This site was originally royal gardens but by 1700s was developed into expensive mansions, and by the early 1800s, housed a royal palace and cavalry buildings. The civil war put paid to that, and in 1871, the whole area had been razed to the ground. At the end of the 1800s, agreement had been reached by the French government to build a new train station on the condition that it was built in sympathy with the surroundings. Architects were tendered to offer plans, and within 2 years of the winning plans being accepted, the building was built and "ready to go." No expense was spared and the resulting station and hotel were fine testaments to the design work of Victor Laloux (who had also designed the Hôtel de Ville in Tours).
Seventy-three years after it had first opened, the hotel was closed and it was perilously close to being bulldozed and replaced with new buildings. But, once again, the government interceded and the desire for Paris to have a museum for modern art (i.e. 1850s onwards) was high on their agenda. The Hotel d’Orsay was perfect – its architecture was "of the period" - and in 1978, it was listed as a building of significant historical importance, opening its doors as the Musee d’Orsay in December 1986.
The museum is spread over three floors, and it’s an architectural delight. Indeed, it is hard to think that it was designed with anything other than its current usage in mind. We are fans of this era of art – much more so that the earlier period as exhibited in the Louvre - and some of our real favourites are hung here.
On the ground floor, you’ll see works painted up to 1870, and they’re hung in small bays in chronological groups: Degas, Delacroix, Ingres and Moreau and Edouard Manet are the "main men," and amongst the installations are Delacroix’s sensational "Lion Hunt," full of amazing movement and savagery, and Manet’s controversial "Olympia."
On the top floor you can view some of the great works of the Impressionists, Degas’ dancing lesson and Monet’s hay ricks, poppies, and Rouen Cathedral, alongside other great works by Pisarros, Renoir, Cezanne, and Van Gogh. We will never forget, having visited Arles, Van Gogh’s great La nuit étoilée (starry night), and I just love Monet’s atmospheric Saint-Lazare railway station.
The museum also boasts a fine sculpture section. In my opinion, Degas’ bronze sculptured dancers are supreme, and a lot of people agreed as we clustered around the display cabinet. I’d never seen any work by Dalou until I visited the Musee d-Orsay and have to say that I was transfixed by the poignancy of his 2m high "Large Peasant." This would have spoken volumes in its day and still holds relevance in the 21st century.
This museum is a great setting with some superb examples of modern artwork.