Eight Works of Art Hiding in Paris

In her new book, Lori Zimmer invites readers to experience the artistic gems hidden in plain sight throughout France’s capital city

Art Hiding in Paris main-0.jpg
Art Hiding in Paris is an homage to the city's veiled masterpieces. Illustration by Maria Krasinski

In the streets of Paris, people are met with world-class museums, breathtaking architecture and exquisite eats at every turn. But nestled between renowned sites like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are lesser-known artistic wonders just waiting to be found.

Through her new book Art Hiding in Paris, writer and art curator Lori Zimmer invites readers to go beyond the walls of art museums and instead experience the city’s veiled masterpieces—whether on public transit, on the grounds of a cemetery or in a retired brothel. Though many of the works of art included in the book are tucked away in unexpected locations, all are accessible to the public.

Art Hiding in Paris follows on the heels of Zimmer’s 2020 book, Art Hiding in New York, which in much the same way highlights the concealed wonders of the city Zimmer calls home. Thanks to annual summer visits to Paris in recent years, Zimmer says the City of Lights has become her second home, so it felt like a natural progression to center her next quasi-guidebook there. “​​The New York book is like a love letter to my home, and the Paris book is sort of a wish,” Zimmer says. “I want to know Paris in the same way that I know New York, and writing this book helped me get a little closer to that.”

Zimmer’s childhood friend Maria Krasinski, an illustrator, designer and researcher who has also spent her fair share of time in Paris, fills the book with whimsical drawings that capture the magic of these works of art.

“I hope [Art Hiding in Paris] makes potential travelers feel more comfortable and inspired to go abroad and see another place,” Zimmer says. “My whole motivation for both of the books is to make people feel welcome in the arena of art, and to just realize that art and art history is for everybody.”

Dodo Manège (Carousel of Extinct and Endangered Animals)

Eight Works of Art Hiding in Paris
Dodo Manège Illustration by Maria Krasinski

Surrounding the 69 acres of the Jardin des Plantes (Garden of Plants) located in the Fifth Arrondissement of Paris, also known as the Latin Quarter, are various museums, libraries and a zoo. The botanical garden also features a carousel that fits thematically with the surrounding learning institutions devoted to evolution, animal biology and fossils. Part educational tool and part art installation, the Carousel of Extinct and Endangered Animals (popularly known as the “Dodo Manège,” or “Dodo Carousel”)—designed in 1992 by an unknown scientist, who didn’t wish to have his name attached to the carousel, from the neighboring Natural History Museum—draws attention to the various animals worldwide that have gone extinct or are nearing extinction. Children can ride on endangered animals like a gorilla or a panda as well as extinct animals like a triceratops or a dodo bird. “There’s a big plaque next to [the carousel] that talks about each of the animals, and it’s cute to see the kids look at the plaque and pick the animal that they want to sit on,” Zimmer says. “Even though it’s not necessarily ‘fine art’ per se, it’s getting a conversation going with the kids.”

Le Clown Bar (The Clown Bar)

Eight Works of Art Hiding in Paris
Le Clown Bar Illustration by Maria Krasinski

When someone thinks of fine dining in Paris, a bar and restaurant for clowns isn’t typically what comes to mind. Nonetheless, Le Clown Bar exists in all its glory. Opened in 1902, the bar on 114 rue Amelot in the city’s Third Arrondissement became a canteen for clowns performing at the nearby Cirque d’Hiver, or the Winter Circus. The performers would pop in for a drink either before or after circus performances and found a home in the bar, some even renting rooms in the upper level of the building. The bar got a redesign in the 1920s to better serve and reflect its patrons—the interior was adorned with multicolored tiles featuring clowns. The playful decor is still on display today, allowing visitors to step into the clown shoes that frequented the establishment over a century ago. “You can close your eyes for a second and imagine a clown on break coming in and standing at that same bar where you’re having a glass of champagne,” Zimmer says.

L’Accueillant (The Welcoming) by Jean Dubuffet

Eight Works of Art Hiding in Paris
The Welcoming Illustration by Maria Krasinski

A few years after artist Jean Dubuffet’s death in 1985, a Parisian university hospital system commissioned his estate to turn a 1973 model designed by the artist into a whimsical sculpture to be housed in front of the Robert Debré Hospital in the 19th Arrondissement. The Welcoming is part of a collection of sculptures by Dubuffet inspired by sketches he made while taking phone calls. Today, individual sculptures from the collection can be found in various cities around the world. Standing 20 feet tall, The Welcoming features red and blue hues scattered across an abstract humanlike figure that appears to wave to people as they enter the children’s hospital. “A lot of time, there’s ‘art’ in and near hospitals and it’s not helping anybody, like it still seems sterile and scary,” Zimmer says. “This sculpture greets people as they go into the hospital, and it’s disarming. It feels like a coloring book come to life.”

