Musée d’Orsay

Occupying an elegant Beaux Arts-era train station located on the left bank of the Seine, the Musée d’Orsay is one of the most popular art museums found anywhere in the world. Famous for its unrivaled collection of French art created between the years 1848 and 1914, the Musée d’Orsay is home to masterpieces by legendary artists like Monet, Degas, Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Seurat, and many, many more. It also organizes acclaimed temporary exhibitions on a regular basis, and contains multiple restaurants, coffee shops, and bookstores.

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History of the Musée d’Orsay

The building in which the Musée d’Orsay is located today is itself an impressive work of art. Originally, it was the Gare d’Orsay: the world’s first electric train station, constructed for the 1900 Paris Exhibition, a world’s fair that drew tens of millions of visitors to the city. The Gare d’Orsay was in service as a major transportation hub for much of the century, but in time it would fall into disuse, its future left very much in doubt by the 1970s.

At that same time, some of France’s leading museum curators, art historians, and public officials were debating how to bridge the gap between the iconic art collection of the Louvre and the more contemporary stylings of the National Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Pompidou. By 1978, plans for a new museum to be built on the site of the Gare d’Orsay were in place, and the Italian architect Gae Aulenti was hired to lead the design team responsible for making this ambitious project happen. The Musée d’Orsay opened its doors to the public in 1986, and its reputation as one of the world’s great art museums has been secure ever since.

Musée d’Orsay Highlights

The Musée d’Orsay is in possession of a large and diverse permanent collection of art, including significant selections of paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, pastels, and decorative arts objects. While the museum has certain specialties—namely Impressionist paintings, of course—its expansive holdings reward visitors with all types of artistic tastes and interests.

The Musée d’Orsay has such a rich and valuable permanent collection, in fact, that a stroll through its many galleries is like waking up and find yourself in the pages of an art history book that’s come to life. Masterpieces on display here at the Musée d’Orsay include Édouard Manet’s Olympia, Auguste Renoir’s Dance at Le moulin de la Galette, Alexandre Cabanel’s The Birth of Venus, Monet’s Luncheon on the Grass, Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 Self-Portrait, and Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer, to name but a few.

In addition to its spectacular permanent collection, the Musée d’Orsay is known for organizing blockbuster temporary exhibitions that bring together some of the art world’s biggest names and most famous paintings. These temporary exhibitions are, of course, ever-changing, but for some context recent Musée d’Orsay exhibitions of note include Manet / Degas, which explores the significant differences in style between the two great painters who are more often than not linked together; Edvard Munch: A Poem of Life, Love and Death, a rare collaboration between the Musée d’Orsay and the Munch Museum in Oslo; and Cinema at Last: Arts, Images and Entertainment in France 1833-1907, a show surveying linkages between nineteenth-century French art and early cinematic endeavors.

More to See and Do at the Musée d’Orsay

The Musée d’Orsay is one of the most popular attractions in all of Paris. Here are several more things to see and do when you’re visiting this world-famous museum.

•The Musée d’Orsay is always hosting special events, many of which are free and open to the public. These special events include exhibition talks, guided tours, jazz concerts, art workshops, and a whole lot more. For more information on the sort of extracurricular activities that might be occurring at the Musée d’Orsay when you’re planning on visiting, be sure and check out the attraction’s official website in advance of your trip.

•A great way to get more out of your visit to the Musée d’Orsay is by renting one of the museum’s audio guides. It’ll cost you a few extra euros on top of your admission fee, but it’ll be worth it: the Musée d’Orsay audio guide comes fully loaded with expert commentaries on over 300 of the institution’s most notable works. The Musée d’Orsay audio guide is available in ten different languages.

•The Musée d’Orsay gift shop is well worth a stop on your way in or out of the museum. This charming store sells a wide range of books, catalogs, posters, prints, jewelry, and more, all related to the Musée d’Orsay’s permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. There’s also a dedicated “Kids Corner” where the little ones can pick out that perfect souvenir, and a special 5th Floor “souvenir counter” near the entrance to the Impressionist Gallery.

•As befits an institution of its standing, there are numerous food-and-drink options located throughout the Musée d’Orsay. For a truly unforgettable experience, head straight to the Musée d’Orsay Restaurant, where you can dine in salon-like splendor underneath chandeliers, gilded ceilings, and historic frescoes by Benjamin Constant and Gabriel Ferrier. For something a bit more casual, there’s Café Campana, which has a seasonal menu and aquatic décor inspired by the traditions of Art Nouveau. Multiple other coffee shops and food kiosks are found throughout the attraction, too.

•The Musée d’Orsay is the type of place you can spend an entire day and feel like you’ve only just started scratching the surface of what it has to offer. As a result, if you’re visiting the Musée d’Orsay while on a tight schedule, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with what exactly it is you want to see during your trip and where it’s located within the attraction. This will help you navigate the large museum and its busy crowds more efficiently, allowing you to get more out of your visit in a timely manner.

Why the Musée d’Orsay Should Be on Your Must-See List

Simply put, the Musée d’Orsay is one of the finest attractions in all of Paris: it’s among a small number of destinations in the city about which it can be said (without exaggeration) that, if you don’t make time to visit it, your trip is incomplete. Few art museums in the world can boast the number of iconic artworks that the Musée d’Orsay can, ensuring that any visit here will make for an unforgettable experience.