Musée d’Orsay
Orsay Museum

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The Musée d’Orsay is a museum housed in a grand railway station built in 1900. Home to many sculptures and impressionist paintings, it has become one of Paris’s most popular museums.

Orsay Museum, Paris
Orsay Museum

New Railway Stations

At the turn of the nineteenth century, two large railway stations were built in Paris, the Gare de Lyon and the Gare d’Orsay. The Gare d’Orsay had the most prominent site, along the Seine opposite the Louvre. The railway station was planned by the Compagnie d’Orléans, who wanted to bring electrified trains right into the heart of Paris.


Orsay Railway Station clock seen from inside, Paris
A clock seen from inside the museum
Musée d'Orsay at night
The museum at night

The architect first appointed was Eugène Hénard. He intended to use industrial material on the facade facing the Louvre. Facing fierce protests from preservationists, the Compagnie d’Orléans decided to hold a competition supervised by a parliamentary commission. The winner of this contest was Victor Laloux, who had also designed the railway station in Tours, France.

His design was acclaimed for the integration of the metal vault in the stone exterior. The hall measures 140 meters long, 40 meters wide and 32 meters high (459 x 132 x 105 ft.). The whole structure is 175 meters long and 75 meters wide (574 x 246 ft.). An impressive 12,000 ton of metal was used for the construction of the Gare d’Orsay, which is well more than the amount of metal used for the Eiffel Tower.

The Railway Station…

The Gare d’Orsay was inaugurated on the 14th of July 1900 for the Paris World Exposition and was considered a masterpiece of industrial architecture. But soon the platforms had become too short for the now much longer trains and as early as 1939, the Gare d’Orsay was out of use as a train station. Over time, it was used as a parking lot, as a shooting stand, as a theatre location and even as a reception center for prisoners of war.

…Turned into a Museum

Inside the Orsay Museum, Paris
Inside the museum

The train station had been completely abandoned since 1961 when it was saved from demolition by the French president Pompidou. In 1978 his successor, president Giscard d’Estaing, decided to use the Gare d’Orsay as a museum for nineteenth and twentieth century art.

It would not only contain paintings, but it would also cover different art forms, including sculptures, engravings, photos, film, architecture and urbanism.

Restoration of the Musée d’Orsay, as it is now called, started in 1979 and finally on the 29th of November 1986, the museum was inaugurated by the French president, François Mitterrand.


When it opened the museum contained some 2,300 paintings, 1,500 sculptures and 1,000 other objects. Most of these works of art came from other museums, such as the Musée du Luxembourg. Over time, the collection has expanded significantly, mainly due to acquisitions and gifts. It covers a period from the mid-nineteenth century up to 1914 and contains works from Degas, Rodin, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, van Gogh and others.

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