Guide Tour of Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

The Musée d’Orsay is a museum in Paris, multidisciplinary museum exhibiting the richest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings in the world in the former Gare d’Orsay in Paris. Its collections present Western art from 1848 to 1914, in all its diversity: painting, sculpture, decorative arts, graphic art, photography, architecture, etc. It is one of the largest museums in Europe for this period.

Located in the 7th arrondissement of Paris along the left bank of the Seine, overlooking the Édouard-Glissant promenade, it is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built by Victor Laloux from 1898 to 1900 and redeveloped in museum by decision of the President of the Republic Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, and inaugurated for the 1900 Universal Exposition.

Internationally renowned for its rich collection of Impressionist art, its collections represent all expressive forms, from painting to architecture, as well as sculpture, the decorative arts and photography. Temporary monographic or thematic exhibitions periodically concerning the work of an artist, a current or a question of art history are often set up. An auditorium hosts various events, concerts, cinema, shadow theatre, conferences and symposiums and shows specifically intended for young audiences.

The museum holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. It houses the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters including Berthe Morisot, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. Many of these works were held at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume prior to the museum’s opening in 1986.

The museum has the largest collection of Impressionist and Post- Impressionist paintings in the world, with nearly 1,100 canvases in total out of more than 3,650, and masterpieces of painting and sculpture can be seen there. such as The Luncheon on the Grass and the Olympia by Édouard Manet, a proof of The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen by Degas, The Origin of the World, A Burial at Ornans, The Painter ‘s Studio by Courbet, The Players by Cezanne cards _or even five paintings from the Series of Rouen Cathedrals by Monet and Bal du moulin de la Galette by Renoir.

At the end of 2011, the museum reopened all of its entirely renovated spaces as well as some new rooms: an additional 400 m² for the Pavillon Amont, Post-Impressionist artists at the heart of the museum, the redesign of the Impressionists gallery, a new temporary exhibition space, plus a new ‘aquatic’ decor for the Café des Hauteurs, designed by Brazilian designers, the Campana Brothers.

The museum building was originally a railway station, Gare d’Orsay, located next to the Seine river. Built on the site of the old Palais d’Orsay,the station is superb and looks like a Palace of Fine Arts, thanks to its unique architecture, which contributes to the magic of the experience. In the 1900s, since trains were such a modern innovation for the time architects and designers alike expected a building that would embody the modern traits of this new mode of transportation. Gare d’Orsay gained inspiration from the past for the concept of the facade to the point of masking the cutting-edge technology within.

Located in the heart of Paris, on the left bank of the Seine, the museum is built on the site of the former Palais d’Orsay. Built from 1810, this palace successively hosted the Council of State and the Court of Auditors. Burned down in 1871 during the Paris Commune, it was then left in ruins. It is on this abandoned site that the French architect Victor Laloux was commissioned to build the new terminus of the Compagnie des chemins de fer d’Orléans. The stakes are high: the railway enclosure must in particular accommodate visitors to the Universal Exhibition of 1900.

Inaugurated on July 14, 1900, the brand new Gare d’Orsay benefits from the latest technical innovations: electric train traction, luggage lifts, elevators… At the time, the building also housed the luxurious Palais d’Orsay hotel.

By 1939 the station’s short platforms had become unsuitable for the longer trains that had come to be used for mainline services. After 1939 it was used for suburban services and part of it became a mailing centre during World War II. It was then used as a set for several films, such as Kafka’s The Trial adapted by Orson Welles, and as a haven for the Renaud–Barrault Theatre Company and for auctioneers, while the Hôtel Drouot was being rebuilt. The station was put on the supplementary list of Historic Monuments and finally listed in 1978.

At the end of the 1970s, the government decided in favor of the creation of a cultural place dedicated to the arts of the second half of the 19th century. The suggestion to turn the station into a museum came from the Directorate of the Museum of France. The idea was to build a museum that would bridge the gap between the Louvre and the National Museum of Modern Art at the Georges Pompidou Centre.

The plan was accepted by Georges Pompidou and a study was commissioned in 1974. In 1978, a competition was organized to design the new museum. ACT Architecture, a team of three young architects (Pierre Colboc, Renaud Bardon and Jean-Paul Philippon), were awarded the contract which involved creating 20,000 square metres (220,000 sq ft) of new floorspace on four floors.

