Discover Paris' Villa Museums

Our three favourite private residence-to-museum transformations.

Paris brims with museums and galleries, but the most atmospheric cultural spots are actually in the smaller, harder to find venues such as the numerous hôtels particuliers and artist ateliers that have been revamped as hot spots for viewing art. 

One of our favourites is Musée Gustave Moreau, named after the great 19th century French symbolist painter. Known for his biblical and mythological works, he was admired by his contemporaries for the magical aspects of his works. His wild imagination was an influence on the Surrealist painters who were inspired by the inclusion of the incomprehensible and the unconscious in his paintings. 

Gustave VuedelatelierGustaveMoreauMusée Gustave Moreau artwork

In 1895 he entrusted the conversion of his family home into a museum to architect Albert Lafont and left the property, as well as all its contents, to the State upon his death in 1897. After a year and a half of renovation to restore them to their original state, the six rooms on the ground floor were re-opened in January 2015. Paintings of note include Narcisse, famous for its seductive representation of the relationship between human and nature, and his preparatory works for Léda (whose legend was often an inspiration for the female nude) and Fée aux Griffons (representing the inaccessibility of the female body).

Visitors can discover the artist's apartment on the first floor, left exactly as it was when he died, while on the second and third floors his grand and light-filled former studios showcase more of his works. Look out for his two masterpieces Jupiter et Sémélé and L'Apparition. The former features the allegories of Death and Pain which represented for him the tragic essence of life, while the latter, which features Salome, was probably a result of his frequent opium hallucinations.

Related: Instant Escapes: Day Trips From Paris 

Rodin 3artwork of Auguste Rodin

The works of another of France's great artists, Auguste Rodin, are displayed in the magnificent backdrop of Hôtel Biron. The manor boasts grandiose features such as columns, arches and sweeping staircases as well as more subtle intricate mouldings and floor-to-ceiling windows. Bought by the state in 1911 while Rodin was residing here, he refused to leave and bequeathed his entire collection to the country on condition that it remained his home for life. 

After a 3-year renovation, visitors can now not only admire even more of the artist's works, but also enjoy new exhibits about his time at Hôtel Biron, his antiquities collection and 50 paintings from his private collection featuring Van Gogh and Munch. Perhaps the museum’s most attractive feature, especially when the weather plays ball, is the beautifully-kept 3-hectare garden. Visitors are free to roam the grounds, admiring not only famous works such as Le Penseur (The Thinker) but also the rose garden and peaceful arbour. 

mona bismarck american center 6 credit 4D4 Espaces EphémèresEiffel Tower views from the Mona Bismarck American Centre

If you prefer your art more modern, then head to the Mona Bismarck American Centre on the banks of the River Seine. Mona Bismarck (who was married five times, including to the grandson of the former German chancellor) was most famous for her marriage to Harrison Williams, one of America's richest men in the 1920s. A fashion icon and muse, she was sung about by Cole Porter, painted by Dalí and photographed by Cecil Beaton. Following Harrison's death in 1953, Mona Bismarck gifted the house to the state, intending it to become a showcase for 20th and 21st century American art and culture in Europe.

The rooms of the 19th century mansion are remarkable for their Chinese art, ornate gilding and crystal chandeliers, an indication of the luxury in which Bismarck lived. A handful of works are exhibited in each room and visitors are free to walk around and get up close to the pieces. The centre stages several exhibitions a year and holds other events including film screenings, concerts and discussions centered on American culture. 

1 Musée Gustave Moreau
2 Musée Rodin
3 Mona Bismarck American Centre