Musee d'Orsay Art Museum, Paris
Famous Art Gallery in Paris: Impressionist, Post-Impressionist Painting Collections.

The Gleaners (1857) (detail)
A masterpiece of rural genre painting
by Jean-Francois Millet, an important
member of the Barbizon School.
Among many top works of 19th century
French art in the Musee d'Orsay, one
of the best art museums in Europe.

Musee d'Orsay (Paris)


Permanent Collection
Decorative Arts
Contact Details/Opening Hours

The Ballet Class (1871-4)
by Impressionist Edgar Degas.

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One of the best art museums in the world and the greatest repository of 19th century French painting, the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, France, is situated on the left bank of the Seine, in the Beaux-Arts-style building (1898-1900) formerly occupied by the Gare d'Orsay railway station. The Musee d'Orsay's collection focuses on French modern art from 1848 to 1915, and is renowned for its unique collection of Impressionism and Post-impressionism paintings by artists such as: Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh, most of which were taken from the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, also in Paris.

History of the Museum

Construction of the aristocratic neighbourhood of the Quai d'Orsay began in 1708 near the Pont Royal, and was finished about 100 years later during the reign of Napoleon I. During the early decades of the 19th century (1810-38), two buildings were set up on the site of the future Orsay station: the Cavalry barracks and later the Palais d'Orsay. The latter was burned to the ground in May 1871 during the Paris Commune: its ruins serving as a visible reminder over the next 30 years, of the horrors of civil war.

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For a list of great works
see: Greatest Modern Paintings.

For details of the world's most
highly priced works of art, see:
Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings


Eventually, a railway station (Gare du Quai d'Orsay), designed by Victor Laloux, was errected on the site of the Orsay Palace in time for the 1900 World's Fair (l'Exposition Universelle). Thereafter, the Gare d'Orsay functioned as the head of the southwestern French rail network. Unfortunately, by 1939, the station's relatively short 135-metre platforms had become too short for the new generation of longer, modern trains, and its use was progressively curtailed. Put up for sale in 1961, by its owners the French state rail company (SNCF), it finally attracted the attention of President Georges Pompidou, in 1973, as a site for a new museum of French fine art (covering the years 1848-1914), which might relieve the overcrowded facilities at the Musee du Louvre, the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, and other locations.

Classified as a historical monument in 1978, and subject to endless bureaucratic wrangling, the necessary renovation - involving the creation of 20,000 square metres of new floorspace on four floors - was completed in 1986, three years behind schedule, and millions of francs over budget. The Musee d'Orsay opened its doors to the public on December 9th, 1986.

Musee d'Orsay Permanent Collection

The Musée d'Orsay holds about 6,000 works of art (excluding photographs), of which roughly 3,000 are on permanent display. The remainder are stored pending re-use in temporary exhibitions, or are on loan to other museums.

The permanent was formed with contributions from three different sources:

• The Louvre museum contributed works of artists born after 1820 or coming to the fore during the Second Republic;
• The Musee du Jeu de Paume contributed its collection of modern art, notably its Impressionism and Post-Impressionism works;
• The National Museum of Modern Art (since 1976, in the George Pompidou Centre) contributed its collection of works of artists born before 1870.


Painting Collection

Highlights of the Musee d'Orsay's collection of fine art painting includes the following works:

Frederic Bazille (1841-70)
Family Reunion (1867)
Bazille's Studio (The Artist's Studio) (1870)

Eugene Boudin (1824-98)
On the Beach, Trouville (1863)

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-94)
The Floor Scrapers (Raboteurs de Parquet) (1875)

Mary Cassatt (1845-1926)
Young Woman Sewing (c.1886)

Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)
The House of the Hanged Man (1873)
The Bridge at Maincy (1879)
Mont Sainte-Victoire Paintings (1882-1906)
Woman with a Coffee Pot (1890-5)
The Card Players (1892-6)

Gustave Courbet (1819-77)
A Burial at Ornans (1850)
Studio of the Painter: A Real Allegory (1855)

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910)
The Iles d'Or (The Iles d'Hyeres) (c.1892)
The Evening Air (c.1893)

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
The Bellelli Family (1858-9)
Race Horses in front of the Stands (1866-8)
The Ballet Class (1871-4)
Absinthe (1876)
Portraits at the Bourse (1878-9)
Women Ironing (1884)
Woman Combing Her Hair (1887-9)

Paul Gauguin (1848-03)
Portrait Of the Artist with the Yellow Christ.
An important example of Post-Impressionist painting (1880-95).

Edouard Manet (1832-83)
Le Dejeuner sur L'Herbe (1863)
Olympia (1863)
The Balcony (1868)
Portrait of Emile Zola (1868)
Portrait of Berthe Morisot (1872)

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Luxe, Calme et Volupte (Luxury, Calm and Voluptuousness).

