Paris’ second most popular museum is by far the Musee d’Orsay after the Louvre. While it is not nearly as large, the venue and art displayed inside is worth its weight in gold. I can honestly say I was overwhelmed when I visited the Louvre and much preferred the Musee d’Orsay. Their focus is on hosting a variety of art just like that of the Louvre. I went in September of 2019.
One of the most impressive facts about the Musee d’Orsay is that it is housed in a former train station! When Paris hosted 1900 World’s Fair, it needed an additional train station to host the large amounts of people flocking to the city. The Gare d’Orsay was one of the most modern stations in Paris; it was one of the first to have luggage ramps and elevators! Unfortunately, however, as technology advanced, the station did not. Newer and longer electric trains brought more train cars and people than the platforms could hold.It was officially closed in 1939 and only used briefly during World War II.
In 1970, the French government gave permission to have the Gare d’Orsay demolished, but Jacques Duhamel, the French Cultural Minister stepped in and vetoed the idea. After 8 years, in 1978, it was declared a historic site. In the same year, it was decided to turn the Gare d’Orsay into a museum by the Director of the Museums of France. There was a need for an additional museum to fill the void between the Louvre and Pompidou Museum of modern art.
Fast forward to 1986…the Musee d’Orsay was officially renovated and opened its doors to the public. Art previously housed at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume was relocated to a new home. As of 2019, more than 9 million visitors plan a trip to the museum each year. The Musee d’Orsay has the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art in the world.
Tickets and Transportation
When you go to the Musee D’Orsay, go early or book tickets in advance, My ticket was included in the price of the Paris Museum Pass. I did not need to make an advance reservation, however, I did need to wait in line. I arrived by foot at about 8:40 and the line was already about twenty people deep. I would plan on spending a minimum of three hours here. You will have to go through a security checkpoint and check any items not allowed inside the museum galleries in a cloakroom. Backpacks are frowned upon.
If you purchase a ticket solely for the museum, they are 16 Euros for those over 18, 13 Euros for EU citizens accompanying a minor under the age of 18. The museum does offer free admittance for EU citizens aged 18-25, under 18, and the first Sunday of the month. Proof of residency is required. The full list can be found here. Note that the museum pass does not include entrance to special exhibits. Those must be purchased separately.
To access the museum, you may walk, utilize the RER and metro trains as well as take the bus. The RER station is located just under the Musee D’Orsay’s building.
Metro: line 12, to Solférino
RER: line C, to Musée d’Orsay
Bus: 63, 68, 69, 73, 83, 84, 87, 94
Taxi: taxi stand and special vehicles quai Anatole-France
Tuesday – Sunday: 9:30 am – 6 pm (Thursdays until 9:45 pm)
When you plan your trip to the Musee d’Orsay, there is no right or wrong order to begin and end with. It always is fun to wander around and see where you will end up. The museum entrance level houses any temporary exhibits, the gallery of statues and art dating to the middle ages.
The ground floor contains the sculptures notable French sculptures including Auguste Rodin, work between 1878 and 1870, and other historical paintings. When I went, much of this floor was closed in preparation for a Degas special exhibit.
The second level features work on naturalism, symbolism, and art nouveau. The terrace here also features more ROdin sculptures and the Salle des Fetes, or Party Room.
The upper, “third” floors will be labeled as the fifth floor. It houses the Impressionists, and unconventional painters.
Exploring the Museum
My plan of attack with the Museum was to skip the audio guide and head straight for the top floor. If you like to hear information about each painting, I would recommend you rent the audio guide, which is available in a multitude of languages. I like to wander.
In the morning, most people work forward and explore the ground floors first. By heading up to the Impressionist rooms and Van Gogh rooms, I had almost the entire gallery to myself to enjoy. You will find yourself wanting to spend the most time here. Monet, Renoir, Manet, and Van Gogh and so many other are just a joy to experience in person. Without having so many people around, enhances the experience.
The top floor features the famous clock where you will find people lining up to take photos, a restaurant, and museum shop. There are also a small number of cafes on the second and ground floors. There is no eating in the galleries allowed. Looking out the windows you will also notice spectacular views of Sacre Coeur and the Louvre.
What I love about the Impressionist paintings are the colors and how full of life the people inside the portraits are. Monet has quite a few more paintings at the Orangerie Museum, but you will be surprised by how many the Musee d’Orsay has in its collection. Van Gogh’s Starry Night is one of the highlights as well.
Heading down to the second floor, I found myself enjoying the Party rooms, and sculptures of Renoir. It can be overwhelming to see so many pieces of art. You will quickly find what you enjoy and what you may pass on. Nevertheless, it is worth it to stroll through all the galleries. I needed to sit at this point and people watch. You will find with the amount of space in the gallery that your feet will need the brief respite.
On the ground floors, look in the back to the museum for a delightful cutout of the Paris Opera House, it was amazing to see how it was constructed and inspired me to plan a visit to the Opera Garnier. I only wish the ballet had been in season.
In a museum like this I would recommend doing a little bit of research so you have an understanding of what you might want to see. There are so many digital resources you can utilize these days. If you have the time, wander around. You never know what might catch your fancy. Don’t go if you are exhausted. The last thing you want is to experience museum fatigue. Go early or late. If you want a tour, spend the money and book tickets for the D’Orsay Masterpiece highlights tour. It’s 1.5 hours and highlights the more important pieces. Spend time examining the architecture of the building and take lots of photos. They are allowed everywhere unless stipulated (no flash as always).