One of the most visited museums in Paris, the Musée d’Orsay houses the biggest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist pieces in the World, and among them are some very important masterpieces.
Located on the left bank of the Seine River in the building that belonged to the Gare d’Orsay, a railway built in 1900, something noticeable once you get to the interior hall and see the station clock hanging.
The Musée D’Orsay’s collection consists of mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914 and is famous for keeping the biggest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artworks in the world.
The items on display include sculptures, furniture, painting, and photography. In this post though, we will focus on the most famous paintings in the Musée d’Orsay, covering works of famous painters such as Monet, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh, and others.
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Famous Paintings in the Musée d’Orsay
1. Dance at le Moulin de la Galette – Renoir.
One of my favorite paintings. Renoir painted it in 1876.
Moulin de la Galette in Montmartre was a popular place during the 19th century, especially among the working class, who used to go there on Sundays to meet, dance, have a drink, and enjoy their free time.
This is exactly what this image depicts. A snapshot of people ice skating and enjoying themselves during their day off on a Sunday afternoon.
The painting is crowded with people and super-rich in details, every corner has something to admire. The beautiful dresses the women wear or the guys enjoying the view from their table.
It is one of the most famous paintings in the Musée d’Orsay, and probably one of the most famous artworks on display in Paris.
2. The Origin of the World – Gustave Courbet
This painting by Gustave Courbet was probably commissioned by its first owner, Khalil-Bey, a Turkish-Egyptian diplomat, they say he was a flamboyant figure in Parisian society back in the 1860s but still, I wonder how he came up with this idea…and why.
Anyways, artistically speaking, well, we all came from there right? So why not admire it for a second?
It was not the first time Courbet painted a naked female body, he was pretty good at it, but it was definitely the first time he, or anybody else, ever painted such a realistic and almost anatomic description of the female sexual organ.
Although the explicit image was painted in such a way that gives zero pornographic connotation. It is definitely an admirable painting.
3. Self-Portrait – Van Gogh
You don’t want to leave Paris without seeing such a famous painting, do you? Well, you shouldn’t miss the chance to find yourself face-to-face with Van Gogh…or almost.
Van Gogh, just like some other painters of his time, loved to paint self-portraits, part of it may have been due to the lack of money to pay for models though. During his career, he painted forty-three self-portraits.
This one specifically, might be the last self-portrait Van Gogh ever painted, this info is questionable though.
The technic as you can imagine, consisted of looking at himself in the mirror, basically. It demands a lot of (critical) observation that can end up leading to identity crises, something that Van Gogh is, unfortunately, famous for.
After concluding this portrait, Van Gogh sent it to his young brother Theo, the art dealer.
The Van Gogh artworks are, without a doubt, the most famous paintings in the Musée d’Orsay.
4. Starry Night Over the Rhône – Van Gogh
A truly Van Gogh classic. You have probably seen this painting around as it is one of his most famous artworks of him.
Van Gogh actually painted more than one Starry Night, different scenes but both depict a dark sky full of shining stars. The other painting is part of the MoMA collection in New York.
This scene of the Rhone River is just a two-minute walk away from the Yellow House, a house in Arles, France which Van Gogh was renting at the time he painted the Starry Night Over the Rhône, in 1888. He also painted the Yellow House which is now on display in the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.
Besides the beautifully strong brushstrokes of Van Gogh, what calls attention to this masterpiece is the well-captured reflection of the stars in the water.
5. Bedroom in Arles – Van Gogh
There are actually three versions of this painting, the one in Musée d’Orsay is the third version.
It depicts the room of the artist when he was staying in the Yellow House in Arles. Van Gogh decided to travel to Arles with the intention of creating a place where painters could go live and work together in a beautiful scenario with much more sunlight than in Paris.
The room as we see in the image was organized by Van Gogh and the painting on the wall was made by himself.
Looking at this art, the first thing we notice is the weird angle of the image. Although Van Gogh in fact said in a letter to his brother and art dealer Theo, that he had ‘flattened’ the interior, the room, however, was indeed skewed.
