Orsay Museum Paris

Discover the World of Impressionism at Orsay Museum Paris

Located in France, Musée d'Orsay opened to the public on 9 December 1986 to display the diverse artistic creations of the West between 1848 to 1914. Formerly built as a train station, it was later converted to a museum. Initially, its collection came from three different established Parisian museums: 

  • The Louvre Museum, which represents works of artists born after 1820 or coming to the fore during the Second Republic. 
  • Musée du Jeu de Paume, which has been devoted to Impressionism since 1947.
  • National Museum of Modern Art, which only kept works of artists born after 1870 once it moved in 1976 to the Centre Georges Pompidou.

Each artistic discipline showcased in Orsay Museum Paris has a history of its own, which can be discovered as you explore the monument. 

Knowledge Graph

orsay museum paris
  • Also Known As: Orsay Museum was formerly known as the Gare d’Orsay when it first opened as a railway station.
  • Location: Musée d'Orsay, 1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 75007 Paris, France. Get directions.
  • Opening: Orsay Museum opened to the public in 1986.
  • Timings: The Orsay Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 AM to 6 PM. Learn more about timings.
  • Number of visitors per year: Approximately 3.7 million people visited the Orsay Museum in 2019.

History of Orsay Museum Paris

Gare D'Orsay: The Railway Station

Located in the heart of Paris on the left bank of Seine, Orsay Museum was originally built as a train station and a hotel to bring visitors to the 1900 Paris Exposition. Architects Lucien Magne, Émile Bénard, and Victor Laloux constructed the hotel and Gare d'Orsay, which was a challenging project due to the vicinity of the Louvre and the Palais de la Légion d'honneur. There was constant pressure to not compromise on its elegance and perfectly integrate it with its surroundings. The station was complete within two years and had the most advanced features, making it the first electrified urban terminal station in the world. 

Interiors and Architecture 

The modern metallic structures were concealed with the façade of the hotel, which was built in the academic style setting. Finely cut stone from the regions of Charente and Poitou were used in the structure, which blended perfectly with its surrounding monuments. Inside the station were ramps and lifts for luggage, elevators for passengers, sixteen underground rail tracks, reception services on the ground floor, and electric traction. The open porch and lobby were extended to the great hall, which was 32 meters high, 40 meters wide, and 138 meters long. Up until 1939, the Gare d'Orsay was the head of the southwestern French railroad network. The hotel also received travelers from various cities, along with frequent visits made by associations and political parties for their banquets and meetings.

From the Station to a Museum

Unfortunately, despite these modern developments and facilities, the station only functioned for a short period. By 1939, the station’s short platforms were no longer suitable for the longer trains. The Gare d’Orsay was closed to long-distance traffic, although some of its lower levels are still used by the suburban trains managed by the French National Railway Company. In 1977, the French Government decided to transform the station to a museum. The building was listed as a historical monument in 1978, and by December 1986, the venue officially reopened as the Musée d'Orsay.

Orsay Museum Paris Today

Presently, the museum stands out for having one of the world’s largest collections of Impressionist and post-Impressionist artworks represented by van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Manet, and many more, giving visitors a one-of-a-kind experience. Apart from this, it showcases some of the most influential sculptures done by artists such as Bartholdi, Carpeaux, Barye, and Bourdelle, which is an absolute treat for the eyes. Orsay Museum also houses some of the most unique photographs, graphic art collections, and architecture, making it worth a visit! 

Musée d'Orsay Paris Collection

Being the second most visited museum in Paris, there is a lot to see at Musée d'Orsay in a day. The attraction is home to some of the most influential paintings, sculptures, photography, and decorative art collections set in the period between 1848 and 1914. If you are visiting for the first time, this information can help you navigate the museum to get a better understanding of the various collections. It will also give you a head start in the right direction to discovering the venue from scratch. The permanent collection at Musée d Orsay has been evenly spread across on four levels, followed by a terrace exhibition space. 

Ground Level

As you make your way into the museum, you’ll first witness art that was created between 1848 and 1870s. The galleries on the right focus on the evolution of historical painting, the Academic and pre-symbolist schools highlighting works produced by Ingres, Delacroix, Moreau, and Degas.

The galleries on the left focus on Naturalism, Realism, and pre-impressionism. Some of the unique works displayed are created by Courbet, Corot, Millet, and Manet. All of the architecture, sculptural, and decorative objects on this level are from the mid-19th century eclecticism movement.

Middle Level

Here, you will find paintings, pastels, and decorative objects all from the late 19th century. It also holds a massive collection of Art Nouveau decoration, spanned over six rooms. The galleries facing the Seine contain Naturalist and Symbolist artwork, along with decorations belonging to public monuments. The work of foreign artists such as Klimt and Munch is also on this floor.

Upper Level (2)

This level is a tribute to the innovative and unconventional techniques shown in paintings and pastels by Neo-Impressionists, Nabists, and the Pont-Aven painters. Some of the famous works done by Gaugin, Seurat, Signac, and Toulouse-Lautrec are displayed here. This level also features a gallery exclusively for small format paintings.

