Musée Carnavalet

This free museum in the Marais district belongs to the City of Paris and is devoted to the history of the city from its earliest beginnings to present times. In addition to documents, statues and antique furniture, the Musée Carnavalet also features hundreds of original paintings that illustrate various epochs of Paris history.

Market and Fountain of the Innocents

The large painting in the center of this photo is a View of the Market and Fountain of the Innocents, painted in Paris in 1822 by John James Chalon (1778-1854). The museum bought it at an auction at Sotheby’s, New York, in 1986.

Maria Malibran, painting by Henri Decaisme

Maria Malibran (1808-1836) was one of the most famous opera singers of the 19th century. She was born in Paris, but began her operatic career in London at age 17 by ‘jumping in’ when she took over the role of Rosina in Rossini’s Barber of Seville, because the prima donna Giuditta Pasta had suddenly fallen ill.

The following season Malibran sang eight leading roles in New York as a member of the first-ever opera company to perform in that city.

She was the big star of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala for three seasons in the 1830s, in fact she was the big star at major opera houses all over Europe, including of course Paris. Venice named a theater after her, which to this day is known as Teatro Malibran.

Malibran was sort of the Anna Netrebko of her epoch, but she did it all without television, without CDs or DVDs, without photos in magazines — without all the media that help make reputations today. And she must have done all her travels around Europe by stagecoach or on horseback, because there were no airlines in her lifetime, and not even railroads, which she could have used if she had lived a few years longer. She was only 28 when she died in England, as a result of falling off a horse.

Juliette Récamier, as painted by François-Pascal-Simon Gérard 1805

Juliette Récamier (1777–1849) was not an opera singer, but a socialite who hosted a fashionable salon in Paris in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Poster for the Kiraz exhibition

When I was there in 2008, the Musée Carnavalet was showing a special exhibition on Les Parisiennes de Kiraz, showing over two hundred cartoons by Edmond Kiraz that had appeared over the previous six decades in such magazines as Jours de France, Gala, Vogue and Playboy.

These cartoons feature thin long-legged young women from Paris. In one of the cartoons, two of these Parisiennnes are at the seaside, and one says to the other: “I’m frightfully prudish, I’m afraid. My husband has never seen me naked except on the beach.”

Another cartoon shows a mother reproaching her gorgeous Parisienne daughter: “All your friends are getting divorced, and you aren’t even married yet.”

Or the beautiful Parisienne being carried through the surf by a strapping young lifeguard: “You’ve saved my life,” she says, “so now I’ll save yours. Don’t marry me.”

But I think my favorite Kiraz cartoon is of a lovely teen-aged Parisienne saying to her stout, sedate mother in their fussy, old-fashioned living room: “Mama, would you have married Papa if he had proposed to you while he was chewing gum?”

Location and aerial view of the Carnavalet Museum on

My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2020.

See more posts on museums in Paris.

12 thoughts on “Musée Carnavalet”

  1. Good, the author talks a lot about the Opera singers careers, and their family , and private life, you may enjoy that.

  2. By chance I am reading right now: The Edge of The Nest by Christopher Cruise, about the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev in love with the sister of Maria Malibran, Pauline Garcia Viardot, also a singer. 🙂

  3. My salute to the Painters in those days who have recorded the events their paintings. We are able to re-visit them even after centuries. Nice little museum story with a fun element.

  4. Don, thanks for introducing the Musée Carnavalet to the uninitiated like myself — it looks charming! I’m not a fan of modern art so the Musée Carnavalet would really suit me. I did find the Kiraz cartoons (and probably the associated art) very amusing too!

  5. A lot more than painting the history of Paris is there in many objects and drawings. Nice little museum and not really popular with visitors me think. Should be. Cheers

  6. I am eagerly awaiting the museum’s re-opening after being closed for extensive renovations. Thank you for the peek inside.

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