Top 10 sculptures to see in Paris
Home to the most visited museum of the world (the Louvre), Paris is obviously known for the plethora of famous artworks that you can discover in and out of its museums.
As an art buff myself, I have tried in this article to list my favorite sculptures in Paris, both in and out of the museums. Indeed, the museums of Paris are not the only places where you can admire sculptures! The city in itself has more than 1000 statues on its different streets, so next time you are walking through the streets, keep your eyes open!
Also, there is one thing you should know if you are curious about all things French and Parisian: some locals are giving free tours to help you experience the French capital like a true Parisian. If you are willing to explore the hidden gems in each of Paris’ iconic neighborhoods and truly feel the city like a local, click here to book yours!
So, without further ado, let’s dive into my list of the top 10 sculptures to see in Paris.
1. Homme qui marche III (Man Walking III) – Alberto Giacometti
Alberto Giacometti is one of my favorite sculptors. He has a very particular style, known for his tall, thin and uneven representations of men walking.
Paris is lucky enough to be home to the Institut Giacometti, which exhibits the original Homme qui marche III (man walking III). The institute is located at 5 Rue Victor Schoelcher, 75014 Paris. It opens every day from 10amp to 6pm, and be careful : it is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Giacometti also created two others statues entitled Man Walking. One of them, Man Walking I, is the most expensive statue in the world to have ever been sold at an auction, at the price of 141,28 million dollars (126,83 million euros).
2. The Thinker (Le Penseur) – Auguste Rodin
Auguste Rodin famously made more than 20 drafts of the sculpture (which are often hard to tell from the original), and these drafts are now disseminated all around the world. You can find them in museum Ca Pesaro in Venice, in the Laeken cemetery in Brussels, at the entry of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, in the museum Brennand in Brasil, and also in Meudon (a city in the outskirts of Paris), in the villa des Brillants on Auguste Rodin’s own grave.
Rodin is also famous for his tumultuous relationship with his student Camille Claudel. Camille Claudel’s passion with Auguste Rodin has been at the center of a widespread fascination in the art world and beyond. It gave birth to several fims (including one starring French actress Isabelle Adjani) and plays. Camille Claudel is known for being a sculptor herself, and the sister of famous French writer and poet Paul Claudel. She was perfectionist sculptor who had developed an obsession with her art.
One of the most interesting things about Rodin’s Thinker is that it portrayed Thought for the first time in human form in art. Indeed, before the Thinker, Thought and Wisdom were usually portrayed by the greek goddess Athena. This representation of Athena as Wisdom had been reproduced countless times in western art.
Auguste Rodin introduced with The Thinker the idea of Thought being portrayed by a human, a man seeming to face a dilemma but still in a position of power, highlighted by his muscular and strong body, at rest but ready to get up. This binarity is at the heart of what makes the Thinker a masterpiece: an introverted man deep into his thoughts, but with a strong insistence on his robust body ready to get up and act.
The museum is located at 77 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris. I would advise you to visit it in the weekdays rather than the weekends since it can get quite crowded; also it is one of my favorite Paris museums, so apart from the Thinker, there is plenty to see!
Many Rodin sculptures are exhibited all over the streets of Paris, so always look out for them when you are walking the streets of the capital. His sculptures are famously naked bodies, often men; Rodin famously declared « I have an infinite admiration for the naked body ; I almost worship it ».
You can check out my article about the top 5 interesting facts about the Thinker if you are willing to learn more about this famous statue.
3. Le Centaure Nessus enlevant Déjanire – Laurent-Honoré Marqueste, 1892
As I told you, in Paris, not all art is displayed in museum ! This famous statue is displayed at the Jardin des Tuileries in the 1st arrondissement of Paris.
4. La Victoire de Samothrace (Winged Victory of Samothrace)
This sculpture is definitely one of my favorite artworks displayed in Paris. I think that I adore it as an artwork, but I have always been in awe with the marvelous job that the Louvre has done to offer the statue an adequate frame of exhibition. They chose to display The Winged Victory of Samothrace on its own, at the top of the main stairs of the Louvre.
While passing through the main stairs on your way to the Mona Lisa, you cannot miss it if you look up. I can guarantee that if you pay enough attention, you will definitely be amazed.
This magnificent statue measures 2,75 meters (the entire monument measures more than 5 meters!). The sculpture represents the goddess Nike. Nike was the goddess of Victory in ancient Greece, whose name inspired the ubiquitous sneaker brand and its infamous “Just do it” motto. The original statue’s base was kept as it is : the goddess is standing on a boat.
