Musée d'Orsay – Everything You Need To Know About This Impressionist Gem

From Monet to Manet to Renoir to van Gogh — the Orsay Museum truly is an Impressionist gem. Built as a train station in the 19th-century's Belle Époque, Musée d'Orsay was transformed into a museum to house France's collection of 19th-century paintings when the Louvre literally ran out of space. Here you can see the best works of Manet, Monet, Cézanne, Degas, Renoir, Sisley, and a stunning collection of van Goghs.

From Train Station to Impressionist Central

Musee d'Orsay, photo by Mark Craft

What is now Musée d'Orsay was built as a train station called Gare d'Orsay, to serve as the Paris terminus of the Paris-Orléans Railway. It was built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, a truly grand world's fair with 83,00 exhibitors and 50 million visitors. Also debuting at the 1900 fair were the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais, Gare de Lyon, even the Paris Metro itself.

Orsay was used a train station for less than 40 years — it couldn't accommodate the longer trains. (Think of how long the tracks are at Gare du Nord, for instance.) By 1939 it faced an uncertain fate. Over the years it was used as a warehouse, as a film set, in World War II it was used to sort parcels going to prisoners of war. The station was almost torn down in 1970 (to be replaced by a hotel), but was saved by a timely intervention by the Cultural Minister.

Planning to transform Gare d'Orsay into a museum began in earnest in 1974. The idea was to create a place for artworks the fell in the gap period between the classical collection of the Louvre and the modern art of Centre Pompidou. Musée d'Orsay opened its doors in December 1986.

How to Skip the Lines at Musée d'Orsay

Skip the Lines at d'Orsay, photo by Mark Craft

Being very popular means that the lines at Museée d'Orsay are long. On the busiest days you can expect to wait in line for up to a couple of hours. You know that we hate standing in lines, right? Luckily, there are ways of getting into d'Orsay without standing in line.

This is what you need to know — the only way to guarantee you'll skip all the lineups at Musée d'Orsay (and other top attractions, like the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower) is to book a guided tour. In our skip-the-line article we'll show you exactly how to go directly to the front of the queue.

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Where To Eat At Musée d'Orsay

Musee d'Orsay, Le Restaurant

After a few glorious hours taking in the glorious works by the Impressionists you're bound to be hungry and thirsty. Luckily there are some good options right inside the d'Orsay, and other restaurants nearby. We loved being in the classic Beaux-Art museum dining room, but we also like the renovated modern brasserie on the top floor. We'll fill you in on the options, so you can fill up.

The Best of the Impressionists

Best of the Impressionists

The d'Orsay is a treasure trove of Impressionism and other 19th-century art. All of the Impressionist painters who worked in France are represented here and the sheer number of great works will have your head spinning! To help you plan your visit, we've created a series of articles about the major painters found at the d'Orsay and their works that you don't want to miss.

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The Pivotal Paintings of Claude Monet at Musée d'Orsay

If any one artist was the spiritual father of the Impressionists, that painter was Claude Monet. Born in 1840, he lived until 1926, producing hundreds of memorable works during his long life. Let's make a virtual visit to the d'Orsay to view seven of Monet's pivotal works.

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The Best Of Renoir At Musée d'Orsay

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a close friend of Monet and one of the most important Impressionists; probably the one painter who most gave the art movement a human face. Today his work is well represented at the d'Orsay: we'll take you to five of his best paintings.

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The Top 10 van Gogh Paintings at Musée d'Orsay

In Vincent van Gogh's short life he produced an incredible number of paintings that changed the way we think about art. One of the most popular artists in history is well represented at Musée d'Orsay. We've picked the top ten — the ones we return to again and again.

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The 5 Best Paintings by Manet at Musée d'Orsay

The museum holds 49 paintings by 19th-century master Edouard Manet, who had an important influence on the Impressionists. All of his works are worth seeing, but if you want to make a quick visit, we'll show you the five best.

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The Best of Berthe Morisot at Musée d'Orsay

The Impressionist painters were described by one contemporary critic as "five or six lunatics, one of which is a woman." That woman was Berthe Morisot, friend of Manet and a huge influence on other artists. Let's visit the best of her works at the d'Orsay.

