Orsay,a museum that traces the evolution of French art from 1848 to 1914

Orsay Museum - Detail metal architecture
Detail metal architecture

The Orsay Museum was founded in a former railway station and the late President Mitterrand inaugurated it in 1986.

The museum traces the evolution of French art and society from 1848 to 1914.

This includes various exhibitions of architecture, sculpture, literature as well as opera.

It also displays exhibits from the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Jeu de Paume, both located in the Tuileries gardens.

The Orsay Museum boasts a wide array of art exhibits, but the Impressionist collections are among the finest in the world.

You’ll need half a day at least to fully visit the museum.

It also offers excellent facilities and the restaurant boasts fantastic views over the Louvre and Northern Paris.

Sculptural exhibits on the esplanade of  the Orsay Museum

As you queue to enter the museum, you’ll notice several spectacular animal statues on the esplanade.

Orsay Museum - The Six Continents
The Six Continents

Emmanuel Frémiet sculpted the ‘Young elephant caught in a trap’; Alfred Jacquemart the ‘Rhinoceros’ and Pierre-Louis Rouillard the ‘Horse with harrow’.

Created for the gardens of the Trocadéro Palace for the Universal Exhibition of 1878, they were transferred to Orsay in the mid 1980′s.

The small wall that delineates the southern side of the esplanade serves as pedestal for The Six Continents.

This series of 6 allegorical statues represent women who embody a continent.

You’ll recognize Europe by the sculptor Alexandre Schoenewerk; Asia by Alexandre Falguière; Africa by Eugène Delaplanche; North America by Ernest Eugène Hiolle; South America by Aimé Millet and Oceania by Mathurin Moreau.

The statues fell into oblivion and remained stored for years in the city of Nantes.

The Orsay Museum acquired them in exchange of a painting by Sisley, which is now exhibited in the Musée des Beaux Arts de Nantes.

From a railway station to a museum

The architect Victor Laloux built the Gare d’Orsay in 1900, on the site of the Hôtel d’Orsay, a mansion which was destroyed during the riots of the Commune de Paris of 1871.

Orsay Museum - Main exhibition hall
Main exhibition hall

The Gare d’Orsay is a fine illustration of the metal architecture of the time.

Indeed, Laloux entirely masked the metal structure of the facade with a stone wall to match its architectural to the Louvre Palace‘s on the opposite bank.

He also concealed the interior ceiling with stucco.

The Gare d’Orsay was the terminus for the line serving the southwest region of Paris. 

It was also the first station purposely built for electrified lines.

However, the lack of space made its enlargement impossible and Orsay mainline station was decommissioned in 1939.

It only served the southern suburbs of Paris for a short while, then was fully decommissioned and demolition of the building seriously considered.

Directions: 7th District – Rue de Bellechasse
Metro: Solférino on Line 12
RER C: Musée d’Orsay
Coordinates: Lat 48.859961 – Long 2.326561

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