mondays and public holidays, including December 25th and January 1st.
- Tickets: The Last tickets are sold 30 minutes prior to the closure of the exhibition spaces. You can see current rates, including discounts for students and senior visitors, at this page. In addition, you can purchase tickets in advance for certain shows at this page.
Facilities at the Museum
Facilities including a small café serving refreshments and Japanese-style bento boxes, a bookstore and gift shop, toilets (disabled access) and film screening rooms.
What to See and Do Around the Gallery?
There’s a wealth of things to see and do in the area, so I recommend making your visit to the Jeu de Paume one stop in a wider exploration of the area.
The galleries are situated within the district loosely known by Parisians as the Louvre-Tuileries district, whose central location and abundance of museums, shops, restaurants and covered passageways offer hours of potential exploring and wandering.
Pay a visit to the Louvre and the adjoining Tuileries gardens, which are particularly ideal for a stroll during the late spring and early summer (you’ll see the greatest variety of blossoms and greenery during that time).
If time allows, pop into the Musée de l’Orangerie next door to see Monet’s arresting, full-scale mural series of 1918, “Nymphéas” (waterlilies). The permanent Jean Walter-Paul Guillaume collection is also full of impressionist and expressionist masterpieces, from the likes of Cézanne, Sisley, Matisse and Soutine.
Next, hope across the busy artery of Rue de Rivoli, cross the regal Place Vendome, and head over for a stroll at the Palais Royal and its cloister-like galleries.
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 written and reported stories for media outlets including Radio France Internationale, Reed Business Information, WWD, and The Associated Press. She has also been interviewed as an expert on Paris and France by the BBC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Le Figaro, Matador Network and other publications. 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.