The anonymous statue was actually discovered in several broken pieces in the 19th century on the Greek Island Samothrace by Charles Champoiseau, who initially understood the value of the statue and sent it to the Louvre. The statue took a year to travel from Samothrace to Paris. The Louvre quickly realized the unmeasurable value of the statue, and sent back orders to Champoiseau encouraging him to look for other pieces.
The statue was brought back piece after piece during the following century; however her head was never found.
If you are willing to discover more of the history of this masterpiece of the Hellenistic era, check out our Top 5 interesting facts about the Winged Victory of Samothrace
6. Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss — Canova
If you ask Parisians what their favorite statue in the capital is, chances are a lot of them will answer with Canova’s! This one is also definitely amongst my personal favorites. I used to spend hours hanging out near the statue as a teenager, trying to catch a glimpse of the countless art students sitting on the floor and drawing the sculpture all day long.
The statue was painted at the end of the 18th century and is considered one of the masterpieces of the neoclassical movment.
It features greek god Eros having just awakened Psyche by kissing her. If you get to visit the statue, I beg you to turn around it all around. Canova was at his time considered a mastermind and this statue is full of details that can only be fully appreciated if you take the time to turn around it.
7. Venus de Milo
The Venus de Milo might probably be one of the most famous sculptures in the Western world. Scholars are unsure of who made it; they hesitate between Praxitèle and Antiochus.
The sculpture’s arms are for an unknown reason missing. This contributes to the statue’s aura of mystery, and its very particular appearance that has nowadays almost become a staple of pop culture.
Venus de Milo depicts Latin goddess Venus (Aphrodite in Greek). It is named after the Milo island on which it was discovered by a Greek peasant.
The fame of this sculpture is actually a direct effect of a massive propaganda by the French authorities, after France was forced to return the Venus de Medici to Italy. Venus de Medici was at the time known to be one of the finest existing sculptures of Venus. To make up for the loss, France decided to over promote another Venus statue that they had kept.
A fun fact that always amuses me: the statue was featured on the seal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) for some time.
If you are curious about the Venus de Milo, you can check out The best way to see The Venus de Milo at the Louvre Museum, and also our Top 6 interesting facts about the Venus de Milo.
8. The Man Mummy
This one is not exactly a statue, but I thought to include it because of the striking effect it produces on me every time I pass by its room at the Louvre. This mummified man from the 3rd or 2cd century before Christ could be considered some sort of real life statue, made artwork by the passing of time.
Check out our 10 Best Egyptian Antiquities to See in the Louvre if you are interested in the monumental Egyptian section of the museum.
9. Sainte Marie Madeleine – Gregor Erhart
Attributed to Gregor Erhart (1470-1540), the painting was bought by the Louvre at the beginning of the 20th century. It is the only wooden sculptured featured on this list.
The painting depicts Saint Marie Magdalene, who is probably the Christian saint who has fascinated the most scholars and writers or all sorts. Marie Magdalene was a former sinner who decided to become one of Jesus’ followers. She represents one of the feminine figures in Christian imagery and representations, and she is mentionned 12 times by name in the canonical gospels, more than most of the apostles. This makes her one of the most mentionned figures in the canonical gospels. She is known to have been the first to see Jesus after his resurrection, and is thus a priviledged witness of the miracle. When she saw Jesus, she reached out to touch him, and he asked her not to. From there stems the famous latin phrase “noli me tangere” (do not touch me), that has become the name given to any painting or sculpture that represents Marie Madeleine on the floor trying to reach out and touch Jesus.
In some stories and myths, it is said that after her encounter with Jesus she was so touched that she decided to live in a cave dressed only by her long hair.
The statue depicts her naked, only draped in her famous hair. This sculpture is said to have mesmerized thousands of admirers, so much than during the nazi occupation of France, nazi military leader Hermann Goering asked that she would be brought to him from the Louvre. The statue travelled all the way to Germany, and was restituted to the museum after the end of the war.
10. Fontaine Fellah – Jean François Gechter, 1844
Another artwork that cannot be seen at a museum, because it is exhibited on top of the Fontaine Fellah, in the 7th arrondissement. You can find the fountain at 24, rue de Sèvres, 75007 Paris.
It is a good example of neo-egyptian style, which increasingly developped in France after Napoléon’s battles in Egypt. The statue is believed to represent Antinous, lover of Roman emperor Hadrien. French author Marguerite Yourcenar wrote a beautiful novel based around their relationship: Mémoires d’Hadrien.
There you have them, my top 10 sculptures to see in Paris! A number of them are displayed at the Louvre, so if you want to learn more about their history, where to find them and how to curate your perfect visit to the Louvre in order not to miss anything, check out my top 10 amazing artworks to see at the Louvre.