For fans of Paris museums, the start of spring is special. No one should convince you to skip the classic collections. But rarely have the museums’ new shows looked more tempting. There’s a citywide concentration on style and the five exhibitions below are on top of every list.
1. Heiress and Style Setter
She could have remained just another little rich girl. But Nancy Cunard changed her destiny when, at 24, she moved to Paris. During the height of its Jazz Age, her willowy frame and extravagant style made Nancy a star. (She was especially famous for her armfuls of African bangles.) Cunard had a Rolodex of avant-garde friends and lovers, yet she became something different: a publisher. The press she ran featured Ezra Pound and Samuel Beckett—and Nancy shared her own life with a jazz musician named Henry Crowder. She remains one of her era’s most eccentric yet stylish characters.
The Black Atlantic of Nancy Cunard, Musée du Quai Branly
Through May 18
2. The Globe-trotting Groundbreaker
The giant retrospective of Henri Cartier-Bresson is one of 2014’s most important shows. In 500 incredible images, it traces the path of that artist who gave our world street photography. Aesthetic and elegant, it’s absolutely riveting—as it takes you from Cartier-Bresson’s youth in Paris through Surrealism, his work in movies, a German concentration camp (he escaped) and travels around the world. You’ll see a century’s major events and meet its celebrities, but also touching images of everyday life. It’s one of the most popular shows in Paris, so book early, go early—and be prepared to wait.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Centre Pompidou
Through June 9
3. The Couture Celebrity
Belgian designer Dries Van Noten is a Paris favorite but this exposition is a first. Organized by him around the things he loves, Inspirations concerns more than dresses. There is plenty of Noten’s impeccable tailoring. But prepare to be dazzled by gems he’s plucked out of archives all across Paris. They include vintage robes by Schiaparelli and Dior—but also video, music and art (by the likes of Mark Rothko, Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst). This big, lavish show is slated to run all summer.
Dries Van Noten: Inspirations, Musée des Arts Décoratifs
Through August 31
4. See Style in Snaps
Ever been curious where the fashion press came from? Look no further than the Palais Galliera’s enterprising A Century of Condé Nast Fashion Photography. The show embraces the work of 80 separate photographers, with priceless shots from all the greats: Horst P. Horst, Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton. It’s image making from Hollywood-esque glamour up to Corinne Day’s photographs of Kate Moss. Fifty pieces of couture are showing alongside the works.
A Century of Condé Nast Fashion Photography, Palais Galliera
Through May 25
5. Discover Impressionism’s Secrets
It’s now become the world’s most famous style of art, but Impressionism started out as a private adventure. Now the Musée Marmottan Monet (home to that Monet which gave the movement its name) celebrates its intimate side. They’ve hunted down rarely seen masterpieces from private collections, made by the artists as tokens of love or friendship. These works have never been sold and many still belong to the descendants of those you see in them. All exude intimate memories and shared moments. You’ll see Berthe Morisot’s first portrait of her future husband as well as works by rarely shown artists like Eva Gonzalès.
The Impressionists in Private, Musée Marmottan Monet
Through July 6