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Art Foundations: Discovering Paris’ Lesser-Known Artistic Gems

Baccarat House (Hotels Paris Rive Gauche)

Most visitors to Paris don’t know what they’re missing by not knowing the word fondation. I know I didn’t when I moved from New York. When I heard about the Yves Saint Laurent or Henri Cartier-Bresson fondations, for example, I just assumed they were boring non-profits or something. Silly girl.

Fondations are Paris’ little artistic gems. Often housed in magnificent old hotels particuliers or modern spaces designed by world-renowned architects, these “foundations” are like miniature museums, dedicated to preserving the memory and achievements of influential movers and shakers. Here are some not to be missed.

Fondation Cartier

Fondation Cartier (Tim Brown Architects’)

By far my favorite is the Fondation Cartier. The modern, airy Jean Nouvel-designed building invites the lush cedar and fig trees surrounding the building inside, and the surrounding wild gardens make for a perfect pit-stop after taking in the art. And then there’s the art. Seeing as it’s the hoighty-toighty French jeweler’s fondation, the work is nothing short of sterling. Exhibitions are really well curated, ranging from Japanese megastar Beat Takashi Kitano’s kitschy-controversial paintings to the wildly popular 2009 graffiti art exhibition to William Eggleston photographs.

261 Blvd Raspail (14th arr.). 01 42 18 56 50. Open every day, except Monday, from 11am-8pm; Tuesdays until 10pm.

Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent

Exhibit at Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves St. Laurent (Virginie Arnoux, Tulio Borges)

Yves Saint Laurent is a god to the French, to fashionistas and to feminists. So it only makes sense that there’s a fondation devoted to the iconic fashion designer in one of the city’s chichi-est arrondissements. Don your finest and dive deep into four decades’ worth of original sketches, accessories, haute couture and ready-to-wear. While many of the rotating exhibitions are devoted to YSL, not all of them are. Past standouts include shows by painter David Hockney, interior designer Jean-Michem Frank and American socialite Nan Kempner.

5 Avenue Marceau (16th arr). 01 44 31 64 00. Open Tuesday – Sunday from 11am to 6pm.

Baccarat House Paris

Baccarat House (Jason Whittaker)

Bling, bling! In many ways the Baccarat House is the quintessential Parisian space, set in a gorgeous 18th century mansion and reimagined by Philippe Starck. In other words, it’s tres riche. In addition to a permanent collection of all things sparkly and divine there are regular exhibitions, plus a store that is absolutely dazzling (and free to enter). After the tour through crystal wonderland, it’s absolutely mandatory to dejeune in the breathtaking Cristal Room—just be sure to make reservations in advance.

11 Place des Etats-Unis (16th arr.). 01 40 22 11 00. Open Monday and Wednesday – Saturday from 10am to 6:30pm.

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

Fondation Henri Cartier Bresson (Erica Berman)

With two modest floors of clean white space, the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson is the most modest of the lot, but it’s still a must-see, especially for anyone with a love for great photography. Cartier-Bresson’s riveting mid-century street images of Paris and photojournalism from around the world really hit you in heart. In 2003, a year before his death, Cartier-Bresson and his wife and daughter set this foundation up to preserve his legacy and to showcase other great artists he influenced with thrice-annual exhibitions.

2 Impasse Lebouis (14th arr.). 01 56 80 27 00. Open Tuesday – Sunday from 1pm to 6:30pm; on Wednesdays until 8:30pm.

Fondation Le Corbusier

Maison La Roche by Le Corbusier (Justine Robinett)

It’s tough to capture one man’s work when it spans four continents and 11 countries, but the Fondation Le Corbusier succeeds in giving you at least a sense of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret’s talent and prodigious work (Corbusier is a pseudonym). Set in two past residences, the modern architecture pioneer’s oeuvre comes to life through preserved furniture, sketches, paintings, writings and, of course, those famous Le Corbusier chairs.

8-10 Square du Docteur Blanche (16th arr.). 01 42 88 33 17. Open Monday from 1:30pm to 6pm; Tuesday – Thursday from 10am to 6pm; and Friday – Saturday from 10am to 5pm.

Fondation Henri Cartier Bresson (H.J. Wesselink)

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Written by Amy Thomas for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

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Written by Amy Thomas

Amy ThomasAmy Thomas is a sweets-obssessed writer based between New York and Paris. She penned the Sweet Freak column for Metro newspaper and has written about Paris' best chocolatiers (New York Times), desserts for two (Time Out New York), chocolate for guys (Rachel Ray) and the best hot chocolate in the city (Metro). Check for updates from Amy on her blog, God I Love Paris.

Website: God I Love Paris

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Posted in Arts, Design, Events | 8 Comments »

8 Responses to “Art Foundations: Discovering Paris’ Lesser-Known Artistic Gems”

  • [...] Peek into Paris’ fondations, or miniature historical museums, from Cartier to Baccarat. [HiP Paris] [...]

  • Venus says:

    Brilliant post – I also had no idea what a fondation was, and was completely missing out! I really love the Baccarat House, but have never been to the Pierre Berge YSL one-I would sacrifice food for a week to go there right now. Totally serious.

  • Pamela says:

    What a fabulous list… thank you! i recently moved short term to Paris and have been wondering what the Fondations were about. Voila! I’m especially excited to see the Baccarat House. Thanks again for a great post.

  • Snaggles says:

    The Cartier-Bresson is just great and has very prescient exhibits by other photogs as well. We saw Mitch Epstein there recently. Fascinating.

    I reco the Fondation Jean DuBuffet – a total gem. Grab your Pariscope for deets!

  • These are such brilliant discoveries – the Cartier Bresson is a must for me. I’m going to pass this post on to friends.

  • I am a travel and street photographer myself and I’m planning a Paris trip for next fall. I’m so glad to be introduced the idea of these foundations. How chic and French. These are definitely going on my must-see list, especially the Foundation Henri Cartier Bresson! Thanks for the tip.

  • Kasia Dietz says:

    I’ve heard of a few of these, great list! Looking forward to exploring them all!

  • LEAH says:

    Wow, I could spend all day touring the Baccarat House.

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