A pleasant six minute stroll from the Hotel Bersolys Saint-Germain brings you to the exquisite Beaux Arts architectural masterpiece called the Orsay Museum. Gathered together here, in one fascinating location in the heart of Paris, is the world’s largest collection of Impressionist paintings, along with superb examples of sculpture, furniture, photography and objets d’art from the 1848 to 1915 period. Here you can view original works by Van Gogh, Renoir, Manet, Gauguin, Degas, Monet and other masters in the setting of a building with an unusual tale to tell.
From railway station to treasure house of masterpieces
It was decided at the end of the 19th century to build a new railway station on the former site of the Orsay Palace, which had been burnt down during the unrest of the Paris Commune in 1871. In those days prior to rail nationalisation, an early French independent railway company was involved in this project. A competition was held to determine who should receive the much sought-after commission to design the new station. This was won by the Beaux Arts architect, Victor Laloux.
Work on the Gare d’Orsay began in 1898 and was completed in 1900 in time for the Paris Universal Exposition of that year. The station served as the terminus for services to and from the southwest of France for a number of years. Unfortunately, however, developments in railway technology led to longer trains being feasible, and this meant that by 1939 the station’s platforms were not long enough to cope with anything other than the suburban services.
In the ensuing years the station served in various capacities. It functioned as a mail sorting depot for sending parcels to P.O.W.s during World War II, a film set and an auction room amongst other uses, but by 1970 its usefulness seemed at an end and it was scheduled for demolition.
However, the Minister for Cultural Affairs, Jacques Duhamel, vetoed this grim fate. An interest in 19th century architecture was reawakening and the former Gare d’Orsay received the benefit of this enlightened attitude. Proposed as an historic monument, it finally made the list in 1978 and its future was secure. In 1977 it was officially decided to turn the building into a museum that would straddle the chronological gap between the collections in the Louvre and those of the National Museum of Modern Art.
In the early 80s the building was restored and refurbished in a way that respected and enhanced the original design of Victor Laloux. It took a full six months to move around 2,000 paintings, over 600 sculptures and many more items into their new home, but in December, 1986, the Orsay Museum was opened by President François Mitterrand.
Today the museum is visited by well over three million people each year. Its three levels contain some of the art world’s greatest treasures and it’s quite easy to find the hours slipping by as you wander, engrossed, amidst the superb collections housed in this wonderful old building.
- Orsay Museum : 62, rue de Lille, Paris 7e
Tel. 0033 (0)1 40 49 48 14
Metro : Solférino, line 12
RER C : Musée d'Orsay
Picture copyright holder : Tourist office Paris - Featured picture : Photographe David Lefranc - Above : Photographe Amélie Dupont
Hotel Bersolys Saint-Germain, a charming hotel of yesteryear located in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, on Paris’ Left Bank.