The Palais Garnier’s ceiling fresco by Marc Chagall

Eight Works of Art Hiding in Paris
Palais Garnier fresco Illustration by Maria Krasinski

Named after French architect Charles Garnier, the Palais Garnier opened in the late 19th century at the request of Napoleon III. The opera house combines Baroque and Renaissance architectural elements and features various sculptures throughout its interior and exterior. The domed ceiling of the theater featured a classical painting of the heavens by artist Jules-Eugène Lenepveu until the early 1960s, when the French minister of culture at the time commissioned Marc Chagall to paint something new. Already in his 70s, Chagall spent a year painting the opera house’s 2,400-square-foot ceiling with angel-like creatures, famous Parisian attractions and depictions of performances by composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Richard Wagner. Chagall, a Jewish artist who was born in the Russian Empire, took on this project free of charge and essentially gifted the painting to France, the country he called home and had become a citizen of. Though the piece got mixed reviews when it was unveiled in 1964, with some viewers criticizing the piece for being too modern, millions of visitors come to admire it each year. The theater, located at the Place de l’Opéra in the Ninth Arrondissement, is still open today and showcases multiple performances annually. “You can just take a self-guided tour of the opera house, and it is so incredibly ornate,” Zimmer says. “It’s akin to Versailles, it’s incredible.”

Loïe Fuller home

Eight Works of Art Hiding in Paris
Loïe Fuller home Illustration by Maria Krasinski

When American free-movement dancer Marie Louise Fuller moved to Paris in 1892, she instantly found success and community within the city’s art world—gaining her the French nickname Loïe Fuller. Born in 1862 near Chicago, Fuller zeroed in on Paris as a hub of artistic freedom just as the Art Nouveau movement blossomed in the city.

She quickly embodied the movement, using her costumes and gestures to mimic the art style characterized by flowing shapes and intricate patterns. Fuller experimented with chemical lighting and use of stage lights in her performances to alter the colors of her costumes, and she earned more than a dozen patents for it. She also brought to life the Serpentine Dance, a style that utilized light and movement. From her success in Paris, she bought an elegant mansion at 24 rue Cortambert in the city’s 16th Arrondissement where she and her partner—a woman named Gab Sorère—lived together until 1928, when Fuller died from pneumonia at age 65. Though visitors can’t go inside the residence and take a tour, Zimmer encourages individuals to think outside the box when visiting the homes of artists like Fuller. “Put yourself in the shoes of great people for a second, like: They stepped through that door, that’s the view they saw when they walked out of their house,” Zimmer says. “It’s really special to see something mundane that a genius saw every day while they lived there.”

La Voie Lactée (The Milky Way) by Geneviève Cadieux

Eight Works of Art Hiding in Paris
The Milky Way Illustration by Maria Krasinski

Connecting two train lines at St. Lazare Station, one of Paris’ busiest metro stops, is a pair of red lips that seem to give commuters a kiss as they’re going from one place to another. In 2011, The Milky Way, a photographic installation by French Canadian artist Geneviève Cadieux, was donated to the Paris Métro after resting on top of the Montréal Museum of Contemporary Art for almost 20 years. Though the image is often perceived as sexual by viewers, according to Zimmer, the lips actually belong to Cadieux’s mother and are intended to symbolize maternal wisdom being passed from mother to child. Zimmer says there’s some comfort to be found in seeing a mother’s lips in a place as chaotic as a train station. “In a metro situation, sometimes someone spills something on you and then you trip and then your bag falls and then you’re late and all you really want is for your mom to tell you, ‘It’s okay,’” Zimmer says.

Montparnasse Cemetery

Eight Works of Art Hiding in Paris
A Cat for Ricardo Illustration by Maria Krasinski

The 47-acre Montparnasse Cemetery in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris is known for its eye-catching grave markers and the array of linden, maple and ash trees that surround the property. Sculptor Constantin Brâncuși is buried at the cemetery, and one of his art pieces, The Kiss, rests on top of the grave of Tatiana Rachewskaïa, a Russian student—known for her family’s wealth as well as being a rumored relative of the famed Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy—who died by suicide in 1910. Rachewskaïa’s lover purchased the sculpture from Brâncuși as a tribute to her. In Art Hiding in Paris, Krasinski chose to represent the cemetery with an illustration of A Cat for Ricardo, a grave marker that artist Niki de Saint Phalle sculpted as a tribute to her friend Ricardo Menon, who died from AIDS. “If [A Cat for Ricardo] was in an auction house, that sculpture would be worth a lot of money, and instead, it’s at eternal rest,” Zimmer says.

Playground Duperré

Eight Works of Art Hiding in Paris
Playground Duperré Illustration by Maria Krasinski

Playground Duperré blurs the lines between art and sport by simultaneously acting as a basketball court and installation. The court rests between two historic buildings in Paris’ Pigalle neighborhood, with various shades of violet, blue and orange melting into each other and enveloping the open space. Launched in 2015, the project was a collaboration between Paris-based design firm Ill-Studio, fashion brand Pigalle and Nike to revamp the lot. In its first iteration, the court was made up of primary-colored geometric shapes. The original collaborators reunited in 2017 to redesign the space with gradient hues. While visitors can practice their free throws and even play a game, the court doesn’t meet regulation basketball court size dimensions, according to Zimmer. She says the court is repainted every couple of years to keep up with urban aesthetics. “The playground invites people to step inside of the piece, and it’s also functional instead of a mural that you see on a wall,” Zimmer says. “It’s cool to be surrounded by so much color, it just feels energetic.”

Art Hiding in Paris: An Illustrated Guide to the Secret Masterpieces of the City of Light

Explore masterpieces hidden in plain sight, historic artist enclaves, and iconic works of public art in this charmingly illustrated exploration of Paris, from the authors of Art Hiding In New York.

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.