5 Best Impressionist Museums in Paris

Paul Cézanne The Gulf of Marseilles
Detail of Paul Cézanne's "The Gulf of Marseilles, Seen from L'Estaque," ca 1885.

Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The subtle, figurative brushstrokes, dynamic sense of movement, and mesmerizing play with light and shadow now so familiar to modern eyes, and characteristic of the artistic movement known as Impressionism, wasn't always beloved. It was in fact considered radical and even shocking when it debuted at a Parisian salon showcasing convention-defying artists in the late nineteenth century. Innovators like Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne (whose sublime "The Gulf of Marseilles from L'Estaque" is pictured above), Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Gustave Caillebotte turned the art establishment upside-down with their bold and decidedly anti-realist new visions, but it would take years for their iconoclastic styles to become accepted by the average exhibition-goer.

Paris now houses some of the world's finest collections of their work. If you're interested in art history or simply love the Impressionist style, you should make sure to reserve some time to visit these five fantastic collections. Read on for more details. 

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Impressionist Treasury #1: Musée d'Orsay

Exterior of Museum de Orsay

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Arguably housing the world's finest collection of Impressionist painting, drawings, and sculpture, the Musée d'Orsay also allows for a remarkably manageable and pleasant visit, being much smaller than the monstrous Louvre Museum just across the River Seine.

The permanent collection here is unforgettable, worth repeat visits, and features countless famous and lesser-known but important works from Monet, Manet (whose work is shown above), Edgar Degas, Renoir, Delacroix, Gaugin, and Caillebotte. It also explores the (post-Impressionist) work of artists such as Victor Van Gogh, allowing visitors to trace the evolution of form and light starting from the early Impressionists onward.

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Impressionist Treasury #2: Marmottan-Monet Museum

Marmottan-Monet Museum in Paris

TripSavvy / Leopoldine Bauer

Fans of Claude Monet should make a special effort to visit this small, unassuming museum tucked away in an old Parisian mansion on the city's posh western edge. The permanent collection is a guaranteed way to broaden your understanding of the artist's work and steer your mind away from the coffee-mug and tablecloth-industry versions of his iconic water lilies or sunrises. Seen in person and up-close, even the most frequently represented of his tableaux are sublime, richly textured and powerful in a way reproductions and prints simply can never be. 

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Impressionist Treasury #3: Petit Palais

Petit Palais
139904 / Pixabay

One of Paris' entirely free, city-run museums, the Petit Palais often gets overlooked by tourists who simply haven't heard much about it. Yet for those who love impressionism, it's an important stop.

The modest but noteworthy permanent collection of works by the likes of Delacroix, Ingres, Cézanne, Courbet, Sisley, Monet and Pissarro is definitely worth spending a few hours on, especially once you've seen what Orsay has to offer. The "palace's" Belle-Epoque building, erected for the Universal Exposition of 1900, is also noteworthy.

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Impressionist Treasury #4: The Orangerie

Orangerie sign

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre 

Yet another museum prominently featuring the work of Claude Monet, this small museum situated on the grounds of the former royal Orangery at the Tuileries Gardens houses a meditative treasure: Monet's vast "Nympheas" series painted after World War I as a kind of hopeful wish for peace after a period of unprecedented barbarism. Come here on a quiet day, sit and take in the magnificent panels, which the artist created especially for the space.

L'Orangerie also houses an exhibit featuring the work of post-impressionists such as Cézanne, as well as nineteenth and twentieth-century artists Matisse, Modigliani and Picasso.

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Impressionist Treasury #5: Claude Monet's House and Gardens at Giverny

Giverny gardens
Nadrog / Pixabay

Provided you're willing to get outside of the city, Giverny is an absolute must for enthusiasts of impressionism. Home to Claude Monet, who painted some of his most iconic works from his house and garden there, Giverny now houses the recently established Musee des Impressionismes, hosting regular exhibits dedicated to exploring various facets of the often misunderstood movement.

Obviously, you should make sure to visit Monet's breathtakingly beautiful gardens at Giverny (a springtime excursion there is highly recommended) and take some time to visit his house, which clues visitors into his particular tastes and sensibilities, including a love of Japanese art and culture.

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