Exploring the Grand Musée d’Orsay and its Treasured Art Collections

Paris City Tours

Treasured Art Collections

Impressionism, the influential art movement of the 19th Century, is still highly popular among art lovers and the public alike. Museums located around the world have contributed much to the promotion of this major art movement and the works of the artists involved in it. As the birthplace of impressionism, Paris has definitely contributed a greater share in promoting these artworks to the people. Its numerous museums exhibiting the works of the impressionists have itself become major tourist attractions and centers for cultivating art.

The Musée d’Orsay with its abundant collection of impressionist art is the most notable among them. Located in a grand railway station built during the turn of the 20th Century, this remarkable museum has been one of the must-visit places in all Paris city tours. Besides the rich collections of impressionist paintings, the Musée d’Orsay also houses an excellent collection of sculpture created by various artists.

Musée d’Orsay houses several other art forms as well such as photography, decorative arts, and architecture. The museum is so grand in design and scope that its mere design is in itself a remarkable sight. It remains a crucial element of Paris’s museum circuit and is surely worthy of a visit. Patrons of arts and culture will find the rich collections of impressionist art a delight and offers a chance to know more about the works of such artists.


Musée d’Orsay was previously a grand railway station built during the nineteenth century. Known as the Gare d’Orsay, it was a major station constructed along with the Gare de Lyon for connecting the city with electrified trains. Opened to the public in 1900 for the Paris World Exposition, this railway station was immediately recognized as a masterpiece of industrial architecture. However, it was abandoned in 1939 citing shorter platforms and was then reused as a parking lot, theatre, and even stationed prisoners of war.

In 1961, the French President Georges Pompidou interfered to prevent the demolition of this station. Further, his successor, Giscard d’Estaing put forward the suggestion of turning the Gare d’Orsay into a museum for exhibiting nineteenth and twentieth century art. The restoration works began in 1979 and the Musée d’Orsay was eventually opened to the public on November 29, 1986, by the French president Francois Mitterand.

The Design

One of the most striking features of the Muses d’Orsay other than its vast collections is its grand architecture. Eugene Henard was the architect first chosen for coming up with a design and plan of the museum. However, his decision to utilize industrial materials lead to several protests from preservationists. The Compagnie d’Orleans and the parliamentary commission organized a competition, which resulted in choosing Victor Laloux as the architect.

Laloux put forward a design that combined metal vault into the stone exterior of the building. The monumental style of architecture required the use of 12,000 tons of metal, more than that used for the construction of the Eiffel Tower. The dimensions of the building are also impressive as the overall structure measures 175 meters long and 75 meters wide.

Art Collections

The Musée d’Orsay contains thousands of paintings, sculptures, and other objects arranged across its four main levels and the terrace. Since its opening in 1986, the amount of collections has grown exponentially due to the valuable contributions of Musée du Luxembourg. Positioned chronologically, the exhibition begins from the ground floor that contains the artworks created during the periods of 1848 to 1870. The works from various art movements like realism, naturalism, and pre-impressionism are located in the left-side galleries.

Edouard Manet’s famous painting, “The Luncheon on the Grass” is displayed here along with the works of Courbet, Corot, and Millet. The works of pre-symbolist schools of art are in the right side galleries and include the works of Delacroix, Moreau, etc. The ground floor also has many decorative, culture, and architecture on display. The next level houses some prominent paintings from the nineteenth century as well as decorative objects.

The upper levels of the museum consist of various Neoimpressionists, Nabists and Pont Aven painters. The topmost floor houses the most impressive collection of paintings from the impressionist and expressionist art movements. It is the best place to view the works of artists like Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, etc. The Gachet collection is one thing to definitely look for as it features an excellent collection of works by Vincent Van Gogh and Cezanne.

Getting there

The Musée d’Orsay is located on the seventh arrondissement in the Saint-Germain des Pres neighborhood across the left bank of the Seine. Visitors during their Paris city tours can easily reach this museum particularly if they are near the Jardin des Tuileries, as it is only a five-minute walk from there. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 09:30 am to 06:00 pm with the exception of January 01, May 01, and December 25.

The admission rates are €12/€9 for entering the museum and viewing the exhibits. Admission is free during the first Sunday of every month and for children aged 18 and under. In addition, the museum also houses a restaurant, a bookshop, and gift shop that visitors can access.