Until the end of the 19th century, the City of Paris did not have a single museum: from 1797, the majority of national collections were displayed to the public in the Museum, the current Louvre, with the remainder assigned to the Museums of Fine Arts of large Provincial cities.
Under the Second Empire, at the time when the works of Haussmann were changing the face of the old Paris, the Parisian authorities conceived a project for a museum dedicated to the history of the city. In this way the Carnavalet Museum was born. Inaugurated in 1880, it is the oldest municipal museum in the capital. Until then, sculptures, pictures and wall paintings were exhibited in the Hôtel de Ville and the various municipal establishments, including the churches. To support artistic creation, the City also bought paintings, sculptures, prints, medals and other objet d’art in Salons. These works, which were held in trust, were not accessible to the public.
The 1990 Universal Exposition was the opportunity to present part of these collections in the Petit Palais building, built for the event. After the Exposition, the City decided to transform this building into a permanent museum, the City of Paris Fine Art Museum. Thanks to a gift from the Dutuit brothers in 1902, this museum was able to extend its collections to include ancient art. Later, Tuck in 1930, Zoubaloff in 1935 and Maurice Girardin, a contemporary art collector, in 1953, augmented its collections still further.
In 1896, Henri Cernuschi had bequeathed his collections of Japanese and Chinese art to the City of Paris, as well as the townhouse built to accommodate them (7 avenue Vélasquez, Paris 8th). At the beginning of the 20th century, therefore, the City of Paris had three museums: a historic museum (Carnavalet), a fine arts museum (Petit Palais) and a specialised museum (Cernuschi).
In 1901, Paul Meurice, a loyal friend of Victor Hugo, gave the City a house on the Place des Vosges in which the poet had lived for a long time. To this gift was soon added the touching legacy of the house where Hugo had spent his years in exile, in Guernsey; his heirs donated it to the City in 1927.
In 1929, the City of Paris received from Ernest Cognacq his collection of 18th century works of art, housed in the Samaritaine shop on Boulevard des Capucines. Two new categories of museums thus appeared: the collection museum (Cognacq-Jay) and the house-museum (Victor Hugo).
The creation of the museum of modern art
The City had long wanted to split up the collections in the Petit Palais to create a museum of modern art, dedicated to the artistic movements of the 20th century. The State had been having the same thoughts about the Musée de Luxembourg. This thought process gave rise to the joint Palais de Tokyo project constructed in 1937. The State installed the national Museum of Modern Art there in 1947 (before transferring it to the Pompidou Centre in 1977), while the City of Paris created the Museum of Modern Art there in 1961.
During the same period, the collections of costumes in the Carnavalet Museum were removed from there to form a distinct collection, housed together from 1985 in the Galliera Palace, a gift from Duchess Galliera, where for a short time the City had had a Museum of Decorative Arts.
The acquisition of the home of Balzac in 1949 and the Museum of Romantic Life as a gift from Renan-Scheffer –the result of an agreement with the State – increased the number of house-museums in the City.
Together with the Antoinette Sasse legacy, the Memorial of Marshal Leclerc de Hauteclocque and of the Liberation of Paris created the Jean Moulin Museum for the fiftieth anniversary of the Liberation.
Two major 20th century sculptors left all or large parts of their works to the City of Paris: Bourdelle (1949) and Zadkine.
Today, each municipal museum continues to enrich its collections by purchasing works and objects on the market and by receiving new donations.
Organisation of the City of Paris museum network
The museums in the City of the Paris are organised in a specific way, the result of the history and status of the Paris authorities.
They are under the direct authority and control of the City of Paris, according to a means of organisation which is distinct from that of the State, but inspired by the same principles. Originally linked to the Fine Arts Service, since 1977 they have been managed by the Department of Cultural Affairs of the City of Paris.
Each museum is directed by a curator, assisted in most cases by a secretary general. The curators are recruited through a competition by the École Nationale du Patrimoine (National Heritage School) within the City of Paris channel. The recruitment competitions for the other categories are organised by the Department of Human Resources of the City of Paris. The status of the different bodies is in line with that of the equivalent State bodies. Employees come under the authority of the City of Paris and are paid from its budget.
The production and communication of museum exhibitions, the editing of publications, catalogues and similar products are delegated to the Paris Museums organisation (outsourcing of public services). To carry out its mission, the association receives revenue from exhibitions and sales and from sponsorship.
The City of Paris also supports several community museums: the European House of Photography, the Museum of Art and History of Judaism (funded equally with the State), the Museum of Old Montmartre, the Montparnasse Museum, the Halle Saint Pierre, etc.
A change of status by 2012
Following a report which was accepted by the Mayor and the Council of Paris in 2010, the 14 museums of the City of Paris are due to take on the status of public institutions in 2012. The aims of the reform are to simplify their management, facilitate their operation and improve the way the public is received.
Siège du Bureau des musées de la Ville de Paris
Direction des Affaires culturelles
55, rue des Francs-Bourgeois
01 42 76 84 00
11 avenue du Président Wilson
Tél : 01 53 67 40 00
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Late opening on Thursdays until 10pm (exhibitions only).
Permanent collection : free access
Metro Alma-Marceau or Iéna
RER C Pont de l'Alma
Bus 32, 42, 63, 72, 80, 92
Vélib' (self-service cycle hire) station: 2 rue Marceau