d'Orsay - Paris 7th
Although the museum only opened its doors in 1986, the building
and the collections both date back much further than this. It occupies
the old Orsay Station and Hotel building, which opened in 1900,
on the site of the old Palais d'Orsay1. Victor Laloux, architect
of the Hotel de Ville in Paris, was given the demanding task of
designing a large modern railway terminal which would fit in with
the elegant surroundings of the Louvre, the Tuileries, and the Palais
de la Légion d'honneur. This was a challenge because the
pragmatic necessities involved in building a modern functional station
were incompatible with the prevailing local architecture. So although
the station itself is attractive enough, its integration with the
surroundings was achieved by making the Hotel d'Orsay act as an
aesthetically pleasing facade on the river side.
By 1939, the station had lost its central role in France's southwestern
rail network. Longer trains had been introduced on the main lines
and so it was relagated to suburban services. By the 1970s the building
was threatened with destruction, to be replaced by a modern hotel.
Fortunately this beautiful building was spared when it was listed
on the Supplementary Inventory of Historical Monuments in 1973 and
then classified as a Historical Monument in 1978.
When the station was converted into a museum, it was modified according
to the ACT architecture group's2 plans. Whilst the exterior is largely
unchanged, their most striking contribution is the design of the
interior of the great hall, integrating three levels of galleries
down each side. It does not diminish the vast expanse of the hall,
and yet it transforms its character. By comparison, the turbine
hall in London's Tate Modern gallery, while impressive, seems like
a big but rather non-descript empty space.
An important factor in the building's reprise was the choice of
the Direction des Musées de France to use it as a museum
to contain art from the second half of the 19th Century. The official
decision to build this museum in the Orsay station was made in 1977.
The collections it now contains originate mainly from The Louvre,
the Musée du Jeu de Paume and the Musée National d'Art
Moderne (originally installed in the Centre Pompidou).
The museum focuses on a fairly narrow period - the latter half
of the 19th Century and first decade and a half of the 20th Century.
By concentrating on a relatively short time span, it is able to
expand the scope of the collection beyond painting and sculpture
to a greater extent than most museums, with extensive exhibits of
furniture, photography, decorative arts and architecture.
An exhaustive catalogue of the works on display would be excessive
here, but to give a brief idea of what's available, there are many
paintings and pastels by Ingres, Delacroix, Degas, Moreau, Millet,
Courbet, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Cézanne,
Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, and Toulouse-Lautrec, to name but a few.
More info for a guided visit of the different paintings:
1 Rue de Bellechasse
Tél. : 01.40.49.48.14
10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
Summer: 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. every day except Monday
Until 9.45 p.m. Thursdays
7 Euros ; 5 Euros and for everyone on sunday