The Pavillons de Bercy in the 12th Arrondissement of Paris is a privately owned museum founded by actor/antiques dealer Jean Paul Favand in 1996. The museum houses three permanent exhibitions: Le Musée des Arts Forains (the Fairground Art Museum), Le Théatre du Merveilleux (literally Theater of Marvels) and Les Salons Venitiens (Venetian Rooms).
Although it is not as well known as some other Paris museums, and can normally only be visited by appointment, it is absolutely worth seeing. Incidentally, you may recognize the museum's pedal carousel shown in photos and video below from the film, Midnight in Paris.
The contents are the result of years of collecting on the part of M. Favand. In order to continue to fund the collections and keep the museum open and functioning, the Pavillons are mainly hired out for corporate events. But they are accessible to the general public. The guided tours of groups of 40, a good percentage of whom are children, are a treat and should not be missed.
It would be impossible to provide an encyclopedic coverage of the Pavillons here so we will just give you a taste and encourage you to visit and find out for yourself.
Early 1900s carousel. A section of Museum of Fairground Arts is devoted to the typical entertainment at the fairgrounds in Paris in the early 1900s. The carousels from this period are simply beautiful. The carving on these horses is a work of art. Look how lifelike they seem (in the third and last photo particularly). And they are not in the museum just to look at. As you will see in the video at the end of the blog post, they are in full use!
Les Salons Venitiens (the Venetian Rooms)
The Salons Venitiens are designed to transport you to Venice. A completely different style of carousel but, again, as you will see in the video, not just a museum piece.
A human powered, bicycle carousel built in Belgium in 1897 but with a British mechanism (which is why it goes around clockwise, as British carousels do). It can reach speeds of 40mph. This is the carousel that was featured in the movie Midnight in Paris. Our guide explained that, in its day, there were many who could not afford the powered carousels so this was an alternative. The explanatory notes in the program add that in the early days of pedal power there were more bicycles in the fairgrounds than on the streets, and people wanted to “have a go on one.”
Fun for the young
This merry-go-round is definitely for the younger visitors. Again the carvings are brilliant. Don’t you think that the cow in the foreground is laughing at the photographer? It’s at least a knowing smirk!
Not a traditional museum
(watch a short video)
Visitors of all ages can experience the rides, exhibits and games that transport them to Paris in the early 1900s. What you see in the video are excerpts from a typical guided tour. This one was in French, during the school holidays. The 40 attendees are split into two groups and each goes off with a guide for a tour. It is very hands-on. You ride the rides and play the games. The opera from the balcony is part of the Salons Venitiens which has automated figures including the Doge and even Casanova. It’s quite a performance. The waiters’ race is modeled after a famous contest which used to take place in the early 20th Century in Paris. Each year in Montmartre the best waiters ran 8 km carrying a tray. They were not supposed to spill anything. It is built on the base of a British Derby game. The pedal carousel got up to 30 km per hour during the video. It can go quite a bit faster than that.
Fun for folk of all ages
Some may think that this museum is mainly for kids. Far from it. You probably noticed in the video that the adults outnumbered the children and they were enthralled and enjoying every minute of it. It’s perfect for families and for adults who have retained a sense of fun and enjoy the beauty that is depicted in these extraordinary fairground and theatrical scenes and objects, or are simply interested in life in Paris during those fascinating decdes. The museum brings back to life a different epoch.
Some practical information
Online information can be a little misleading with regard to access to the Pavillons de Bercy. Various websites and blogs list the hours and say it is “open” so you could easily make the mistake of thinking that you just show up at the door, pay your entrance fee and stroll around. This is not how it works. Even if occasionally you might be lucky – as we were – and when you ring the doorbell you find out there are a couple of spaces open in the next scheduled group tour, it is far better to call and make an appointment in advance.
This is the website to use for information, instructions, directions and to book.
We earnestly encourage you, for your sake, to use only this website for your information and booking of this particular museum. We learned the hard way!
We hope you have enjoyed this introduction to this amazing, secret jewel.
Leave us a comment. We always like to hear from you.
Three of the images in this post are available in the shop.
If you would like prints or canvases of any of the other images
shown here (we have others as well) just drop us a line.
They make wonderful wall decor, particularly for children’s rooms.
The wood carvings of the horses and other animals and all the objects in the Museum of Fairground Arts and other exhibitions at the Pavillons de Bercy are of similar quality and type (if a different subject matter) to the beautifully executed and preserved carvings in France’s most illustrious chateaux.