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Musée d'Orsay

Coordinates: 48°51′36″N 2°19′35″E / 48.86000°N 2.32639°E / 48.86000; 2.32639
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Musée d'Orsay
The Musée d'Orsay as seen from the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor
Interactive fullscreen map
LocationRue de Lille 75343 Paris, France
Coordinates48°51′36″N 2°19′35″E / 48.86000°N 2.32639°E / 48.86000; 2.32639
TypeArt museum, Design/Textile Museum, Historic site[1]
Visitors3.2 million (2022)[2]
DirectorSerge Lemoine
Public transit accessParis Métro Paris Métro Line 12 Solférino
RER RER C Musée d'Orsay

The Musée d'Orsay (UK: /ˌmjuːz dɔːrˈs/ MEW-zay dor-SAY, US: /mjuːˈz -/ mew-ZAY -⁠, French: [myze dɔʁsɛ]) (English: Orsay Museum) is a museum in Paris, France, on the Left Bank of the Seine. It is housed in the former Gare d'Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900. 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, Claude Monet, Édouard 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. It is one of the largest art museums in Europe.

In 2022 the museum had 3.2 million visitors, up from 1.4 million in 2021. It was the sixth-most-visited art museum in the world in 2022, and second-most-visited art museum in France, after the Louvre.[3][4]


Musée d'Orsay as seen from the Pont du Carrousel
Musée d'Orsay Clock, Victor Laloux, Main Hall
The interior of the museum

The museum building was originally a railway station, Gare d'Orsay, located next to the Seine river. Built on the site of the Palais d'Orsay, its central location was convenient for commuting travelers.[5] The station was constructed for the Chemin de Fer de Paris à Orléans and finished in time for the 1900 Exposition Universelle to the design of three architects: Lucien Magne, Émile Bénard and Victor Laloux. The Gare d'Orsay design was considered to be an "anachronism".[6] 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 instead gained inspiration from the past for the concept of the facade to the point of masking the cutting-edge technology within. It was the terminus for the railways of southwestern France until 1939.

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 RenaudBarrault Theatre Company and for auctioneers, while the Hôtel Drouot was being rebuilt.

In the 1970s work began on building a 1 km-long tunnel under the station as part of the creation of line C of the Réseau Express Régional with a new station under the old station. In 1970, permission was granted to demolish the station but Jacques Duhamel, Minister for Cultural Affairs, ruled against plans to build a new hotel in its stead. The station was put on the supplementary list of Historic Monuments and finally listed in 1978. 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.[7] 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.[8] In July 1986, the museum was ready to receive its exhibits. It took 6 months to install the 2,000 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.

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.[9] 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.[10] The projected completion date is 2026, implementing new galleries and education opportunities to endorse a conductive experience.[11]

Musée d'Orsay seen from the right bank of the Seine river
Musée d'Orsay seen from the right bank of the Seine river
Festival hall of the Musée d'Orsay
Festival hall of the Musée d'Orsay

The square next to the museum displays six bronze allegorical sculptural groups in a row, originally produced for the Exposition Universelle:


Vincent van Gogh:
Starry Night Over the Rhône, 1888
Pierre-Auguste Renoir:
Bal du moulin de la Galette, 1876
Édouard Manet
The Luncheon on the Grass
Gustave Courbet:
The Artist's Studio 1855
Paul Cézanne:
The Card Players 1894–1895
Paul Cézanne:
Apples and Oranges
c. 1899
William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Equality Before Death, 1848

Paintings: major painters and works represented[edit]


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 in 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.[12]

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.[12]

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, Aristide Maillol and Honoré Daumier.

Other works[edit]

It also holds collections of:

  • architecture and decorative arts
  • photography

Selected collection highlights[edit]


The Directors have been:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Musée d'Orsay: About". ArtInfo. 2008. Archived from the original on 22 October 2008. Retrieved 30 July 2008.
  2. ^ "The Art Newspaper". 5 January 2023.
  3. ^ "The Art Newspaper", March 27, 2023
  4. ^ [1] Franceinfo Culture, 5 January 2023
  5. ^ "Musee d'Orsay | History, Art, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  6. ^ Mainardi, Patricia (1987). "Postmodern History at the Musée d'Orsay". October. 41: 31–52. doi:10.2307/778328. ISSN 0162-2870. JSTOR 778328.
  7. ^ "Bouygues website: Musée d'Orsay". Bouygues.com. Archived from the original on 5 December 2008. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
  8. ^ "Musée d'Orsay". Britannica Academic. Retrieved 16 March 2021.
  9. ^ "Login". weblogin.asu.edu. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  10. ^ Gareth Harris (March 6, 2020), Anonymous €20m donation kickstarts Musée d'Orsay transformation The Art Newspaper.
  11. ^ Pogrebin, Robin (5 March 2020). "Musée d'Orsay to Expand Spaces for Exhibitions and Education (Published 2020)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  12. ^ a b "Musée d'Orsay: Sculpture". www.musee-orsay.fr. Retrieved 17 March 2021.
  13. ^ "Christophe Leribault appointed President of the Orsay and Orangerie Museums - Valéry Giscard d'Estaing". culture.gouv.fr. 14 September 2021. Retrieved 27 December 2023.

External links[edit]