The construction work was carried out by Bouygues. In 1981, the Italian architect Gae Aulenti was chosen to design the interior including the internal arrangement, decoration, furniture and fittings of the museum. The arrangement of the galleries she designed was elaborate and inhabited the three main levels that are under the museum’s barrel vault atrium. On the main level of the building, a central nave was formed by the surrounding stone structures that were previously the building’s train platforms. The central nave’s structures break up the immense sculpture and gallery spaces and provided more organized units for viewing the art.

In July 1986, the museum was ready to receive its exhibits. It took 6 months to install the 2000 or so paintings, 600 sculptures and other works. The museum officially opened in December 1986 by then-president François Mitterrand.

At any time about 3,000 art pieces are on display within Musée d’Orsay. Within the museum is a 1:100 scale model created by Richard Peduzzi of an aerial view of Paris Opera and surrounding area encapsulated underneath glass flooring that viewers walk on as they proceed through the museum. This installation allows the viewers to understand the city planning of Paris at the time, which has made this attraction one of the most popular within the museum.

150,000 is approximately the number of works in the collections of the Musée d’Orsay, all techniques combined. These are national public collections which are the fruit of a long history, which began in the 19th century. These paintings, sculptures, works of art, photographs and drawings by artists and architecture illustrate the vitality of artistic creation in France, but also in Europe and North America between the middle of the 19th century and the beginning of the XX thcentury.

The Musée d’Orsay is the international reference collection on the major aesthetic trends of the time, whether it be Impressionism, Nabis painters such as Bonnard or Vuillard from the end of the century, great figures such as Gustave Eiffel or Hector Guimard or pioneers of photography.

The collections are constantly evolving. Each year, we enrich it with new works, purchased or donated to the museum. The collections radiate in France and around the world, thanks to our active policy of loans of works to exhibitions and deposits. Our collections are also studied, published and restored by the best specialists. We regularly renew the presentation. A collection is never fixed: it resonates with the concerns of our time; the collective outlook changes and approaches are constantly renewed.

Another exhibit within the museum is “A Passion for France: The Marlene and Spencer Hays Collection”. This collection was donated by an Marlene and Spencer Hays, art collectors who reside in Texas and have been collecting art since the early 1970s.

In 2016 the museum complied to keeping the collection of about 600 art pieces in one collection rather than dispersed throughout other exhibits. Since World War II, France has not been donated a collection of foreign art this large. The collection favors mostly post-impressionist works. Artists featured in this collection are Bonnard, Vuillard, Maurice Denis, Odilon Redon, Aristide Maillol, André Derain, Edgar Degas, and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

To make room for the art that has been donated, the Musée d’Orsay is scheduled to undergo a radical transformation over the next decade, 2020 on. This remodel is funded in part by an anonymous US patron who donated €20 million to a building project known as Orsay Grand Ouvert (Orsay Wide Open). The gift was made via the American Friends of the Musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie. The projected completion date is 2026, implementing new galleries and education opportunities to endorse a conductive experience.

The Musée d’Orsay exhibits and preserves the largest collection of Impressionist (more than 480 canvases) and Post-Impressionist (more than 600 canvases Cloisonnist, Neo-Impressionist, Symbolist, Nabis…) paintings in the world, as well as remarkable sets of paintings from the Barbizon school, realists, naturalists, orientalists and academics, including foreign schools. Nearly 5,190 paintings make up the collection, but many works, including nearly 1,690 paintings, including around a hundred that were not located, stolen or destroyed, were deposited in provincial museums or public buildings out of a total of 5,272 deposits, such as 24 of the 70 paintings by Maurice Denis, 22 of the 95 paintings by Vuillard, 21 of the 88 paintings by Bonnard, 19 of the 83 paintings by Renoir or 17 of the 87 paintings by Monet.

This non-exhaustive list lists the main painters represented at the Musée d’Orsay with the number of their paintings kept in the collections as well as the titles of the main ones, whether or not they are exhibited, given the regular renewal of hangings.. This list also mentions the pastels, for the artists concerned: indeed, although not belonging to the department of paintings, a certain number of pastels are exhibited in the permanent collections of the museum. The collection also includes 22,985 architectural and decorative art drawings and 45,003 photographs, since 2010 a small number of artists’ drawings (154 atJanuary 1, 2021), in particular so as not to be separated from the paintings offered by certain donors, whereas until then they had all been deposited in the Graphic Arts Department of the Louvre Museum, which at theJanuary 1, 2021holds 55,723 drawings from the “Drawings and Miniatures Collection, Musée d’Orsay Collection”.

