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22 October 2015 / leggypeggy

Musée d’Orsay one of France’s top museums

Musée d'Orsay

Central hall of Musée d’Orsay, a former railway station

Musée d’Orsay is one of my favourite museums in all of France.

A sense of awe swept over me even as I approached. The building itself, a converted railway station, is massive, stylish and stunning. The collection it holds is even more so.

The art, mostly French pieces dating between 1848 and 1915, includes sculptures, furniture, photography and, of course, paintings. Many of the paintings help to make up the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces.

We’re talking the greats of the world with works by Monet (86 paintings), Manet (34 paintings), Degas (43 paintings), Renoir (81 paintings), Cézanne (56 paintings), Gauguin (24 paintings), Van Gogh (24 paintings), Toulouse-Lautrec (18 paintings) and many more.

I was talking to my friend, Tony, about Musée d’Orsay a few days ago. He had a little grumble and said it had taken him 30 years to get over the creation of the museum.

Prior to the opening of Musée d’Orsay in 1986, many of the paintings were displayed in the Galerie National du Jeu de Paume, which Tony preferred. That building, which we didn’t have a chance to visit, is now a national gallery for contemporary art. In Napoleon’s day, it housed the courts for a special royal tennis game called jeu de paume.

But back to Musée d’Orsay.

The building

I’ll start with the building itself because it’s the first thing that overwhelms you. It started life as a railway station, Gare d’Orsay, which is obvious from the moment you enter. The station opened in time for the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, and served as the the terminus for the railways of south-western France until 1939.

By then, it was decided that its platforms were too short to accommodate the longer trains of the day. So it became a suburban station and centre for mail. It was also used as a movie set, temporary auction house and a haven for a theatre company.

It was supposed to be demolished in the 1970s, but the then minster for culture opposed plans for a hotel to be built in its site. Luckily for us, by 1978 it was listed as a Historic Monument.

Model of Garnier's Opera House

Model of Garnier’s Opera House

At last it was decided to convert it to a gallery that would bridge the gap between the Louvre’s older art and the National Museum for Modern Art in the George Pompidou Centre (which I also love and will write about soon).

A team of three architects won the contract to design the new museum’s floor space and an Italian architect was chosen to design the internal arrangement, decoration, furniture and fittings. Once the building was ready, it took six months to install the thousands of works and the museum opened in December 1986.

In my opinion, the design is a brilliant success. There’s plenty of light and space, and I never got the crowded feeling that pervades the Louvre.

Seurat's 'Circus'

A small section of Seurat’s ‘Circus’ 1891

The artworks

Musée d’Orsay holds some of the biggest names in art masterpieces in the world. I’m not going to share a whole bunch of them (names or photos) here because you can go online and look up most of them. And what you find online will most likely have more information and a better resolution.

But here’s a short but stunning run-down.

Van Gogh’s Self Portrait and Starry Night over the Rhone
Gauguin’s Tahitian Women on the Beach
Cézanne’s The Card Players
Renoir’s Bal au moulin de la Galette, Montmartre
Monet’s Blue Water Lilies
Seurat’s The Circus
Whistler’s Whistler’s Mother

Guimard's smoking bench

Guimard’s ornate smoking bench

The furniture and sculptures are incredible too, but I have to confess that I didn’t recognise all the names, in fact, not many of the names. One I was surprised to see was Sarah Bernhardt. I had completely forgotten that, in addition to be a famed actress, she studied sculpting and produced some lovely works.

I was also pleased to see a bronze Pénélope by Émile-Antoine Bourdelle. I know her well because she also ‘lives’ in the Australian National Gallery’s sculpture garden in Canberra.

The photographs have missed out too. Oh, I saw them, but I didn’t photograph them. Photos under glass with museum lights all around mean reflection, reflection, reflection.

Interestingly, Libby told me on the telephone today that the museum’s current exhibitions include one on the prostitutes of France/Paris and another, which showcases photographs done by females.

Degas' ballerina

Degas’ Small dancer of 14 years

A few last words

All I can say is that if you ever get to Paris, put the Musée d’Orsay at the top of your must-see list. And give yourself plenty of time—maybe a whole day (there’s a café so you won’t starve).

I’m not the only one who thinks the place is worth it. Libby, the daughter who lives in Paris and who has a degree in art history and curatorship, has bought an annual membership for only one museum—this one. And a brief check of TripAdvisor shows that it is the number 1 attraction in Paris. I have to agree.

