Musée d’Orsay houses some of the masterful artworks tracing from France and Europe of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The museum, which now sits on the site of a former railway station with Beaux-Arts architecture, is a must-visit attraction when on Paris walking tours. In fact, Musée d’Orsay is one of the most popular museums in the City of Lights alongside Musée du Louvre.
It will take multiple visits to the national museum in Paris to cover most of its expansive collections. In case you are strapped for time, do catch the below works of art when on a Musée d’Orsay tour to experience it to the fullest.
A Burial at Ornans
Gustave Courbet painted this work during the 19th Century-mid in his trademark Realism style. That art movement started around that time in France after the Revolutions of 1848, which plagued the nation into an economic crisis. It was also a period in French history headlined by public executions used by a guillotine.
The painting reflects a state of secularization, as represented by a group of clergymen portrayed as caricatures facing backwards to Jesus Christ depicted in the background. The scene is a burial and the poor are depicted at the foreground mourning a dead person.
Bal du Moulin de la Galette
While the paintings by Gustave Courbet intended to take the peasantry to the fore, this one by Pierre-Auguste Renoir captures bourgeoisie class and growing café culture, which swept through the 1870’s. Following Baron Haussmann’s renovations, Paris redeveloped from a medieval city into a modern metropolis with cobbled boulevards, charming buildings, open spaces, and restaurants that provided a hangout for a group of artists.
People of that time were more pleasure seekers and rich revelers. That is the kind of lively and noisy vibe of the French people, which Renoir captures in this masterful impressionism painting.
Self-Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh
The post-Impressionist Dutch painter produced a series of paintings, titled “Self-Portrait” of and by himself. Once he moved to the capital city in the late 1880’s and learned the ropes of painting from his French Impressionist contemporaries of that period, Van Gogh amalgamated their works with a Japanese art form named “Ukiyo-e” to create his own trademark style, which was delicate and fluid. Yet, more than a way of self-representation, for the “Christ of the Coal Mines” these self-portraits were an attempt to figure out the coherent self.
His identity and articulation were muddled in parts by a long battle with depression. That state of mind reflects in “Self-Portrait”, which has a backdrop with pleasant brushstrokes but the face gives an inkling to his alienation from society. When you explore through the Van Gogh Gallery on a Musée d’Orsay tour, you can come across 24 paintings by him, including the self-portrait tracing back to 1889 and another one his most famous works titled “The Starry Night.”
Dinner at the Ball
This 1879 painting by Edgar Degas is a masterpiece of a social commentary expressed through the canvas. It is similar to “Bal du Moulin de la Galette” in the sense that it portrays people gathered in a dining room in a party mood, yet it seems more like a warning to the bourgeois’ lifestyle. France, at that time, was still facing decadence, as expressed wonderfully well by the expensive outfits clad in red and gold decorations, posh chandeliers in the room, and the anonymity of the people portrayed in it.
The blurring technique used in this work by Degas not only evokes a sense of manic energy but also suggests that nothing is going to remain stable in a materialistic society. The French artist’s work seems to voice out that it is better not to trade our individuality for excesses and opulence and rightly so.
Tensions surrounding gender roles started to become more prevalent as the nineteenth century progressed, something that this painting underscores. Created by Frédéric Bazille, it depicts some men talking and others analyzing, presumably the paintings, in the painting, which have nude women figures that show a stark contrast to that.
The fine arts experts say that this work symbolizes women, who are trapped in their domestic confines, and only to be objectified voyeuristically by men. It is also said that these men are friends of artists and thus intellectual enough to study their works.
This particular painting, which Paul Cézanne produced as part of a series of oil paintings during the late 1890’s, depicts players fully engrossed in a game of cards. The French painter, much like Gustave Courbet before him, attempts to celebrate commoners who formed the peasantry of Provence.
However, he defers to Courbet in the sense that his artistic medium is full of broad brushstrokes and color tones such as brown and orange conveying the warmth of his native place and its common members. His ‘Apples and Oranges’ displayed in the national museum is another masterpiece.
When on a Musée d’Orsay tour, you can also come across several paintings from these masterful European artists. The trip would be worthwhile only if you pay a visit to the gallery housing the works of Claude Monet, who is arguably the most famous French painter of all time.
The “Blue Water Lillies” is to Monet what painting is to most modern-day artists: a masterpiece and a matter of pride. On the other hand, for the museumgoers, Nymphéas Bleus is a tryst with nature.