From Ingres to Van Gogh and from Degas to Rodin, the Musée d’Orsay is one of the most emblematic museums of Paris, managing and exhibiting one of the most valuable collections in the world, ranging from the late 19th century to the early 20th.
The D'Orsay collection started taking its current form back in 1986 with the transfer of artworks from 3 other remarkable French museums: the Louvre, Musée du Jeu de Paume, and the former National Museum of Modern Art.
In total, around 6.000 pieces -excluding photographs- are being hosted by the Musée d’Orsay, out of which approximately 3.000 constitute its permanent collection.
Naturally, the museum exhibits masterpieces from more traditional disciplines such as Painting, Architecture and Sculpture, to more contemporary ones like Photography and Graphic Arts.
More interestingly, the building of the museum itself has its own historical significance in the Parisian city web. The original use of the building and the reason for its construction in the first place was related to the 1900’s World’s Fair and, more specifically, the transportation of the visitors to the venue’s space.
The mastermind behind the construction plan was architect Victor Laloux, who took care of the interior and exterior design. On the inside, the building emits the modern aesthetics of the late 1890s with luggage ramps and elevators and the elegant use of metal and glass, while a 400-room Hotel was also included to serve the accommodation needs of the visitors. On the outside, Gare d'Orsay was covered with limestone, a choice that reveals the architect's intention to integrate the building into the prestigious neighborhood, which included the Louvre palace as well.
Over time and due to technology advancing, the station ceased to be used and, therefore, closed in 1939, while, later on, it was used briefly at the end of World War II. It would take almost 30 years for the building to start gaining back its former life, this time, in even greater glory and magnitude. Some years later, in 1978, the former train station was designated a historic monument, a development, which showcases the importance of the building for the city of Paris.
In the 1980s, the ambitious plan to renovate the building started and the French architectural firm Philippon, Colboc, and Bardon, and Italian architect Gae Aulenti were put in charge of this mission.
In our days, the building’s history is still visible throughout its spaces. In more detail, remains of the old station can be seen in the Grand Nave and the Restaurant of the museum.
As a result, the museum’s history follows the history of the city of Paris, from the early 1900s to the outburst of World War I and II, and from the post-war era to the beginning of the 21st century.
Even though the museum hosts a numerous series of artworks, its main draw is largely considered its priceless collection of Impressionist paintings, which is rightfully believed to be one of the finest in the world.
The oldest pieces of the permanent exhibition date back to the 19th century, starting from Ingres’ Neoclassicism, whose traditional line, meticulous shading and clean outlines revitalized classical Greek and Roman styles.
The Neoclassicists were succeeded by the movement of Romanticism, which drew attention to human creativity and emotions, as well as the complexity and omnipotence of nature. In the exhibition spaces of Musée d’Orsay, one has the opportunity to view in-person artworks by Romantic masters, such as Eugène Delacroix –the father of Romanticism- and Théodore Chassériau.
Slowly the high fictionality and idealization of romanticism gave its place to the down-to-earth approach of Realism, which shed light on an accurate and unembellished depiction of nature and contemporary life. Realists such as Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet are just a few of the artists, whose art can be found in the permanent exhibition of the museum.
In any case, the largest part of the collection is focused on Impressionism, making Musée d’Orsay’s stunning impressionist collection perhaps the most remarkable worldwide with Claude Monet, Pierre-August Renoir, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, and Vincent Van Gogh being the most notable artists of the exhibition.
Nonetheless, the museum has welcomed art from the beginning of the 20th century as well, and, as a result, visitors have the chance to gaze at artworks from a series of different art movements ranging from Symbolism, Art Nouveau and Fauvism to Abstract Art.
I would advice to do the Louvre first, then go to Musée d'Orsay, it makes more sense for the Art chronology. Moreover, the Louvre demands more time and energy.
The Louvre opens at 9am, before the Orsay museum. You can walk to the Orsay museum (15 minutes walk) and take a break at a bakery/café, then start the visit at 11am, then lunch in the nice area of Pont Neuf.
Avoid Mondays and Tuesdays for this combo as the Louvre is always closed on Tuesdays, d'Orsay is closed on Mondays.
The Louvre encapsulates mostly art works of the Masters. Art was not really free and it obeyed to certain laws that made these Louvre masterpieces unique.
Just after the Louvre solemn classics, the Musée d’Orsay is truly a fun colourful refreshing experience.
D'Orsay is a different story : A bunch of new artists are the mirror of the changes that occurred in life in Europe at the end of the century.
The western society being modernized, many industrial innovations took place and progress in technology reshaped the lives of Europeans : people felt a lot of changes in their everyday lives, they felt overwhelming emotions, between hope and despair, women felt more liberated.
This wave of liberation from these "old rules" occurred also in art, in the second part and end of the 19th century.
Monet, Manet, Renoir, Pissarro or Degas will change the rules of art, and create a new style in painting, soon followed by the sculptors like Carpeaux and Rodin.
These artists were considered very modern (or maybe too modern) for their time, and they’ll have to persist to be recognized in a world that was still afraid of change.
Discover the masterpieces of D'orsay, among which : Whistler’s mother by Whistler, Little dancer of fourteen years (by Degas), Bal du Moulin de la Galette (by Renoir), The poppy field near Argenteuil , and some Water Lilies (by Monet), as well as the great work of the expressionist artists, like Vincent Van Gogh, with one of its wonderful Starry night, the Bedroom in Arles, and one of his most famous Self-portrait.
Art museums in Paris can be generally overwhelming and the Musée d’Orsay with its approximately 6.000 artworks, is not an exception.
An experienced tour guide with a great passion for Impressionist art will help you navigate through a museum as deep and wonderful as this one and get the best out of your visit in a short time.
After years of roaming in the Louvre, in Pompidou museum, and Versailles, I am still astonished by the vividness and the genius of d'Orsay.
I will be happy to share with you a moment in one of my favorite museums of PAris, and transmit to you my understanding of Modern Art and the reasons why I enjoy it everyday.
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