Cafe at Musée d'Orsay

Cafe so you can stay all day and not starve


Leave a Comment
  1. Records of the Ohanzee / Oct 22 2015 2:32 pm

    I wish I could visit! Monet’s Blue Water Lillies is one of my favorite paintings, although I’ve not seen it in person. I had a large print poster of it hanging over my bed all through college. It’s interesting that the building is a converted train station. Our local natural history museum is also hosted within an old train station, Union Terminal (Cincinnati). It’s a gorgeous Art Deco building from about the same time period as Musee D’Orsay. It’s good that these buildings can find a second life after beyond their initial purpose!

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Oct 22 2015 9:34 pm

      I hope you get there someday. It’s full of wonderful pieces. You might even find new favourites. And I agree that it’s good when a stylish building has a second life. Too much gets knocked down these days.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. luckyjc007 / Oct 22 2015 2:42 pm

    Great read! Really weird smoking bench. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Yvonne / Oct 22 2015 2:57 pm

    I love that Art Nouveau smoking bench!

    There’s a little connection with Henry Guimard and Canada:

    What a smashing museum! What a collection of art giants. (They should move the Mona Lisa there, perhaps. Just kidding.)

    I’ve only been to Paris once (1977) but I remember being so impressed with the beauty of the metro underground.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Oct 22 2015 9:11 pm

      I love it too. That’s a wonderful link about the connection between Guimard and Canada. Thanks for that tidbit.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. blondieaka / Oct 22 2015 3:30 pm

    What a beautiful museum you have really bought it alive for me the bed and the smoking bench is weird but cool at the same time 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Andrew Petcher / Oct 22 2015 3:49 pm

    I preferred this one to the Louvre I have to say!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Vicky / Oct 22 2015 5:18 pm

    Loved this place and all the amazing work. What I didn’t love was the 2 hour wait queuing in the sun to get in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 22 2015 9:09 pm

      Libby’s membership card put us straight to the front of the queue, so we were really lucky on that count.


  7. Jane / Oct 22 2015 9:30 pm

    I can see why Musée d’Orsay is the number 1 attraction! I especially love all the unusual and beautiful furniture. Museums are a favourite place for me to go but I don’t enjoy them much when they are crowded. The cafe looks unreal. Thanks for sharing this great place. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Vicki / Oct 23 2015 12:17 am

    Amazing, Peggy.
    Thanks for sharing.
    I only have vague memories of the museums and galleries in Paris and even lesser memories of my Art History studies at school.
    Your photos are excellent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 23 2015 7:50 am

      Thanks so much, Vicki. Means a lot coming from you—such a talented photographer.


  9. kkessler833 / Oct 23 2015 12:23 am

    Been there! Great museum!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Laurie / Oct 23 2015 3:55 am

    Thank you Peggy for the wonderful tour! I’m putting this museum on my bucket list. It looks like a place one could spend a lot of time lost in!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 23 2015 7:51 am

      Now you know why Libby bought an annual membership.


  11. milliethom / Oct 23 2015 5:54 am

    Both your photos and text are wonderful, Peggy. I thoroughly enjoyed the guided tour around this amazing place. The history of it, and its changing use, is really interesting. As for the exhibits, they don’t come much more impressive than these

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 23 2015 8:09 am

      Thank you so much. I feel lucky to have seen it all and to be able to share.

      Liked by 1 person

      • milliethom / Oct 23 2015 8:12 am

        I’m very glad you do what you do, Peggy. I adore travel blogs, particularly those with a historical slant. I do some myself, but only every so often, when we’ve been on holiday or had a day out.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Oct 23 2015 8:21 am

        I wasn’t a particularly good history student, but now I like to learn a bit about the places I’m visiting. As a result, my trips include reading brochures, wall plaques, guide books and whatever else I can find to give me a better understanding and appreciation. That said, I try to keep my posts fairly short and just covering the highlights. Everybody is busy, so long spiels often get ignored.


  12. lambieland / Oct 23 2015 12:41 pm

    You are so fortunate to have been able to see this museum in the flesh!! I can only dream that one day I might see it. Beautiful place, and the artists’ works are incredible!


    • leggypeggy / Oct 23 2015 5:40 pm

      Yes, we were very fortunate to be able to visit. Hope you are able to get there one day.


