15 March 2016
Loving the Louvre is easy, it’s like the smash hit single that never disappoints no matter how many times we listen. If we flip to the B side and walk across the Seine, in the shadow of the Tuileries, we fall in love with our next favorite art jam, the Musee d’Orsay. Housed in a former beaux-arts train station, the opulent structure provides a perfect backdrop for viewing an extensive collection of French masters. When viewing the Orsay, we often catch ourselves saying, “I can’t believe all of these paintings are in one place.” On display are some of the world’s most famous works from 1848 to the early twentieth century including the Realist, Impressionist, and Post-Impressionist movements, by the likes of Van Gogh, Courbet, Monet, Manet, Degas, Seurat, and Matisse.
Our walking tours of the Orsay museum, led by credentialed art historians, offer an in-depth, immersive look at the world-class collection in a dynamic and digestible manner. Below you’ll find details of our walking tours as well as insider tips to help you prepare for your visit to the Orsay museum.
PLANNING YOUR VISIT TO THE ORSAY
When to visit the Orsay Museum?
We find the best time to visit the museum is during the once per week evening opening hours. The Musee d’Orsay hours are normally Wednesday to Sunday, 9:30 am to 6:00 pm; however on Thursdays the museum remains open until 8 pm. Visiting in the evening practically guarantees diminished crowds, which means shorter entrance lines and the space in which to tranquilly take in the art.
The busiest times to visit the museum are Mondays and Sundays. The Orsay is closed Tuesdays. We recommend purchasing tickets prior to your visit so that you can avoid long ticket lines. We provide skip-the-line Musee d’Orsay tickets on all of our tours.
How do I find the Orsay?
The Orsay is located on the Left Bank. The nearest métro stops are Solférino or Assemblée Nationale on line 12, or Musée d’Orsay on the RER B. The meeting point for our Orsay tour is just nearby—you’ll receive these details in your confirmation text.
Do you have a recommendation for lunch after our visit?
The Orsay has a number of dining options in house, ranging from the very casual to the more formal. If you’re interested in dining in the surrounding neighborhood, it’s best to avoid the restaurants just facing the museum, as these tend to cater to tourists (and have inflated prices).
Contact us for our up-to-date restaurant suggestions.
Is the Orsay wheelchair accessible?
The museum is accessible. There are elevators throughout and, if you are visiting on your own, you can print a wheelchair accessibility guide from the the museum website.
ORSAY INSIDER TIP
Most visitors to the Orsay museum make a beeline for the Impressionist halls. Though they are absolutely not to be missed, the halls can be very crowded depending on the time of day.
Instead of starting there, head to the Salle des Fêtes, which, according to Context docent and historian Pablo Vazquez-Gestal, “is a very bombastic Third-Republic . . . flamboyant room . . . with a great view on the Seine. It is usually empty, but gives you the idea of Paris as capital of the opulent, decadent fin-de-siècle and also a sheer contrast with the art that is just next door.”
TOUR THE ORSAY WITH CONTEXT
Our small-group tours (never more than 4 in a group) offer an opportunity for in-depth analysis of the collections and engaging conversation with your docent. We arrange advance skip-the-line Musee d’Orsay tickets on all our tours (contact us if you plan to have a Paris Museum Pass).
Musée d’Orsay and Paris in the Nineteenth Century – A stimulating introduction to French painting and sculpture of the latter half of the nineteenth century. Whether you are new to the collection or visiting for the umpteenth time, viewing the collection from the perspective of a credentialed art historian is an enriching experience for the intellectually curious.
If booked privately, we may be able to design a tour to focus on one particular movement, or even the current temporary exhibition. Please contact us for more information.
Musée d’Orsay for Families – Our child-oriented introduction to the museum is led by art historians specially-trained in working children and teaches our youngest spectators not only about the art movements of the late nineteenth-century but also how to “read” and appreciate art.
The museum often arranges events, ranging from symposiums to classical music concerts. See the Musée d’Orsay calendar for information on events during your stay.
Impressionism: Origins, Practice, Reception – Belinda Thomson
The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays – Charles Baudelaire
The Letters of Vincent van Gogh – Vincent van Gogh
Lire la peinture de Cézanne – Laure-Caroline Semmer [in French]
Les oeuvres-clés de l’Impressionnisme – Laure-Caroline Semmer [in French]
The museum shop also has a substantial library of books for sale.
16th century – The site of the museum was part of a garden belonging to Queen Marguerite de Valois
17th century – The site is divided into lots upon which private mansions are constructed
1708 – Construction of the Quai d’Orsay begins
1782 – Construction begins on the Hôtel de Salm (today the Musée de la Légion d’honneur), across from the museum
1810 – Construction begins on the Palais d’Orsay, on the current site of the museum
1871 – The Palais d’Orsay is burned to the ground during the Paris Commune
1898 – Construction begins on the train station, Gare d’Orsay, finishing in time for the 1900 World’s Fair. The Gare d’Orsay was the head of the southwestern French railroad network
1939 – The site ceases to be used as a train station (as electricity grew in popularity and trains became longer, the Orsay station’s short platforms were rendered unusable)
WWII period – Building is used as a mailing center
1977 – It is decided that the Musée d’Orsay should occupy the former Gare d’Orsay
1978 – The building is classified a historical monument
1986 – The Musée d’Orsay opens to the general public
ADDITIONAL PLACES TO VISIT IN PARIS
Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter – These two neighborhoods on the Left Bank (in French: Rive Gauche), a mere 15-20 walk from the museum, are steeped in history and worth concerted exploration. Our Rive Gauche Stroll provides a historical overview of the area.
Luxembourg Garden – The expansive, tree-lined Jardin du Luxembourg is located in the 6th arrondissement, not far from the Musée d’Orsay. It was designed in the 17th-century for Marie de’ Medici, meant to flank her newly-constructed Luxembourg palace.
Musée Marmottan – A small museum in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, formerly a private mansion, how houses a diverse collection of Impressionist pieces including the world’s largest collection of work by painter Claude Monet. Those interested in exploring the museum with Context may enjoy our Monet Seminar, which also includes a visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie.
Montmartre – This quaint neighborhood in the northernmost arrondissement of Paris was once a center for bohemian culture in the era of the Impressionists. Indeed, Renoir’s masterpiece Bal du moulin de la Galette was painted at a private club next to one of the area’s famed windmills, which itself is still standing. Context offers a seminar on the history of the Montmartre area.
Giverny – Visitors enchanted by the en plein air work of Monet may enjoy an excursion to the gardens where he produced much of his later work. An easy train ride out of town, a visit to the Monet Foundation in the tiny Norman village of Giverny makes for an enjoyable half-day. Context also organizes art-historian led visits.