History Of Musée d’Orsay

By Harshitha Jagathiesh

Constructed for the 1900 Paris Exposition, the Gare d’Orsay featured an impressive glass-vaulted roof and striking Beaux-Arts architecture. 

The historic building was repurposed into the Musée d’Orsay through an ambitious renovation, providing the perfect setting to showcase 19th-century French art.

Read ahead to learn more about the history of Musee d’Orsay and how it transformed from a railway station to one of the most visited museums in Paris. 

The History Of Musée d’Orsay In A Timeline

The History Of Musée d'Orsay In A Timeline
Image: Galvestonrrmuseum.com

1615: Following the death of Marguerite de Valois, the land across from the Louvre and Tuileries Gardens was sold, leading to the construction of mansions.

1708: Approval is given for constructing a quay along the River Seine, but it is postponed for a century until Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign.

1810-1838: The site was utilized as a cavalry barrack and later transformed into the grand Palace, known as Palais d’Orsay, accommodating the Court of Accounts and the State Council.

1871: The Palais d’Orsay is destroyed by fire during the Paris Commune.

1900: The Gare d’Orsay railway station was built on the site for the 1900 World Fair and was designed by architect Victor Alexandre Frederic Laloux.

1939: Operations at the Gare d’Orsay cease due to advancements in train technology.

World War II: The Gare d’Orsay serves as a mailing center during the war.

1962: Orson Welles films “The Trial” at the Gare d’Orsay.

1973: The Gare d’Orsay closes its doors.

1975: The proposal to convert the railway station into a museum is approved.

1977: The Gare d’Orsay is recognized as a historical landmark.

1986: The Orsay Museum is officially opened by French President Francois Mitterrand, showcasing artworks from the 19th and 20th centuries.

1980s: Art collections from three prominent French museums (National Museum of Modern Art, Jeu de Paume, and Louvre) are relocated to the Orsay Museum.

Detailed History Of Musée d’Orsay

The origins of the Musée d’Orsay date back to the early 1600s.

During this time, the gardens of Queen Marguerite de Valois were sold off and developed into an upscale residential neighborhood in the early 18th century. 

In the early 1800s, under Napoleon, plans were made to build quays along the river bank for docking.

1810-1838, military stables and accommodations occupied part of the space. 

Then, in the mid-19th century, a huge, prestigious building dubbed the Palais d’Orsay was constructed to house government offices and bureaus. 

Tragically, the palace was largely destroyed during the violence of the Paris Commune in 1871.

For the 1900 World’s Fair, the state-of-the-art Gare d’Orsay railway station was built on the site, one of the world’s first train stations to use electric lighting. 

The ornate Beaux-Arts style station served as a city transportation hub for decades before being made obsolete by newer high-speed rail lines.

After closing in 1939, the Gare d’Orsay narrowly avoided demolition when impassioned activists campaigned to preserve the historic building in the 1970s. 

Plans were made to adapt the former train station into the Musée d’Orsay, which opened to the public in 1986 after careful renovations.

Today, the Musée d’Orsay welcomes millions of visitors annually to experience its phenomenal collection of 19th-century art.

The museum is home to historical masterpieces from Impressionist masterworks like Renoir’s Bal du moulin de la Galette to Van Gogh’s vivid Nuit étoilée. 

Featured Image: Mymodernmet.com

About the author

Harshitha’s heart lies where greeny mountains meet stretches of beach. She believes getting lost is the best way to explore