History of the Musée d’Orsay Building: from station to museum
“The station is superb and resembles a Palace of Fine Arts” wrote the painter Edouard Detaille in 1900. Eighty-six years later, his prophecy came true. With its unique architecture adding to the magic of the experience, the building could be seen as the first “work of art” in the Musée d’Orsay collections. But it very nearly didn’t exist at all.
Une gare pour l’exposition universelle
In the center of Paris, the museum was built on the site of the former Palais d’Orsay, begun in 1810, which successively accommodated the Conseil d’État (Council of State) and the Cour des comptes (Court of Accounts). Burnt down in 1871 during the violent upheaval known as the Paris Commune, it was left in ruins until Victor Laloux built the Gare d’Orsay, the new terminus of the Orléans railway company, for visitors to the 1900 Universal Exhibition.
Inaugurated on 14 July 1900, the Gare d’Orsay benefited from all the latest technical innovations: electric traction trains, baggage conveyors, lifts, etc. At the time, the building also included a luxury hotel, the Hôtel du Palais d’Orsay. The legacy of its former smoking room and ballroom can still be seen in today’s restaurant.
La gare est cependant rapidement dépassée par l’évolution du chemin de fer. Sa fréquentation se limite aux trains de banlieue. A la Libération, en 1945, elle est utilisée pour accueillir des prisonniers et des déportés de guerre. En 1961, elle est même à vendre, sans pour autant trouver preneur.
Tour à tour décor de cinéma – en 1961, Orson Welles y tournera le Procès, adapté de Kafka -, parking, stand de tir, salle de ventes… le lieu connait des destins divers. En 1958, le général de Gaulle y annoncera son retour en politique, et le chapiteau de la compagnie théâtrale Renaud-Barrault s’y installera pendant près de dix ans.
L’avenir de ce monument, classé à l’inventaire des Monuments historiques en 1978, suscite de vifs débats. Plusieurs projets de réaménagement voient le jour. À la fin des années 1970, le gouvernement tranche en faveur de la création d’un lieu culturel dédié aux arts de la seconde moitié du XIXe siècle. La transformation en musée est confiée au cabinet A.C.T. Architecture et à la célèbre architecte et designer italienne Gae Aulenti pour son aménagement intérieur.
Après quelques années de travaux, le nouvel édifice est inauguré le 1er décembre 1986 par le Président de la République François Mitterrand. Une semaine plus tard, les premiers visiteurs découvrent les collections.
However, the station very quickly became outdated as the railways developed, and its use was limited to suburban trains. In 1945, it was used to accommodate prisoners of war and deportees. Up to 1980, it served a number of purposes: it was used as a set for Orson Welles’ film The Trial in 1961, and as a car park, a shooting range, an auction house... General de Gaulle announced his return to politics from there in 1958, and the Renaud-Barrault marquee was installed there for about 10 years to accommodate its theatre company. The preservation of this monument in the center of the capital was the subject of much debate. Several redevelopment projects were put forward, but it was only in the late 1970s that the government decided in favor of creating a place dedicated to the arts of the second half of the 19th century. The transformation of the station into a museum was entrusted to A.C.T Architecture, and the interior conversion to the famous Italian architect and designer Gae Aulenti. The Musée d’Orsay was inaugurated on December 1, 1986.
History of the Musée de l’Orangerie Building
Built in 1852 to house the orange trees from the Tuileries Gardens in winter, the new building ordered by Emperor Napoleon III was built in record time based on the plans of architect Firmin Bourgeois.
After the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, the Orangery was taken over by the State, which, in 1921, assigned it to the Sous-Secrétariat d’État aux Beaux-Arts (Under Secretariat of State for Fine Arts) with the aim of exhibiting the work of living artists there.
Georges Clemenceau, former President of the Council, suggested installing in the Orangery, the great series of Nymphéas [Water Lilies] that Claude Monet had given to the French State on the day after the 1918 armistice.
The donation was made official in 1922. The ‘Musée Claude Monet’ was inaugurated by Clemenceau on May 17, 1927, a few months after the artist’s death. It was then administratively attached to the Musée du Luxembourg, and the entire building formed the Musée national de l’Orangerie des Tuileries. Integrated into the Musée du Louvre in 1930, the museum was used for temporary exhibitions for three decades.
First french modern art museum
It was the acquisition by the State of the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume Collection in 1959 and 1963 that gave the Musée de l’Orangerie its final form. “The first museum of French modern art” open to the public in accordance with Paul Guillaume’s wishes, the Musée de l’Orangerie became a national museum.
Its building was completely remodeled between 2000 and 2006 at the instigation of architect Olivier Brochet and Pierre Georgel, the former director of the museum.
In 2010, the museum was attached to the Musée d’Orsay as part of the Public Establishment of the Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie (EPMO).