It's always great to have visitors in Paris because it takes me out of my daily routine (which recently has involved grappling with the 100 year-old plumbing in my apartment). It's especially nice to entertain people who have been to Paris before and have already done the greatest hits, so we can take the time to see some of the city's smaller museums. These places off-the-beaten-art-walk-path, often dedicated to a single artist, can be just as impressive as the Louvre or the D'orsay and much more manageable on a weekend afternoon.
A case in point is the Musée Marmottan. Housed in a 19th century mansion in the western side of Paris, the Marmottan houses a beautiful collection of Empire-style furniture and objets d'art. It has over the years also became the home of several fine collections of paintings and illuminated manuscripts. It currently holds the world's largest collection of Berthe Morisot's work and also received a legacy from Michel Monet, Claude Monet's second son, which included a number of Monet's later works, painted as he was losing his eyesight.
Through July, the museum is putting on an exhibit entitled "The Impressionists in Private: 100 masterpieces from private collections." Because hard as it is to believe, there are apparently individuals out there with works by Renoir, Monet, Degas and Cézanne hanging over the couch. Okay, they're probably in some kind of climate-controlled vault or something, but the point is, these paintings are rarely seen by the general public so it is quite an achievement to have them here in one place.
The exhibit is laid out chronologically, identifying where the art is visiting from and sometimes the collector. Some of these works are relatively minor - sketches or studies for larger works - but a good deal of them are every bit as spectacular as anything you'd see in a major museum. I'm sure art experts are already familiar with all these paintings, but for me it was like seeing just discovered works from Monet, Renoir and Caillebotte, among others, painted in the artists' prime.
The exhibit space is relatively small, so be sure to buy the special "cut to the front of the line" tickets available on-line. And take the time to go around to see the rest of the collection. For Monet fans in particular, it is a unique chance to see the evolution of his work, from the tightly controlled snapshots of his early years to the large-scale, almost abstract works he painted just before he died.
While the visiting the Louvre or the D'orsay never fails to impress, I do have a special place in my heart for these private house-museums that allow momentary glimpses into what life was like in the Belle Epoque. Just imagine what plumbing problems they must've had.