The Louvre's large new wing devoted to Islamic art helped the famed French gallery solidify its No. 1 spot atop an annual list of the world's best-attended museums.

The Art Newspaper has released its annual list of the past year's most popular museums and exhibits around the globe.

Familiar names scored in the top 10, including Paris's Louvre, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum in London.

Top 10 most-attended museums in 2012
  1. Louvre (Paris) - 9,720,260
  2. Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) - 6,115,881
  3. British Museum (London) - 5,575,946
  4. Tate Modern (London) - 5,304,710
  5. National Gallery (London) - 5,163,902
  6. Vatican Museums (Vatican City) - 5,064,546
  7. National Palace Museum (Taipei) - 4,360,815
  8. National Gallery of Art (Washington) - 4,200,000
  9. Centre Pompidou (Paris) - 3,800,000
  10. Musée d'Orsay (Paris) - 3,600,000

One interesting factor that emerged for researchers was that the top two venues of 2012 had unveiled much-anticipated gallery spaces devoted to Islamic art during the year. The Louvre's long-gestating addition is the largest of its kind in Europe, with approximately 3,000 Islamic art pieces and artifacts on display, some dating back to the seventh century.

The chart-topping Louvre had 9.7 million visitors, an increase of nearly a million over the previous year. Meanwhile, the second place Met recorded 6.1 million, about 100,000 more than a year earlier, after revamping its galleries dedicated to Islamic Art.

"What we're seeing is, I suppose, ultimately a kind of [audience reaction] to museums responding — in the best way that they can — to everyone's interest and concern about our relationship with Islamic countries," Javier Pes, the Art Newspaper's London-based deputy editor, told CBC News on Friday.

"They're all trying to show Islam's great contributions to civilization."

Though museums like the Louvre and the Met "always had wonderful collections" of Islamic art, there is great significance to presenting them "in their new, much grander setting," he noted.

Especially in France's iconic Louvre where "occupying a whole courtyard puts Islamic art on a completely different status than it ever did in the past," Pes acknowledged.

"I did ask them what they thought [their increased attendance] was due to and they did say that they thought the Islamic galleries had an impact."

Two Canadian museums made it onto the count of the 100 most-visited art museums in the world: the Royal Ontario Museum (58th) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (81st), both in Toronto.

Blockbuster shows

As part of the yearly examination, the Art Newspaper also tracked the exhibitions that drew the highest number of visitors worldwide.

Topping the list was the kickoff of the Dutch Old Masters exhibit Masterpieces from the Mauritshuis in Tokyo, headlined by Paul Vermeer's famed portrait Girl with a Pearl Earring. The show attracted more than 10,000 visitors a day and 758,266 people overall to the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.

The figure was more than double the overall attendance for the second most-attended exhibit: the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil's free show The Amazon: Cycles of Modernity, which drew 7,928 visitors daily and 374,846 overall to Rio de Janeiro.

Canadian exhibits that made the cut in the Art Newspaper's extensive list included:

  • Toronto's Art Gallery of OntarioPicasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso (2,959 visitors daily/308,582 overall) and Chagall and the Russian Avant Garde (2,256 visitors daily/152,637 overall).
  • Ottawa's National Gallery of CanadaVan Gogh: Up Close (1,911 visitors daily/230,146 overall).
  • Quebec City's Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec - Pellan: an outstanding donation (1,544 visitors daily/4,632 overall); In Wonderland: Brightening Shadows (973 visitors daily/87,580 overall); Up Close and Personal with the Caillebotte Brothers (782 visitors daily/62,565 overall); Fashion and Appearance in Quebec, 1880-1945 (650 visitors daily/50,043 overall).
  • Toronto's Royal Ontario MuseumMaya: Secrets of their Ancient World (1,429 visitors daily;202,946 overall).
  • Montreal's Musée d'art contemporarin - Québec Triennial 2011: the Work Ahead of Us (921 visitors daily/75,000 overall) and Zoo (902 visitors daily/69,818 overall).