6. The Siesta – Van Gogh
This one is one of my favorites of Van Gogh. I love the colors and the calm vibe of this painting, it is also considered one of his masterpieces.
Van Gogh painted this piece while he was interned in a mental asylum. The idea for this painting was taken from a drawing called Noonday Rest by Millet, an artist who Van Gogh often used for inspiration as he thought Millet was far “more modern than Manet”.
Comparing the two pieces, the composition is quite the same, however, Van Gogh makes sure to emphasize his own style.
7. Portrait of Dr. Gachet – Van Gogh
Van Gogh is never enough, so let’s admire another masterpiece of his, this one is one of Vicent Van Gogh’s most revered pieces.
Dr. Gachet was a homeopathic doctor famous for treating Van Gogh during the last months of his life. Dr. Gachet was a painter himself and a great admirer of Impressionism.
Van Gogh painted two versions of this portrait, both in June 1890, both portraits showed the doctor in the same position, what doffer both paintings are the colors and the style used. The one displayed in Musée d’Orsay is the second version.
8. The Rue Montorgueil in Paris – Monet
Although most people believe this painting shows the celebration of the 14th of July, the Bastille Day, it actually depicts a celebration of the 30th of June of 1878, which was declared that same year as the “Peace and Work Day” by the government.
This event happened due to the third Universal Exhibition in Paris, which had just opened some weeks before.
This “Peace and Work Day” celebration was a big opportunity for the government to strengthen the position of the Republican regime during the turbulent period France was facing.
In this painting, which seems to put us in the place of a spectator looking from one of the windows of the high buildings, Monet shows us an urban view with great AMPLITUDE. His strokes, a famous technique of Monet give a great sense of movement to the flags. Looking at this painting, it is impossible not to feel like part of the crowd.
9. The Gleaners – Millet
Completed in 1857 by Millet, this painting shows three peasant women gleaning (collecting the leftover crops) in a field of wheat after the harvest.
This was a common practice back then among the underprivileged class and people who practiced it were considered the lowest rank in the rural society.
When this piece was presented to the public, it was not well accepted by the French middle and upper class, who received the piece with negative criticism and found it a controversial topic.
Back then, France had just come out of the French Revolution of 1848, and this piece was seen as a reminder that French society was built upon the labor of the lower class.
10. Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 – James McNeill Whistler
Also known as Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, the American artist James McNeill Whistler painted his own mother, Anna McNeill Whistler during the time she was living in London with her son, hence the name of this painting.
This masterpiece is considered an icon of American art and although its official house is the Musee d’Orsay, it usually goes on tours around the world.
After finishing his art, Whistler presented his painting to the Royal Academy of Art in London which completely rejected his project. This was the last art he ever presented at the Royal Academy of Art.
11. On the Beach – Manet
The fast brushwork technique in this image is unmistakable, it is a Manet’s painting!
Manet in this image invites us to join a couple in a leisure time by the sea. The lady wearing her beautiful cotton dress reads a book while her husband admires the sea. Painted in the Summer of 1873, when the artist was spending three weeks with his family this painting gives a sneak peek into the daily life of people centuries ago.
With his brush technique, Manet gives fluidity to the image, we can almost hear the waves breaking on the shore.
Information about the Musée d’Orsay
It has four main entry lines, marked by the letters A, B, C, and D.
Entrance A: For visitors that haven’t bought their tickets yet (this tends to be the longest entrance line)
Entrance B: For adults that have made a prior reservation
Entrance C: For AFMO members, visitors who have already purchased their tickets, pass holders, visitors with special needs, and disabled persons.
Entrance D: For school groups
Tickets and Tours
I strongly recommend buying the ticket beforehand so you can avoid the longest line to get inside. You can find the ticket and tour options below:
For those of you who plan to visit more than one museum on your trip to Paris, I highly recommend getting the Museum Pass that gives you access to the most important and famous museums in Paris. You can also go for the Paris Pass which includes a total of 80 attractions in Paris, including museums.
Hours: The museum is open from 9 am to 6 pm, on Thursday it is open until 9:45 pm, on Monday, it is closed.