"OK, I FINALLY get van Gogh ..." Musée d'Orsay Tip by CatherineReichardt
Musée d'Orsay, Paris: 271 reviews and 546 photos
Given my well documented love of railway stations and enjoyment of 'popular' (some would venture 'middlebrow') art, there was never really any doubt that I was going to enjoy the Musée d'Orsay. What I find most bamboozling is why it took me half a lifetime of adult travel (and a couple of dozen visits to Paris) to make it there!
For fear of stating the obvious, Musée d'Orsay is an art museum that has been established in a beautifully restored railway station on the Left Bank of the Seine and is exclusively devoted to the work of the Impressionists. Because Impressionist art is popular and fairly 'accessible' in its subject matter, the museum is hugely popular with both locals and tourists, and I think that one of the reasons why I've been reluctant to visit before now is that I was simply nervous at the prospect of braving the crowds.
After a few minutes in Musée d'Orsay, you start to feel like you've been wrapped in a cosy blanket, fuelled by a smug glow of self satisfaction as you realise that you actually recognise a good deal of the art on display. It doesn't matter that you last saw that picture on a calender or a greetings card or a biscuit tin: the point is that it's familiar to you, and you can even distinguish between the Degas and the Monet. Joking aside, I think that this is hugely important, as there's a lot of elitist crap talked about art - often couched in terms that are meant to exclude and intimidate - whereas ultimately what's really important is whether it appeals to you and whether or not you can relate to it.
Without meaning to trivialise what is an extraordinary collection, wandering around Musée d'Orsay is really like the 'Greatest Hits' compilation of 19th and early 20th century art. The quality of the exhibits is astounding, and however familiar you might be with a painting in reproduction, to see the colour and brushwork up close adds an entirely different dimension to the work. I have always been a sucker for Degas ballerinas and Renoir's poppy strewn cornfields, but I had never begun to understand the appeal of van Gogh until I saw "Starry Night Over The Rhone" up close. NOW I FINALLY GET IT!!!
I cannot recommend this museum highly enough as one of Paris' absolute 'must sees' - right up there with my all time Parisian favourite, the Musée Rodin. I personally find it preferable to the Louvre because it has a consistent theme and is a manageable size: by contrast, the enormity and vast range of content in the Louvre collection makes me exhausted just to think about it. If you are travelling en famille, it would also be much more accessible to children than the Louvre - indeed, on the day I visited, there were lots of kids who were apparently having a good time.
Despite my misgivings (and admittedly on a cold, damp Sunday in late February), the queues were not too fearsome, and a welcome characteristic is that the ticket will allow you to leave and re enter the museum on the day that you visit, so that you can take a break from the sensory overload.
P.S. If you would like the definitive (and yet accessible) guide to Paris' art treasures, you could do no better than to explore the wonderful Paris page developed by brueghel ... so good that I occasionally take a browse for my own cultural edification, even if I don't have a trip to Paris planned!
Update (October 2011): If you're an art enthusiast, then chances are that you'll also consider visiting the wonderful Rodin museum whilst you're in Paris. If so, bear in mind that it is possible to buy a combined 'passport' for Musee d'Orsay and Musee Rodin, which offers a reduction on the entry fees - see the website below for more details - or just bite the bullet and buy the Paris Museum pass (see my other travel tip).
Directions: Métro: line 12, Solférino station; RER: line C, Musée d'Orsay station
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