Sculpture was in high demand in the 19th century and became widely used as a way to display a person’s social and political standings. The style and ideology represented by many of the sculptures were out of fashion by the mid-20th century, and the sculptures were put into storage and no longer displayed. It wasn’t until the conversion of the Orsay railway station into the Musée d’Orsay museum in the 1970s that many sculptures from the 19th century were placed on exhibit again. The substantial nave inside the new museum offered a perfect area for the display of sculptures. During the grand opening on December 1986 of the museum, 1,200 sculptures were present, brought in from collections such as the Louvre, state loans, and Musée du Luxembourg. The museum also obtained more than 200 sculptures before opening though donations of art connoisseurs, the lineage of artists, and people in support of the Musée d’Orsay.

Since the grand opening in 1986 the museum has collected works from exchanges that other museums or institutions once showcased such as Nature Unveiling Herself Before Science by Louis-Ernest Barrias that was initially commissioned for Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, as well as The Thinker and The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin. The museum also purchases specific works to fill gaps and finish the collections already in the museum such as one of the panels of Be Mysterious by Paul Gauguin, the full set of Honoré Daumier’s Célébrités du Juste Milieu, and Maturity by Camille Claudel. There are currently more than 2,200 sculptures in the Musée d’Orsay.

Major sculptors represented in the collection include Alfred Barye, François Rude, Jules Cavelier, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Émile-Coriolan Guillemin, Auguste Rodin, Paul Gauguin, Camille Claudel, Sarah Bernhardt and Honoré Daumier.

Decorative arts
The Musée des Arts Décoratifs, inaugurated in the Marsan pavilion of the Louvre in 1905, had initially been envisaged in 1879 on the site assigned to the Gare d’Orsay in 1897, and which finally regained this museum vocation in 1986. The Porte de l Rodin ‘s Hell, whose plaster is visible on the middle level – Rodin terrace, was to constitute the monumental entrance.

As early as 1977, a collection of decorative arts objects from the period 1848-1914 was put together for the Musée d’Orsay. Apart from the Charpentier dining room from 1900, reconstructed in its own space (period room), the furniture and objects are shown out of context. Consisting of works representative of the production of ceramics, glassware, jewelry and furniture, this collection bears witness to the change in the production of works of art linked to the industrial revolution., that of fine arts applied to industry. It includes several masterpieces that have long been overlooked or poorly regarded and also presents pieces attesting to the exceptional quality of the luxury industries of this period. The museographic breakdown of collections of works of art distinguishes by their location those produced under the Second Empire (1852-1870) and in the first two decades of the Third Republic (1870-1940) from those corresponding to the Art Nouveau style (to from 1890).

The Musée d’Orsay’s photography collection, which was entirely built up ex nihilo from the end of the 1970s, had 45,003 works at the end of 2020. When the project to transform the former Gare d’Orsay into a 19th century museum century was taken, no museum of fine arts in France yet had a section devoted to photography.

The works of many photographers are thus kept in the collections of the Musée d’Orsay, including those of Hippolyte Bayard, Édouard Baldus, Christian Bérard, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, Céline Laguarde, Félix Nadar, Nicéphore Niépce, Constant Alexandre Famin …

Musée de l’Orangerie
The Musée de l’Orangerie joined the Musée d’Orsay in 2010 within the Public Establishment of the Musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie. The collection of the Musée de l’Orangerie retraces certain singular aspects of 20th century art, whether it be the grand decoration of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, the ultimate masterpiece and founder of abstraction and immersive works, or from the collection of paintings by Paul Guillaume and Domenica Walter, characterized by the tension between modernity and figuration, from Renoir to Matisse, from Cézanne to Picasso, from Rousseau to Modigliani or Soutine.

The new presentation of the collection of the Musée de l’Orangerie, in renovated spaces, makes it possible to link more clearly the two poles of the collections – Water Lilies / School of Paris from the beginning of the 20th century – according to an elegant spatial and visual coherence of the building. and a fluid, informed and stimulating journey. It makes a striking entry into the collection with, on the one hand, a large polyptych by Joan Mitchell (on loan from the National Museum of Modern Art) and, on the other, the large formats of the “primitive” Moderns – Picasso, the Rousseau customs officer, Derain, Modigliani, Matisse… – according to the vision of the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. The monographic rooms offer the public a renewed, closer and more comfortable view of the works.

The exceptional deposit of a set of sculptures from Africa and Oceania, formerly the Paul Guillaume collection, by the Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, as well as some drawings and archives, enrich the visit. The two new rooms, that of the focus on the collection (three per year) and that of contemporary counterpoints on the Water Lilies, accompany the dynamic and constantly renewed approach of this prestigious collection.