  13. Curt Mekemson / Oct 23 2015 3:12 pm

    I have always loved the work of the impressionists but have never been to the Musee d’Orsay. Guess I’ll have to add it to my to do list. –Curt


  14. afterthelasttime / Oct 23 2015 3:47 pm

    Looks terrific and as always your words make it all the better!


  15. julioc / Oct 23 2015 7:05 pm

    I’ve been there and I intend to go there again in the near future. It’s by far my favourite museum in Paris. I got ‘impressed’ with all that… impressionism 🙂 Fabulous gallery, amazing building and high quality restaurant. What can a tourist (and art lover) ask more? Loved your post. I don’t remember some of the pieces you show here, perhaps part of temporary exhibits.


    • leggypeggy / Oct 23 2015 10:28 pm

      I’m so glad you like this museum as much as I do. I’ll be interested to know if you see the same pieces I did.


  16. thegreyeye / Oct 24 2015 4:47 am

    I did not visit musee d’orsay yet, it is definitely a must next time. I could not go this time as it was a Monday. But I thought we cannot take photos here.


    • leggypeggy / Oct 24 2015 8:01 am

      Sorry you didn’t get the chance to visit, but glad you reminded me that the museum is closed on Mondays. Many touristic places in France are closed on Mondays. 😦 But most museums allow you to take photographs.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. thewhisperingpen / Oct 24 2015 9:45 am

    What a wonderful excursion!


  18. chattykerry / Oct 26 2015 12:26 pm

    Wow – fantastique! I was in Paris recently but the weather was awful, I had very little time and wanted to chat to my much missed BFF. Next time… Your photos are wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 26 2015 1:04 pm

      I hope you had a great catch-up. The museum will be there for next time. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  19. martinatombolini / Oct 26 2015 8:38 pm

    Ciao Lula! Ti ho nominata qui, spero non ti dispiaccia!
    Have a nice day =)


    • leggypeggy / Oct 26 2015 9:54 pm

      What a nice gesture and most appreciated, but I will have to decline. I have had to keep this blog award-free. We travel so much and in such remote places, I feel lucky when I have enough internet connection to get a blog post done. So thanks for thinking of me, but please understand.

      Liked by 2 people

  20. yeahanotherblogger / Oct 27 2015 1:42 am

    Peggy, this article makes me want to book a flight to Paris.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. wings~of~dawn / Oct 27 2015 5:50 am

    Hi there, Was enjoying this read on my phone the other day while in the doc’s office. Thanks so much (Merci beacoup!) for this lovely summary of your visit. 2008, I was there. Love Love it!


  22. Curious to the Max / Oct 28 2015 11:56 pm

    Spectacular – the building and the art!
    I am smiling because the last picture is about food – you know how to feast with your eyes AND your mouth!


    • leggypeggy / Oct 29 2015 2:55 pm

      You can’t spend a whole day in a museum and not eat.


  23. wineandhistory / Nov 1 2015 7:44 am

    I haven’t made it there yet, but it is on the list. I was fortunate to see several of their impressionist works when they were on loan to the de Young Museum in San Francisco. We saw Whistler’s Mother, and The Magpie, by Monet. Such beautiful pieces!


    • leggypeggy / Nov 1 2015 9:30 am

      It’s wonderful when museums and galleries loan their artworks so the pieces can be more widely seen.


  24. The Reading Cottage: The Platform For Books, Feature Articles, Book Reviews, Interview, Culture, Lifestyle , Entertainment / Nov 12 2015 5:59 am

    Hello Peggy, thanks for sharing those magnificent images. I love them.


  25. Dinata Misovec / Nov 15 2015 11:01 am

    I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of d’Orsay. I was awed by the building and the impressionist paintings. The sculpture and furniture was interesting, but it was the famous paintings hanging everywhere that I loved. Real, live paintings are so much more impressive than those photos we see of them in books.


    • leggypeggy / Nov 15 2015 12:05 pm

      Yes, seeing the pieces in person makes a lot of difference, especially when you aren’t competing with huge crowds.


  26. barkinginthedark / Apr 23 2020 7:59 am

    glorious what humans can wrought – when we aren’t busy destroying everything eh? continue…

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Apr 23 2020 1:23 pm

      There’s a lot of creativity turning up online too, now that intelligent people are staying at home.


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