In a large museum, changes are orchestrated by the movement of artworks. With new displays, recent acquisitions, returning loans, restorations, new combinations and deposits, small adjustments or major transformations, the presentation of the collections is continually evolving. On this page you will find regularly updated information on the principal changes in the Musée d'Orsay galleries, and on new discoveries to be made.
Currently : Groundfloor, room 8
It was the world’s leading contemporary art museum, with prestige and influence to match, and many artists - French only until 1861, when the intake was gradually broadened to include foreigners - dreamed of seeing their work exhibited there. Indeed, acceptance by the Luxembourg allowed them to hope that they might even find a posthumous place in the artists’ true pantheon - the Louvre.
On the ground floor, the display in the new Symbolist gallery has just been renewed with the addition of two important recent acquisitions: Expulsion from Paradise by the German painter Franz von Stuck (1863-1923) and The Sorceress and the Black Cat by Paul Ranson (1861-1909).
In the first painting, Stuck seizes on a famous episode from the Bible, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, that he represents in a stark composition highlighting the human emotions. Typical of Symbolism at the end of the 19th century in its sophistication and its moral dimension, Expulsion from Paradise is also an important milestone in the history of contemporary art, as it inspired Vassily Kandinsky, a pupil of Stuck in the early 20th century, in his Study for Improvisation 8 (1909), one of the stages that would lead him towards abstraction.
From 1891 until the end of his life, Paul Ranson produced a series of esoteric works in which the figure of the sorceress appears regularly. Surrounded by cabalistic symbols and shadow play, this Sorceress and the Black Cat, remains mysterious. We do not know if the shapes surrounding her represent her malevolent powers, or if she is plagued by nightmares. The composition corresponds perfectly with the aesthetic principles of the Nabis - arabesques, thick outlines, areas of flat colour, synthetism – and reflects the group’s interest in decorative forms.
Since it was set up in 1980, the Société des Amis du Musée d'Orsay has continued to take an active role in enriching the collections. On the 25th anniversary of the opening of the museum, this association has once again demonstrated its great generosity with the gift of The Woodcutters, an oil on wood produced by Honoré Daumier around 1855.
This sketch is closely linked to an oil on canvas by Jean-François Millet, The Wood Sawyers (London, Victoria and Albert Museum), echoing the composition in almost every detail. It therefore offers valuable proof of the close contact between the two artists around 1850 when they were in Paris and Barbizon.
The Woodcutters will now be exhibited in room 4, devoted exclusively to the work of Daumier, and can be seen in relation to The Laundress which also depicts representatives of the working class, a theme that the painter studied in the 1850-60s.
Although his work has been exhibited at the Musée de l'Orangerie, Pablo Picasso is not one of the artists who usually feature in the Musée d'Orsay's permanent collections. This deposit of a painting from a private collection is therefore a major event, as much for the quality of the work as for its resonance with the paintings around it.
Displayed in the room devoted to Parisian lifestyle (ground floor, room 10), The Absinthe Drinker (1901) hangs alongside scenes of entertainment, dance halls, brothels, portraits by Toulouse-Lautrec, Boldini and Anquetin, and once again reveals the fascination that bohemian Paris held for so many painters at the end of the 19th century. It is also a unique opportunity for visitors to compare this absinthe drinker by Picasso with that of Degas displayed in the Impressionist gallery.
On the ground floor of the Musée d'Orsay, at the far end of the Seine gallery devoted to Salon paintings, are the artworks that achieved success at the great annual exhibitions organised by the Académie des Beaux-arts. For his submission to the 1879 Salon, Lucien Mélingue chose an episode from the political conflicts that shook France during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453).
On 22 February 1358, Etienne Marcel, the provost of the merchants of Paris, invaded the Palais de la Cité at the head of a crowd of 3000 people, with the purpose of defending the interests of the wealthy urban traders against the policies of the Dauphin Charles (1338-1380) – the future Charles V – acting as Regent since his father, John II the Good, was taken prisoner by the English in 1356. The Maréchal de Champagne and the Maréchal de Normandie were assassinated by the rioters in front of the startled young man's very eyes. Mélingue depicts the moment when Etienne Marcel saves the life of the heir to the throne, symbolically giving each figure the other's hat. The dauphin is thus adorned in the colours of Paris – red and blue – while the provost, wearing the fleur-de-lis, affirms his support for royal power.
Acquired by the State, the painting was originally exhibited at the Musée du Luxembourg, then at the Louvre, before being placed on long-term loan in the Musée de Beaune.
Today, at the heart of the Musée d'Orsay collections, it is a wonderful example of the genre of history painting, so popular with the public in the 19th century.