Claude Monet’s ‘Blue Water Lilies’ hangs in the Musée d’OrsayThe museum is inside a former beaux-arts train station that was built for the 1900 World FairSome of the most celebrated impressionist works can be seen at the museum
12:35 GMT, 13 February 2018
The Musée d’Orsay is home to and some of the iconic works of art the world, with some of the biggest names represented in its collection – Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, Gauguin and Renoir to name but a few. As well as the impressionism, realism and art nouveau masterpieces inside, the museum’s building, which was once a train station, is also impressive. Here’s how to make the most of your trip to Musée d’Orsay.
Opening times: Tuesday–Sunday, 0900–1800. Closed Monday. Open Thursdays until 2145.
Tickets: €12 for adults. Children under 18 and 18–25s from EU member states are free. 18–25s from non-EU states pay a concessionary rate of €9. Entry is free to everyone on the first Sunday of each month.
How to avoid the queues: The Musée d’Orsay is a popular attraction, but there are several ways to skip the queues. One way is to purchase tickets online in advance and get access through reserved entrance C. The links to buy the different types of ticket can be found on the Musée d’Orsay website. Alternatively, visit on a Thursday after 1800, as many people don’t know the museum is open late and the queue is usually shorter. As a general rule, the museum is quieter during the week than at weekends and in the low season (November–March), so you won’t have to wait as long during these times.
History of the Musée d’Orsay
The railway station was built right in the heart of Paris for the World Fair in 1900. It had many uses over the years, but by the 1970s was threatened to be bulldozed and replaced by a big modern hotel. Luckily, it was recognised as an important piece of beaux-arts architecture and saved. It was classified as a historical monument in 1978 and work began on converting it into a museum. The Musée d’Orsay was inaugurated by President Mitterrand in December 1986 and opened to the public a week later.
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Spread over five floors, it’s impossible to see everything at the Musée d’Orsay in one visit. If you have come for a particular type of art, such as impressionism or art nouveau, you can look at the floor plan and head straight to that section. Otherwise, a guided tour might be a good idea so you can get more information about the artworks. ‘Masterpieces of the Musée d’Orsay’ offers a good overview, while thematic tours cover everything from works that have caused scandals to great artistic movements.
To tick off some of the greats, such as Monet’s water lilies and the famous ballerina statues by Degas, head up to the fifth floor. Other notable works, such as Van Gogh’s ‘Self-Portrait’ and Gauguin’s ‘Tahitian Women’, are located on the second floor. To find these pieces easily, download the museum’s app.
The Musée d’Orsay exhibits art from 1848–1914 and in various different styles, but is best known for its impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces. Claude Monet painted hundr of pictures of the waterlilies in the pond at his house in Giverny, each one showing a subtly different climate and time of day. ‘Blue Water Lilies’ is a very close study of the flowers, without any wider context and allows you to see the fluidity of his brushstrokes.
While you’re in Paris, you’re bound to wander into the Montmartre district at some point, so you’ll want to see ‘Bal du Moulin de la Galette’, which shows what it would have been like in 1876. This bustling café scene was painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and hung in the Musée du Louvre until 1986 when it was transferred to the Musée d’Orsay.
Van Gogh’s paintings are instantly recognisable and the museum is home to a number of them. He once described the starry sky as a subject that kept haunting him, so it’s not surprising he painted so many versions of it. ‘Starry Night’ in the Musée d’Orsay was created in 1888 and is somewhat calmer than the more famous one in MoMA in New York that came a year later. He was at the height of his troubled psyche by then, but his distinctive brushstrokes are already evident in this earlier work.
If you prefer realism, then Edgar Degas is the artist for you. His bronze sculpture of a young ballerina called Marie, entitled ‘Small Dancer Aged 14’ is one of the most popular works in the museum. It was one of 150 statues found in the artist’s studio when he died in 1917. It features real hair, a tutu and miniature dancing slippers.
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