Ernest Meissonier (1815-91)
Napoleon Returning from Soissons after the Battle of Laon: 1814 (1864)

Jean-Francois Millet (1814-75)
The Gleaners (1857)
The Angelus (1859)

Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Women in the Garden (1866-7)
Poppy Field (Argenteuil) (1873)
Gare St Lazare (1877)
Rouen Cathedral paintings (1892-4) Various art museums
The Water Lily Pond: Green Harmony (1899)
Water Lilies (Nymphéas) (1897-1926) series

Gustave Moreau (1826-98)
Orpheus (1865)

Bertha Morisot (1841-95)
The Cradle (1872)

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
The Red Roofs (1877)
Vegetable Garden with Trees in Blossom, Spring, Pontoise (1877)
Boulevard Montmartre paintings (1897-8) series

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Young Boy with a Cat (1868)
Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876)
The Swing (1876)
Path Leading Through Tall Grass (1877)
The Bathers (1918)

Paul Serusier (1864-1927)
Landscape: Bois d'Amour (The Talisman) (1888)

Georges Seurat (1859-91)
The Circus (1891)

Paul Signac (1863-1935)
The Papal Palace, Avignon (1900)

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Canal St Martin (1870)
Chemin de la Machine, Louveciennes (1873)
Misty Morning (1874)
Snow at Louveciennes (1878)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
Portrait of Yvette Guilbert (1894),

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Arrangement in Grey & Black: The Artist's Mother (1871)

See also our article: How To Appreciate Paintings.

Other famous painters whose works are represented in the Musee d'Orsay, include: Edouard Vuillard, Henri Rousseau, Maurice Denis, Edvard Munch, Gustav Klimt, and Piet Mondrian, among many others.

Sculpture Collection

By the time it opened, the Musee d'Orsay had amassed roughly 1,200 pieces of sculpture, taken mainly from the Musee du Luxembourg, the Louvre and other state art galleries. By dint of a vigorous acquisitions policy, its sculpture collection now numbers over 2,200 pieces.

Highlights include works by famous sculptors such as: David d'Angers, Antoine-Louis Barye, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Jules Cavelier, Camille Claudel, Auguste Bartholdi (The Good Samaritan, 1853), Honore Daumier, Paul Gauguin, Constantin Meunier, Francois Rude, and Auguste Rodin. Other artists represented include: Chapu, Dalou, Falguiere, and Fremiet.



The Musee d'Orsay's drawing collection encompasses artists born after 1820 and before 1870, although exceptions have been made: for instance, the great Henri Matisse (born in 1869) is excluded, except for his painting Luxe, Calme et Volupte (1904), while some artists born before 1820 are included, such as Francois Bonvin, Gustave Courbet, Charles-Francois Daubigny, Honore Daumier, Henri Harpignies, Ernest Meissonier and Jean-Francois Millet.

The graphics collection now amounts to more than ten thousand drawings, including masterpieces like: The Black bow by Georges Seurat, Portrait of Manet by Edgar Degas, the Self-Portrait by Gustave Courbet, drawings by Herman-Paul covering the the Dreyfus trial in Rennes, as well as many other by the greatest draughtsmen of the second half of the 19th century.

Decorative Arts

Being devoted to the arts of the second half of the 19th century, the Musee d'Orsay has been endowed with a program which aims to celebrate the links between architecture, painting, sculpture and decorative art, which emerged from the beginning of the Second Empire. During the work-up to opening, museum curators succeeded in putting together a decorative arts collection of some 1,000 items. Sources included: the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, the Musees-chateaux de Fontainebleau, Compiegne and Malmaison, the Musee de Cluny, the Louvre etc). This has since been enlarged in several different directions.

Decorative Art Collection

Highlights include: porcelain from Sevres and tapestry art from the Beauvais and Gobelins tapestry factories, furniture by Roudillon, Fourdinois and Diehl (including a large medal cabinet decorated with bronzes by Fremiet), wood carvings from the Gueret brothers, bronze objets d'art by Barye, Crozatier and Barbedienne, faience and glasswork by Galle, stained glass by Gruber, stoneware by Carries and Hoentschel, silver by Follot, vases by Otto Eckmann, chairs by Carlo Bugatti, a cabinet by Gimson, hangings by Voysey, gold work by Hoffmann, glasswork by Kolo Moser, stained-glass windows by Tiffany, cast iron ornaments by Guimard and rare white furniture by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Other Art Nouveau artists represented include designers and architects such as: Victor Horta (1861-1947), Serrurier-Bovy, Carabin, Carot, Alexandre Charpentier, Coulier, the Daum brothers, Healy, Adolphe Loos, Majorelle, Vallin, Van de Velde, Otto Wagner, and Frank Lloyd Wright.


In 1977, when the decision was taken to convert the Gare d'Orsay railway station into a museum for 19th century painting, sculpture and drawing, no fine arts museum in France possessed a photography section. Despite this space was allocated in the Musée d'Orsay for just such an exhibit. This meant however that the collection had to be built up from scratch since neither the Musée du Luxembourg, the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume or the Louvre had any fine art photography.

Cutting a long story short, by the time the Musée d'Orsay opened, its photographic collection amounted to some 12,000 photographs - which has since risen (2008) to 45,000. Highlights include works by Ferdinand Knopff, Jean Laurent, Man Ray, Stieglitz, Le Secq, Aldolphe Humbert de Molard, Maurice Denis and Roger Fenton.

Contact Details

Musee d'Orsay
1, rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 75007 Paris.
Telephone: 01-40-49-48-14.
Admission: €8.00 adults; €5.50 ages 18-30; free for ages 17 and under.
Opening Hours: Daily, 9.30am-6pm; closed on Mondays.

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