Musée d’Orsay houses the most significant collection of impressionist paintings in the world. The Orsay Museum itself is a marvel to behold, as it is housed in a former railway station. It was a postal depot for prisoners of war in WW II. The splendor of Gare d’Orsay gave filmmaker Orson Welles a fantastically evocative set for his film named “The Trial”. This was the Orsay Museum building’s cinematic foray. Many decades later, it was the set for the Martin Scorsese film “Hugo”. The opening scene of Hugo itself shows the giant clockwork of Gare d’Orsay in all its glory.
If you take your time to appreciate the museum’s interior by walking around from one room to the next, then you would have less time to explore the artworks in it. To better appreciate art, make it a point to focus on one wing or two. If you are planning to explore specific artworks when on a Museum Orsay tour, this list would be handy for you.
“Small Dancer Aged 14” by Edgar Degas
This version of “Marie”, a female ballet student at Paris Opera, is made of a different material from that of the original. The original sculpture displayed in the 1881 Impressionist Exhibition was sculpted by Edgar Degas in a human skin-colored wax. The original piece is dressed in fabrics and is topped off with hair that is tied with a strip of fabric.
Edgar Degas is one of the founding members of Impressionism, but he preferred to be referred to as a “realist” instead. This is one of his well-known sculptures, which you must explore during your d Orsay guided tour.
“The Circus” by Georges Seurat
This is a well-known example of pointillism. Two spaces in it are juxtaposed: first, there is the foreground containing the stage for a circus act that are all curves, spirals and arabesques, filled with flamboyant motion and dynamic tension. In contrast with the first one, the second space for the public and seating is motionless, orthogonal, rigid, and strictly geometrical. Compare the first and second one, and there you have it – a jamboree composed of many different elements and one for any art lover or historian on a Museum Orsay tour.
“Luncheon on the Grass” by Edouard Manet
Any PR expert knows that bad publicity is the best publicity. Edouard Manet calculated every ounce of shock factor which his painting unleashed; its big canvas, roughly painted backdrop lacking depth, and shadow-less photographic light all screams for your attention. Sealing his alienation from society, the French artist made its subjects close to his heart (the two men in the painting are his own sibling and brother-in-law, while the nude figure has his favorite model’s head and his wife’s body).
“Banquette de fumoir” by Hector Guimard
Hector Guimard was the brainchild behind the first entrances to the Paris Metro stations. His Art Nouveau-style designs and glass, as well as the associated lettering, created what went on to become popular as the “Métro” style and made Art Nouveau more popular. He was big on furniture and architecture being seamlessly one. This banquette is typical of Art Nouveau, which is reflected in the use of plant-forms – usually with table-legs-like trunks that sprout supple arms or branches of chairs which crawl away like slithering vines.
“Fugit Amor” by Auguste Rodin
The famous “Balzac” sculpture found at Vavin is worth a mention here, but this bronze sculpture one-ups the former as it was a part of “The Gates of Hell”, Rodin’s biggest ever project. He never completed the monumental work of 186 figures, illustrating Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno”, in spite of striving for it for over two decades. This fact very probably left Rodin a tortured soul, similar to his subjects.
“Starry Night Over the Rhone” by Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh painting titled “The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, At Night” has a corner of the night sky. Later, on this subject, he made a different painting titled “Starry Night”, which expresses the violent nature of Van Gogh’s troubled psyche. Trees in the painting are shaped similar to flames while the stars and sky whirl in a truly cosmic vision.
The other “Starry Night” by Van Gogh is housed in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) situated in New York. The one housed in the Paris museum is more serene, which is an impression reinforced by lovers’ presence in it.
“Polar Bear” by François Pompon
An emblematic Orsay Museum piece, the “Polar Bear” brought François Pompon late recognition, at the age of 67 years. He was an assistant, who hewed marble for Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin, and who spent spare time in Paris’s “Jardin des Plantes” garden. After 1905, he turned focus to animals, which he closely observed at the Parisian garden. His best feat in this vein is the “Polar Bear”, also known as “Ours blanc”.