A visit to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris

a breathtaking monumental "papier peint panoramique" by Desfossé, 1855
One of my favorite places to visit in Paris is the spectacular Musée des Arts Décoratifs, a comprehensive collection of the best of French design:  objects, architectural and applied arts from the middle ages to the present day. Generally uncrowded and serene, the museum is housed in the western wing of the Louvre, the beautiful Pavillon de Marsan, designed by architect Gaston Redon in 1905.
The lovely interior court of the Musée des Arts Decoratifs (image via MAD)
Like the Victorian and Albert in London,  the MAK (Museum fur Angewandte Kunst) in Vienna,  and the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, les Arts Décoratifs celebrates the finest work in applied arts,  but this museum is decidedly French, and notable for the depth and breadth of its collection.

Seemingly every possible decorative technique, material, or type of object can be found in the vast Arts Décoratifs inventories: tapestry, escritoire, eglomisé, shagreen, scenic wallpaper, jewelry, stained glass, wood, lacquer, plastic, and gold… but far from mind-boggling the collections are carefully edited and displayed chronologically, to encourage understanding of both the techniques used and the application of them. Meanwhile there are thousands of beautiful inspiring moments in each room.
Here are some highlights from my visit in October 2011.

"Cabinet des Fables" from the hôtel Dangé, Paris 1755 (repainted 1855)
Two adjoining rooms of boiserie taken from the hôtel Dangé on the Place Vendome, are displayed as one room here (you can see the gilt room in the mirror)- these really were meant to be small, intimate painted spaces.

a display of chinoiserie furnishings dating from the 17th century
A small gilt "cabinet" room from l’hôtel de Rochegude à Avignon, 1720. Oui.
Photography in the museum is allowed without a flash, but many of the rooms are kept very dim to protect the fabrics and delicate surfaces.  Despair not,  the MAD has an excellent database of images of its collection on its website.   Not only that, but the MAD bookshop at 107 Rue de Rivoli  is outrageous.  It is filled with fabulous books on your favorite subjects, all of them loaded with great pictures. Hard as you might try, you won’t be able to carry all the books out with you. Make note of the ISBN# so you can search for the books when you get home. 

wood doors decorated with gilt grotesque ornament, from the 15th century
Salon de l’hôtel Talairac, circa 1790
One of the many period roomsets on display at the MAD, the Salon de l’hôtel Talairac, circa 1790, is an early example of Egyptian theme interior design, which eventually became an all-out fad in the early 19th century.
detail from a Renaissance-Revival bedchamber, circa 1840
The boiserie decoration from the Renaissance-Revival bedchamber of Baron Hope is not typical for the Louis-Phillipe-era France. To me it seems more English Victorian. Have a look at the rest of the room here.

detail of a verre églomisé mirror frame.  Gasp! 

Detail of an entire wall of embossed leather, silver-gilt and amber-varnished to look like gold. circa 1600

detail of a splendid marquetry cabinet, made in 1670. I could stare at this all day.

One of the most fabulous room sets in this museum is the private apartment of Jeanne Lanvin. Designed by Armand Albert Rateau and built in 1925, it’s the ultimate feminine Art Deco interior.

The famous gilt and lacquered screen from Jeanne Lanvin's dining room is nearly 11 feet high, and was designed by Armand Albert Rateau, circa 1921 

Bedroom of Jeanne Lanvin, designed by Armand-Albert Rateau  (image via MAD)
The fabric in the private apartments of Jeanne Lanvin, a custom blue silk embroidered with cotton and copper thread,  is newly recreated and was all done by hand.

When you go:
Be sure to visit the Art Nouveau and Art Deco rooms, as well as the very interesting mid and late 20th century design rooms in the attic spaces of the pavillion.
Other tips:
The Mode et Textile Museum is just next door.
The Rue du Rivoli can be crowded and dirty.  It’s so much more stylish to arrive via the Carrousel entrance.  And be sure to dress fabulously, so you can have a bite at the Saut de Loup, the chic cafe on the terrace facing the Carrousel Gardens.

all images in this post by Lynne Rutter unless otherwise noted. Click on images to view larger.


  1. Voila qui donne envie de retourner voir ce superbe musée. Merci pour votre très intéressant reportage.

  2. one of my favorite museums (and bookshops!) I love the eglomisé mirror frame

    1. I love that tortoise effect from the way it's back-finished. Going to try getting that effect on a piece here soon!

  3. Lovely. I think my favorite is the art deco. Thanks for sharing.


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