Visite du Musée d’Orsay

horloge-gare-orsay-02While most people think of the Louvre as the must-see museum in Paris, for me it’s the Musée d’Orsay.

When we lived in Paris, the Musée d’Orsay was still under construction, being transformed from its former life as a turn-of-the-century railway station into a magnificent art museum. It finally opened just as we left, and since then we had never managed to return for a proper visit. We decided to put that right this time around.

The Orsay museum hosts a vast collection of paintings from 1848 to 1914. I had previously seen some of them in their former home at the Jeu de Paume museum, now dedicated to modern photography. I have a penchant for realism and who doesn’t love the Impressionists?

Orsay clockBut first: the building. To me, it is worth a visit just to see the clocks. The ornate gold clock inside the main hall and the amazing view from behind the big exterior clock through to Sacré Coeur atop Montmartre.

We signed up for a guided tour. I find that having a real, live guide who is able to bring the art works to life with stories makes all the difference. Our French guide was full of anecdotes and amusing details about the artworks and their masters.

Musée d'OrsayWe lingered awhile over this particular painting, by Edouard Manet: Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.

Our guide told us the story of how the painting had been initially rejected for exhibition, not so much for the nudity but for the way it was portrayed, the woman so shockingly naked amongst well-dressed men, implying that she was a prostitute. He added something about how this would never have been accepted in America, given that country’s notorious prudishness. We all nodded, except for one woman, who seemed surprised. He explained that les Américains were not too keen on portrayals of love – l’amour.

That was just wrong. Not love, I interrupted. Sex. L’érotisme. He acknowledged my point, a bit sheepish. He hadn’t wanted to use the word, he explained, given the presence of children. I thought that was rather odd: so now who was being the prude?

I could have spent the entire day just wandering around, and if I lived in Paris I would surely get an abonnement, or membership, so as to be able to come and be with these works on a regular basis.

Or perhaps just to sit in one of these amazing chairs.

Poulpe chair

30 thoughts on “Visite du Musée d’Orsay

  1. It’s our favourite in Paris too … in fact when I first met my husband he asked me what my top pick of museums in the world is. Orsay turned out to be top of both our lists. Which is in some way fortunate. I love your story of the tour guide …. prudish indeed though he would probably insert the word ‘appropriate’ which is a pet hate of mine 🙂

  2. You are totally right that the Musée d’Orsay is splendid though often too crowded as the rooms are much smaller than those of the Le Louvre. We had membership in both : Louvre & Orsay and I visited as often as I could. I even managed to visit every rooms of Le Louvre during our 2 1/2 years stay in Paris…Glad you were able to get a proper visit this time.

    1. Every room in the Louvre! Impressive, even after a long stay. I think I need to back and give it another try. Apparently you can now book ‘after hours’ private tours with a guide, so you avoid the crowds. Thanks Suzanne!

      1. I didn’t know about the private visit but could be interesting but I have noticed that as soon as you get of the room with the Mona Lisa and the way to it, there is barely anyone…I find that most tourists will stick to the few masterpieces and ignore everything else. I was pleased to have managed to visit every room…it was fun.

  3. The timescale for the Museum seems to cover most of the Art Nouveau period and the Arts and Crafts period which I adore.Edward Burne Jones, The Pre-Raphelits, William Morris. I’d never leave there.
    xxx Massive Hugs Mel. xxx

  4. I love, love, love the marble Pan figure feeding the bear cubs honey!! I will never forget turning a corner upstairs and finding myself face to face with what I thought could only be a Sorolla – and indeed it was. What an experience.
    The Orsay is a fabulous museum and I too find that it is my favorite. Getting pleasantly & mildly drunk on Courvoisier, at our waiters instigation, after our lunch in the over the top restaurant was no small pleasure either.

    1. Thanks for sharing your fond memories of the Orsay. Indeed, it seems there are treasures lurking around every corner. We had to give the restaurant a miss as it was packed that day….hopefully next time.

  5. Many people tell me that they prefer the Orsay to the Louvre–they find it less overwhelming, and of course as you said, who doesn’t like Impressionists…

    1. Yes but one of these days I’d love to go back to the Louvre and do a private tour in the evening – apparently it’s open late on certain days.

  6. That painting of the picnic opens up all sorts of disturbing avenues, doesn’t it? I’m not a prude, but the imbalance of /power/ in that painting really disturbed me. Nakedness is usually seen as vulnerabilty, especially when everyone else is clothed, yet the woman in the painting seems perfectly comfortable. Different era, different sensibilities?

    1. Interesting observation. I think the fact that the woman does seem so at ease in her expression is what made me feel somehow that the balance of power was oddly all right.

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