What Is the Orsay Museum?

B. Turner
B. Turner
The Orsay Museum is located along the River Seine.
The Orsay Museum is located along the River Seine.

The Orsay Museum is located on the left bank of the River Seine in Paris, France. This facility houses an impressive collection of impressionist and other art, most of which dates from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The collection at the Orsay Museum includes works by Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh, along with many other well-known painters and sculptors. More than three million people visit the Orsay Museum each year to take in not only its collection of art work, but also its grand architectural style and beautiful waterfront setting.

In 1898, the French government oversaw the construction of the Gare d'Orsay train station on the left bank of the Seine. This station featured an elaborate design that was inspired by the Beaux-Arts style of architecture. The train station was completed in time for the 1900 Paris World Exhibition, and drew rave reviews from visitors. By the start of World War II, the station was no longer large enough to house the more modern trains, and was abandoned as a train station.

From the 1940s through the 1970s the Gare d'Orsay was used as a theater and a movie set before it was finally abandoned. In 1978, the French government contemplated tearing the structure down, but instead decided to transform it into a modern arts museum. Work began on the museum in 1981, and the Orsay Museum opened its doors to the public in 1986.

While the arts collection is a major draw, the Orsay Museum also attracts visitors because of its well-preserved architectural style. In keeping with the Beaux-Arts style, the structure features a grand vaulted hall and an exterior crafted from stone, glass, and metal. It also incorporates a strong Baroque influence, evidenced by elaborate sculptures and statues built into the building's facade.

Inside, the Orsay Museum houses a collection of 2,300 paintings, 1,500 sculptures, and more than 1,000 other works of art in a variety of mediums. Many of these works were done by well-known artists, and are highly valued for their impressionist style. The Orsay Museum is also home to photography exhibits and those focused on architectural design and decor.

The museum is open six days a week, and is typically closed on Mondays, except during peak season. It is open late on Thursday nights, allowing visitors to enjoy the exhibits and take in the building itself during the twilight hours. Guests can browse art-related books and accessories at two museum stores, or take in a meal at the museum cafe or its formal restaurant.

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Discussion Comments


@John57 - I agree with you about not missing this fabulous museum. My husband wasn't too excited about looking at a "bunch of artwork" with me, but I talked him in to it.

He was completely fascinated with the architecture of this structure, and ended up taking a lot of pictures.

I was happy he had something to do as I browsed the collections of art. It was wonderful seeing paintings of so many well known artists in one place.

I don't know if my husband really wants to admit it, but there were several pieces he saw that he was quite impressed with too.

This turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip to Paris.


Even if you are someone who isn't that interested in art, you don't want to miss the Osray Museum if you are visiting Paris.

The grand architecture of this building, inside and out, is well worth the trip. I happened to be there on a Thursday afternoon, and in the evening I could see the lights from this museum as they reflected on the water in front of it.

This was simply breathtaking and something I will never forget. I would have loved to have seen what this building looked like when it was a theater house.

There is so much interesting history in this building, it would have really been a shame if they had torn it down.


@rugbygirl - I agree with you completely about the Louvre vs. the Orsay, especially about the Mona Lisa. You see it and you're like, "Eh, yeah, there it is. Looks just like the million pictures I've seen of it. I thought it would be bigger."

Compare that with the famous painting of Whistler's mother. It almost didn't get painted - his scheduled model, a young girl, didn't show so he asked his mom to fill in. And it is *huge.* Takes up most of a wall as I remember.

So instead of, "Eh, thought it'd be bigger," the impression is more, "I had no idea that painting was so big!" It sneaks up on you as it is in a regular gallery (or was when I was there, which was many years ago); you go into the next room and there it is. Truly a neat experience.


I enjoyed the Orsay so much more than the Louvre. Don't get me wrong, the Louvre is great and it's truly cavernous and something you should see. It has, for instance, an entire room full of nothing but artistic pocket watches. And all that great old classic art.

But seeing the Mona Lisa, for instance, is one of the most famously disappointing experiences a person can have. It is tiny, as you may know, and set deeply back into the wall to protect it. Just not very striking.

Maybe it's just a matter of my taste in art, but I found the Orsay to be much livelier. I like the colors used in the paintings more, I guess. But then, the total sum of my knowledge of art is pretty much limited to "impressionism used dabs of paint" and "the pre-Raphaelites were actually a long time after Raphael."

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    • The Orsay Museum is located along the River Seine.
      The Orsay Museum is located along the River Seine.