The Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France, has a powerful reputation as an exceptional modern art gallery, regularly appearing in lists of the greatest art galleries of any type. It focuses heavily on the French influence of the Modern era, primarily through the pre-war period of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. These foundation stone movements, born in France, would ultimately lead to a complete change in perspectives of artists, critics, collectors, and the general public, as to what art could be, and the Orsay dives deep into documenting and celebrating that.
The gallery was created in the old Gare d’Orsay railway station which had been out of use for many years by the 1970s and was due to be demolished; fortunately France’s culture minister refused to demolish such a striking and historic building, but it sat empty for some time. In the early 1970s the Museum of France suggested creating an art museum bridging the gap between the pre-Modern Art Louvre, and the Contemporary Art of the Pompidou Centre, which eventually was agreed to be created in the old station.
Developed over the next decade and opened in 1986 with around 3000 paintings, sculptures, and other items on display. The museum has continued expanding it’s collections, going through a renovation in 2011, and in 2016 receiving a vast donation of 600 art pieces, and a substantial financial donation to add an extension to the building to display them all. The works are currently underway and will also add space for research and education centres by 2026.
Exploring the Impressionist collection of the Orsay art gallery
Housing the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world, the Musée d’Orsay features a mind-blowing list of artworks from great artists. 86 paintings by Monet, 81 by Renoir, 56 from Cézanne, 48 from Courbet, 46 by Pisarro and SIsley, 43 by Degas, 34 by Manet including Luncheon on the Grass, 24 paintings each from Gauguin and van Gogh including Starry Night and Self Portrait, and artworks by Bazille, Klimt, Matisse, Mondrian, Morisot, Munch, Seurat, Signac, Sisley, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Whistler with his famous piece, Whistler’s Mother.
There is a substantial representation of sculpture from the same period of time, and the gallery regularly carries out exchanges with other museums to extend their display offerings of great pieces. Rodin, Gauguin, Bernhardt, and many more of the early Modern Art period’s sculptors are included within the permanent collection.
Examples of architecture, decorative arts, drawing, and photography are all held within the collection expanding on the paintings and scultures, and as you would expect there is an excellent temporary exhibitions program. The exhibitions tend to focus on the work of individual artists, accompanied by a program of tours and workshops circling around the great masterworks and artists in the collection.
An ideal focus for a third great French art museum
Where many cities simply offer traditional or Modern/Contemporary art galleries, some are right to offer something more. The van Gogh museum in Amsterdam is one great example, and the Musée d’Orsay is another; French artists had such a vast role in triggering the Modern Art movement, a gallery looking closely at their work, and that they inspired, is a perfect addition to France’s great art galleries.
One of the largest art museums in Europe, receiving over 3 million visitors per year before the pandemic, the Musée d’Orsay is just outside the ten most popular galleries in the world, but makes up for it with one of the best reputations. Much loved across Europe no doubt for it’s celebration of European art that changed the art world, visitors also rank it highly for innovation, exhibits, and quality of experience, and this should only improve as it expands in the next few years.