Top Floor/Upper Level (1)

The upper floor, without a doubt, has some of the most spectacular works from the Impressionist and Expressionist movements. The work of some of the greats such as Degas, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, and Caillebotte, are housed here. The famous Gachet collection is also on this floor. It is an extraordinary art collection that belonged to Dr. Paul-Ferdinand Gachet (1828-1909), the physician who cared for Vincent van Gogh in the months prior to his suicide in 1890. The collection features works by van Gogh and Cézanne, among others.

Terrace 

This area contains 19th-century sculpture art forms, with an entire wing incorporating the works of French sculptor Auguste Rodin.

What to See

Sometimes, visiting a new attraction can be an overwhelming experience. One way to ensure that you cover all the highlights is by making a checklist before you arrive at the venue. Here are the top 10 artworks that you should look out for when visiting the Orsay Museum. 

1. Vincent Van Gogh – Starry Night 

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most renowned Impressionist painters of all time. Starry Night was completed when he had moved to Arles in Southern France in 1888. Van Gogh had always admired the different colors of night and had written about how eager he was to paint it to his brother and sister. The painting shows the Rhône River which was only a few minutes away from his house that was rented at the time. It reflects the stars shining bright up in the sky among the building lights as a couple walks by this view.

2. Paul Gauguin – Arearea 

Paul Gaugin is seen as a post-Impressionist artist, and though he did not become a well-known artist during this lifetime, his artwork came into popularity after his death. His paintings have always been inspired by his surroundings, local stories, and ancient religious transitions. Arearea, painted in 1892, portrays two local women seated next to a red dog amidst different colored planes - green, yellow, and red. 

Although Arearea received a lot of criticism from the public, it later turned out to become one of Gaugin's finest works of all time. In 1961, it was displayed in the Louvre and later, in 1986, the painting was moved to Musée d'Orsay. 

3. Édouard Manet – The Luncheon on the Grass 

This was one of the paintings that shot Manet to fame both positively and negatively. Many did not approve of this painting including the Salon du jury which rejected this piece in 1863, whereas, some found it quite fascinating. Through this painting, Manet was paying respect to Europe’s artistic heritage by blending both traditional and modern techniques. 

4. Vincent van Gogh – Self Portrait 

This painting, completed in 1889, is one of more than 30 self-portraits that Van Gogh made of himself over 10 years. In this painting, the light blue background contracts Van Gogh’s red fiery hair making the portrait stand out as a whole. The work may have been Van Gough’s last painting of himself shortly before he left Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in southern France. 

5. Claude Monet - Poppy Field 

At first glance, this painting has very pleasing aesthetics, and the environment created is one of peace and harmony. As you look at this painting, the first thing that you see is the field during spring, highlighted by the trees and cherry red flowers as a child and a woman walk by. The painting was showcased in 1874 at an independently organized art show, where the term Impressionist was first used by art critic, Louis Leroy.

6. Paul Cézanne – Card Players

This is a must-visit at the Orsay Museum Paris. The picture stands out for its simplicity and makes it easy to interpret the image as a whole. There is a possibility that Cézanne was influenced by another painting called Card Players, which was created by Nain Brothers. 

If you look closely at the center, you will notice the focal point is a bottle between the two players. The setting could be anywhere within Paris but is assumed to be a middle-class environment, due to the bare table and plain background, with both players focused on their cards, contemplating the next move. The portrayal of card players is a series of five paintings with this one at the Musée d’Orsay being the most simple. 

Views of Paris

musée d orsay paris
View from the second floor: Behind the great clock 

As you make your way to the second floor, you will witness a beautiful panoramic side view of the Seine from behind the massive clock. Experience the best of both worlds with a glimpse of the modern-metallic-industrial structures alongside the mesmerizing river. 

impressionism museum paris
View from the roof

The best time to visit the rooftop would be during the summer. This is the perfect spot for you to experience all the highlights of Paris at a glance. Starting from the Seine, to monuments such as the Louvre Museum and the Garnier Opera, the rooftop gives one-of-a-kind experience, making your visit to Orsay Museum worthwhile! If you’re lucky with the weather, you’ll even get to see the Eiffel Tower, the Montmartre Hill, and its Sacred Heart Church in the back. 

All Your Questions Answered About Orsay Museum Paris

Do I need to wear a mask before entering the museum?

Yes, due to safety reasons all visitors aged 11 and above are required to bring and wear masks of their own. Please note that the use of a mask is absolutely mandatory.

What are the safety measures are in place at the museum?

For hygiene purposes, hydro-alcoholic gel has been made available at the entrance to the museum. Visitors are advised to maintain physical distance by keeping more than a meter between others. Sign points have been installed at the entrance and exit sections for guests to follow.

Is the Orsay Museum Paris disabled-friendly?

Yes. Priority access is provided for disabled guests, who can enter directly from Entrance C. Free entry will be granted for disabled visitors along with the accompanying person. Guests can gain complete access to the museum and its facilities like restaurants and bookshops with ramps, automatic doors, adapted toilets, and lifts. Wheelchairs, 3-legged folding seats, and walking sticks are also available for visitors, creating a seamless experience at the museum. 

Will storeroom access be available at the museum?

All visitors are requested travel light as access to the lockers and cloakrooms will be limited. Only suitcases, travel bags, and backpacks smaller than 60 x 40 cm are allowed into the museum.

Are audio guides available at the museum?

Yes, by paying an additional €5, you can gain access to an audio guide which is available in French, German, English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Russian.