The building that houses the the Musée d’Orsay served different functions before opening as an art museum in 1986. It was first constructed as a train station, called the Gare d’Orsay, and inaugurated at the 1900 World’s Fair. Since then, it has had a variety of uses, including acting as a mailing center during WWII and being a filming location for movies such as Orson Welles’ 1962 adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial.
I went on a Sunday morning and there was a line outside that took about thirty minutes to get through. Just like the Louvre, if you buy your ticket online, you can go through a much faster entrance and possibly skip a line entirely. Adult tickets cost €11 (~$12.11 USD), but I opted to buy a combined ticket which included admission to both the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie for €14 (~$15.42 USD). I also rented an audioguide for €5 (~$5.51 USD).
One of the biggest draws of this museum is that it contains the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings in the world. There are other styles represented as well, including realism, symbolism, and naturalism. Famous artists with works showcased within the museum include Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Seurat, Gauguin, Monet, Manet, Cézanne, Renoir, Degas, Delacroix, and tons more.
When I went, there was also a temporary exhibition called “Splendeures et Misères: Images de la Prostitution, 1850-1910” which, as you can probably infer, featured how prostitution was depicted in art from the mid-19th to the early 20th century. Most images were pretty tame, but there were also old-timey porn videos and stills that were pretty graphic. No photos allowed, but you can still see the exhibition for yourself as it runs until January 17, 2016.
Rather than go through a tour of the museum, I think I’m going to approach this post just like how I approached my post for London’s National Gallery and just show off some of my favorite paintings (and one stained glass) in the museum and other notable ones that caught my eye.
- “Bal du moulin de la Galette” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1876 – This painting was on the fifth floor, in the Impressionists gallery. I didn’t know it was a Renoir or that it was one of his masterpieces, but I was drawn into it by the colors and how everyone in the scene is depicted. I believe that the audioguide mentioned that he had people pose as models for this painting.
- “Portrait de l’artiste” by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889 – This is actually the second self-portrait of Van Gogh that I have seen in person. The first self-portrait of the artist that I saw, also painted in 1889, was on loan from the National Gallery of Art, Washington and displayed at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena for a few months.
- “La Chambre de Van Gogh á Arles” by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889 – When I was in high school, I remember seeing this painting in a book during my ninth grade English class. One of my friends said it was his favorite painting, but I didn’t believe him since I had never heard of it before and thought it was pretty obscure. Lo and behold, he actually had a picture of himself standing with this painting. I still remember that interaction for some reason, and now I have gotten to see the painting myself.
- “Cirque” by Georges Seurat, 1891 – I thought that this painting showed a fun scene and was a really cool example of Seurat’s pointilism.
- “Au Nouveau Cirque, Papa Chrysanthème” designed by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, produced by Louis Comfort Tiffany, circa 1894 – This is a stained glass piece that was commissioned by art dealer Siegfried Bing and was eventually hung over the entrance of his shop that focused on selling Japanese items. I love the colors and even though it can appear like just a bunch of blobs at first, you can actually make out the scene of a woman watching a performance.
- “Les Glaneuses” by Jean-François Millet, 1857; “Arearea” by Paul Gauguin, 1892; “Le Fifre” by Edouard Manet, 1866 – All three of these paintings don’t really elicit any kind of emotion from me, but, like several other paintings I’ve mentioned in my past post, they are also attainable in Animal Crossing for display in your home or museum. “Apples and Oranges” by Paul Cézanne would be on this list too, but I wasn’t able to find it!
- “Arrangement en gris et noir n°1” also called “Portrait de la mère de l’artiste” by James Whistler, 1871 – I actually didn’t see Whistler’s mother at the Musée d’Orsay, but I still wanted to acknowledge it here since I did see it when it was on loan to the Norton Simon Museum a few months ago. A quick google search shows that the painting was being shown at the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts and the day that I visited the Musée d’Orsay (September 27, 2015) was also the last day of its exhibition there before I assume it returns home. The two other paintings that were on loan with it before at the Norton Simon (“Émile Zola” by Édouard Manet and “The Card Players” by Paul Cézanne) were definitely back at the museum already.
Growing up, I remember hearing or reading about how people prefer the Musée d’Orsay to the Louvre and I definitely understand that now. I still recommend that you visit the Louvre if you get the chance, but I appreciated how less overwhelming the collection at the Musée d’Orsay was and I loved seeing the post-impressionist gallery in particular.
If When I do return to Paris, I feel like I am more likely to visit the Musée d’Orsay again than I am to revisit the Louvre, especially since there is a painting that I want to see, but didn’t get to on this trip: Van Gogh’s “Starry Night Over the Rhone”.
This wasn’t my only art museum visit for the day though. Remember how I bought the joint ticket that included admission to the Musée de l’Orangerie? See if you can guess where I went next.