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The Top Works by Edgar Degas

Impressionist painter and ballerina aficionado Edgar Degas is represented by over one hundred works at the d'Orsay. That's a lot of art. To concentrate on the greatest hits, we'll take you to the top five.

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The Best of Pissarro at Musée d'Orsay

Camille Pissarro was born and raised in the West Indies and spent time painting in Venezuela before he setled in France, where he became friends with Cezanne, Monet, Manet, Renoir & Degas.

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The Best of Alfred Sisley at Musée d'Orsay

One of Impressionism's most overlooked artists, Alfred Sisley was a man of two cultures, an Englishman living and painting in France. Known for his landscapes, let's look at his five best works at d'Orsay.

The 8 Historic Impressionist Exhibits, 1874-1886

The 8 Historic Impressionist Exhibits

They were rebellious artists who were rejected by the official state art exhibitions — over and over again. Finally, they banded together to form their own group with their own art show. So, in 1874 a disparate group of friends and painters staged the first of eight Impressionist exhibitions held over the next twelve years.

It took time for the public, collectors, and art dealers to warm up to their art, but luckily for future art lovers (including us) the Impressionist painters persevered. Today, of course, there is a major Paris museum dedicated to their work. Let's look back at the 8 historic Impressionist exhibitions and how to visit the Musée d'Orsay in a new way.

Impressionism Timeline 1851-1900

Impressionism Timeline 1851-1900

The art movement heard round the world. The little art movement that could. Call it what you will, Impressionism made an enormous impact on art in the second half of the 19th century. But, it didn't happen in a vacuum; it was part of and influenced by large historic and cultural changes in France. Let's take a look at the development of Impressionism in the larger cultural history of France.

Sculptures at Musée d'Orsay

Sculptures

Sculpture was a very popular art form in the 19th century. As the French economy boomed and the bourgeois flourished, new houses and gardens were being decorated with statuary. For public buildings, too, sculptures were thought of as a necessary adornment. Sculptors such as Rodin, Maillol, and Bourdelle were in their primes.

Sometime in the 20th century, though, this all changed and new sculptures fell out of favour. Works were neglected or put in storage. But with the opening of the Musée d'Orsay in 1986, which celebrate the art of the 19th century, there was a brand new home and a revived appreciation of this body of work.

There are now hundreds of magnificent sculptures at d'Orsay. We'll take you to eleven of the best.

Decorative Arts at Pavillon Amont

Decorative Arts at Pavillon Amont

Pavillon Amont is the newest gallery space at Museum d'Orsay. A corner of the building were elevators used to be located was repurposed to house the museum's collection of decorative arts from the second half of the 19th century — from the period knowns as the Second Empire to Art Nouveau. Let's take a virtual tour of four levels of the art of everyday objects.

The Greatest Hits of Musée d'Orsay

Etude: Torse

For our final look at Musée d'Orsay, we present our list of the must-see paintings, the works you don't want to miss when you visit this former train station. From Gustave Courbet to Claude Monet we've singled out nineteen canvases to set your sights on seeing. But, being the way we are, we found we couldn't stop at nineteen… we had to include a list of the runners-up as well!

Orsay Museum Resources

Degas Ballerina

Because the Musée d'Orsay is smaller than the Louvre you can cover a lot of art in a morning and still have time for lunch in the restored Belle Époque restaurant, which was once the dining room of the hotel located in the Orsay train station. By the way, don't miss the view from the observation deck on Level 5 (next to the snack bar), if it's open. You'll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the Seine — from Place de la Concorde to the Louvre.

  • Open from 9:30 am to 6 pm
  • Late Night: Thursday until 9:45 pm
  • Closed Mondays, December 25, January 1, and May 1
  • Metro – Solferino or Tuileries (walk across the park and the pedestrian bridge)
  • RER – Musée d'Orsay (right in front of the museum)
  • Museum Website
  • Paris' famous fictional detective, Inspector Maigret, meets a suspect at Hotel Gare d'Orsay, located in the building, and eats in the dining room, which is still used as a restaurant today.
  • Orson Welles's film of Franz Kafka's The Trial was shot at d'Orsay, long before it became a museum.

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