People visit Paris for a variety of reasons, but if I had to guess, I would assume that most visitors are interested in seeing some fantastic French artwork while they are here. Clearly a visit to the Louvre is in order, but also make sure you do not miss another Parisian jewel, the Musée d’Orsay.
Containing mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1915, the Musée d’Orsay has an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. Most impressive of all is the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces including works by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Gauguin and Van Gogh. However, I did enjoy various other pieces that do not fit into either category. For instance, this Delacroix painting The Lion Hunt was probably my favorite piece in the entire museum and I enjoyed a long pause in front of it picturing how awesome it would look on my living room wall. Alas, I decided not to attempt an undercoat carry-away on Delacroix so my walls will remain adorned with Kirkland’s specials and my original photography.
Like most other museums in Paris, the Musée d’Orsay is housed in an architectural piece of art as well. A former train station, Gare d’Orsay, construction began on the impressive Beaux-Arts building in 1898 and was finished in time for the Exposition Universelle of 1900. By 1939, the station’s platforms had become too short for modern trains and so service through the Gare d’Orsay ceased. It was used as a post office during World War II and served as the set for several films throughout the middle of the 20th century. It was almost demolished in 1970, but luckily Jacques Duhamel, Minister for Cultural Affairs, voted against plans to build a new hotel in its place. Four years later, a suggestion was given to use the old train station as a museum to bridge the historical gap between the Louvre and the National Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Pompidou. The Musée d’Orsay opened to the public as a museum in December 1986.
Due to its history as a train station, the Musée d’Orsay has the prominent design features of two massive clocks. From the 5th floor Impressionist gallery, visitors can see outside through the clocks all the way across the river and to the Montmartre area. If the trees look a little bare for June, it is because this picture was taken on my December 2011 visit.
Unfortunately, the museum does not allow photography, but like usual, I was able to sneak a few pictures. This Autoportrait by Vincent Van Gogh was particularly a challenge since the room was packed and several museum employees were giving guided tours of the area.
This smaller copy of the Statue of Liberty is now housed in the Musée d’Orsay. It is an original by artist Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi and a spectacular sight as an American in Paris. You can read the history of this statue here.
My companion for the day, Britt, agreed with me that the Musée d’Orsay, although definitely not superior in size or popularity, is actually a better French art experience than the Louvre. Also, the museum was much less crowded and easier to navigate. A visit to Paris should most definitely include both museums if you have time, but if you are short on time, I would suggest taking in the true French art of the Musée d’Orsay over a hurried rush to see the Mona Lisa from 50 feet away.