Musee d'Orsay Paris Museum d'Orsay Paris France

President François Mitterrand officially opened a very recent addition to the many museums in Paris, the Musée d'Orsay in December of 1986. The museum is a converted railroad station built in 1900 that houses works of art from the 1800's, especially Impressionist paintings. Measuring over 180m in length, with the main Hall itself over 130m, the museum has about 80 separate galleries representing about 4000 artworks. There are over 2 million visitors per year.


Historical Monuments Paris - Museums

On land owned by Marguerite de Valois, who was famously quoted as saying "Tears may be dried up, but the heart - never", in the early 17th Century, aristocratic buildings, mansions and houses were built during the 18th Century. They would become part of the Quai d'Orsay that was itself begun in 1708 and only completed under Napoleon I. The Palais d'Orsay and the Cavalry Barracks once occupied its present location. Both were destroyed during the violence of La Commune in 1871. The area remained as such for about 30 years.

A picture of Musse D'Orsay from across the river seinne

With the imminent opening of the World Fair in Paris in 1900, the French government permitted the Orleans railway company to build a new station and hotel more central than their Austerlitz one. Naturally, a competition was held and Victor Laloux won it in 1898. He managed to complete the construction by the time the fair opened on the 14th of July 1900, although views quickly developed to transform the station into a museum thus foreseeing the present by over 80 years. His design was unique in that he masked the modern technical interior, which had lifts for luggage, elevators for passengers and underground rails, with a stylish academic façade using stones from the regions of Charente and Poitou. It would remain at the centre of France's southwestern railroad network and was often used a meeting place for political parties.

But, after 1939, the station was reduced to serving the suburbs, because the modernization of the railways coupled with the electrification of the railroads meant that its platforms were too short for the longer more modern trains. After the fall of France to the Germans during the Second World War, it would become a mailing centre for sending packages to prisoners of war. Up to 1973, it was also used a set for films, and then more importantly a resting place for auctioneers while the Hotel Drouot was being rebuilt. The hotel closed its doors on January 1st, 1973. One of its last main public acts was to be the arena for the official return of Charles de Gaulle to power in 1958.

Didnt quite catch the light on the musee right but ... the french flag stands out here as a statement :)

With the station being used less and less, it was soon placed on a Supplementary Inventory of Historical Monuments in March of 1973 thanks to a revival of interest in architecture of the 19th Century. This act saved it from being destroyed to make way for new hotels. So, plans were soon nascent to transform it into a new museum where all the arts of the second half of the 19th Century would be displayed. The official decision to transform it into a museum was made in October of 1977 and it was then classified as a Historical Monument in 1978. A civil commission was then created to oversee the construction of the museum.

A new competition was set up and the ACT group won it. Their designers would be M. Bardon, M.Colboc and M. Philippon as they would respect the original architecture while highlighting the great hall and transforming the glass awning into the museum's entrance. G. Aulenti principally did the interior and used a homogeneous stone covering for the floors and walls and creates the illusion of reducing the station in size. There are three levels: the ground floor where the galleries are set up around the central nave, and then the intermediate terraces with more galleries overlooked by the top floors reaching up to the highest point of the former hotel.