Musee d'Orsay

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on November 26, 2005

The Musee d'Orsay, once the main train station serving Southwestern France, has been totally redone to house late 19th-century paintings and sculpture.

Across the Seine from the Louvre and the Tuileries, the Orsay boasts an astounding collection devoted to the watershed years of French artistic dominance,1848 to 1914, with a collection of the big names plus lesser-known groups (the symbolists, pointillists, realists, and late romantics). The 80 galleries also include furniture, photographs, art objects, and architectural models.

The building itself could be considered a work of art and is appropriate for housing its collections since so many of the artists used the train system to get outside Paris to paint on-site, instead of working in a studio from sketches. A monument to the Industrial Revolution, the Orsay is covered by a glass roof allowing in floods of light. It displays works ranging from historic painters like Ingres to romanticists like Delacroix, to neorealists like Courbet and Daumier. The Impressionists and post-Impressionists, including Manet, Monet, Cézanne, van Gogh, and Renoir, are featured on the third floor. The museum also contains works from the Cubists and the Expressionists. Millet's wheat fields, Barbizon’s landscapes, Corot's mists, and Gauguin’s Tahitian women are all here, but it's the Impressionists who draw the crowds.

Victor Laloux, was chosen as the architect in 1898. The station and hotel, built within two years, were inaugurated for the 1900 World’s Fair. Laloux chose to create a façade using finely cut stone so it would fit in with its elegant neighbors. After 1939, however the station served only the suburbs. Postwar the Gare d'Orsay served different purposes: a mailing center, a depot for WW II prisoners when they returned, a movie set, and a theater company home. In 1978 the building was classified a Historical Monument and a commission created to oversee its reconstruction as a museum. It opened December 9th, 1986.

Since it entertains over 2.5 million visitors every year, the entrance queue is long even for Museum Pass holders. They are trying to keep the place from being overloaded, an impossible task due to its popularity. When we finally enter, we manage to find an elevator to the upper floors where the most popular exhibits are housed. The quality and the quantity of the exhibits are overwhelming. It’s almost too much.

I need time to sort out what I’ve seen. I try to visit the museum restaurant but it’s closed. I meet Tom, who has been able to grab a beer, and we stroll around the sculpture gallery. It contains many Rodin pieces including a bust of Victor Hugo that Tom cannot resist touching. A guard sees him and gives him a hard time but he apologizes. Only he and I know he’s really not that repentant.

Leaving, we agree that a minimum of a full day is necessary to really appreciate this place.

Closed on Mondays. Photography is permitted.
Musee d'Orsay
62, Rue De Lille
Paris, France, 75343
+33 (1) 4049-4994

© LP 2000-2009