Musée d'Orsay: The Museum in motion

The Museum in motion

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.

Second Empire decorative arts

Second Empire decorative arts© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Boegly-Crépy
The decorative arts of the Second Empire can be seen in a new setting rooms 22 and 23 on the ground floor of the museum.

In an opulent setting, furniture, vases and other decorative objects testify to the splendor and inventiveness that characterized this period. A few paintings, official portraits or evocation of the interiors of the time, complete the display.

The highlight of the show is certainly the majestic crystal holy water font, a gift from the Société de la Cristallerie de Lyon to the Empress Eugénie at the 1867 World Exhibition, shining in a showcase with multiple mirrors specially designed for the museum. The public of the Musée d'Orsay was able to discover this monumental object on the occasion of the exhibition Spectacular Second Empire. It is part of the sumptuous exceptional long-term loan granted by the Mobilier National to the Musée d'Orsay.

The style of the Second Empire is characterised by the eclecticism of its artistic sources, drawn from classical Antiquity to the Renaissance, and into the 18th century. This diversity was evident in the homes of the aristocracy and the successful middle classes who had made their wealth through commerce, industry and banking. The furnishings and interior decorations were lavish at this time, reflecting the economic optimism of Napoleon III’s reign, an optimism generated by the redevelopment of the capital under Haussmann’s direction.

Second Empire decorative arts. Rooms 22 and 23© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Boegly-Crépy
Technological advances and the primacy of the industrial arts were clearly on display at the universal exhibitions where countries competed to produce the most ingenious and the most luxurious creations. France’s pre-eminence in the decorative arts earned it a reputation for excellence: porcelain from the State-owned Sèvres Manufactory played an important role in the legendary “Imperial Celebration”, in the form of diplomatic gifts.

The Musée d’Orsay wishes to thank the Mobilier national for the loan of an exceptional set of vases on the occasion of the reopening of the Second Empire decorative arts rooms.

Second Empire decorative arts© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Boegly-Crépy

New acquisition: "Paradise Lost" by Cabanel

Alexandre CabanelParadise Lost© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
In 1863, Maximilian II, king of Bavaria, commissioned Alexandre Cabanel for the decor of the Maximilianeum in Munich. Intended for the training of the Bavarian elite, this building included a gallery illustrating the key moments of universal history.
Charged with representing the Biblical episode of the Original Sin, the painter renewed traditional iconography as he organized it around the figure of Eve, whose sensuality evoked that of his famous Venus presented at the Salon of 1863.

Since this exceptional decor was destroyed in the bombardment in 1945, this replica in small size made by the artist is today the only trace left of this painting.
Recently acquired by the Musée d'Orsay, this piece is now presented Room 2, Level 0.

Restoration of a Cabanel painting

A major restoration has been made in 2015 on Cabanel’s paintingThe Death of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta.

The irregular and dirty layer of varnish that covered the painting had previously been selectively reduced privileging the central scene. The latest restoration consisted in thinning the remaining layers of varnish, ameliorate the disaccorded repaints and completing missing parts.
These interventions have alllowed a better reading of this true story that inspired Dante with one of the circles of Inferno in his Divine comedy. Regularising the layer of varnish not only restitutes the pictorial space with the proper succession of plans but also the somptuous colours of the composition.

The restored painting is now to be seen on the ground floor of the Musée d’Orsay

Read the work in focus.

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Salon Painting

Henri GervexMeeting of the Jury© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR
Galerie Seine
By the second half of the 19th century, the Salon, created in 1699, had become the official and highly popular exhibition where artists could establish their reputations. A Session of the Painting Jury by Gervex demonstrates the importance of this event and shows the reactions of the jury awarding the prizes and the critics writing for their newspapers. The official taste of the establishment is reflected in the Musée d’Orsay collections as, when the Salon closed, the State would acquire many paintings for the Musée du Luxembourg, which specialised in the art of the period.

Although the Salon has long been considered a champion of Academism, it did in fact bring together a variety of artistic experiments. Artists, such as Elie Delaunay, who took subjects from Antiquity or from the Bible, revitalised traditional conventions through style and composition, whilst others, like Jean-Paul Laurens, favoured literary subjects or great French historical events. These paintings thus echoed the innovations of the avant-garde painters, and, in their presentation, heralded the cinema of the following century.

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The Luxembourg Rooms

Musée d'Orsay - Salle 1© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Boegly
The first rooms in the museum tour, which have just been renovated, are now called "Luxembourg Rooms", after a museum that played a key role in the artistic life of France in the 19th century: the Museum of Living Artists, located in the Luxembourg Palace and its Orangerie (Paris).

Between 1818 and 1937, when the Museum of Modern Art was established in the Palais de Tokyo, this institution housed paintings, sculptures and, later, drawings bought or commissioned by the state from artists who were still living or had died in the previous 10 years, as well as privately donated works.

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.

Musée d'Orsay - Salle 4© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Boegly
Some of the artists who helped to reform the art scene (e.g. Delacroix, Ingres, Rodin, and Gustave Moreau) were admitted relatively early, but the Museum’s courage did not stretch to all the avant-garde movements of the time, and Courbet, Millet, Manet, Lautrec and Van Gogh were among those who never graced its walls in their lifetime.
In the 1870s, it was increasingly accused of turning its back on the innovators, and backing only “official” and “academic” artists. Gauguin, one of the excluded, denounced it as a “vast prison and obligatory brothel”, where only those prepared to prostitute their talent could expect to find a welcome.

It should be remembered, however, that it also had enlightened directors, like Philippe de Chennevières and Léonce Bénédite, as well as great donors, like Gustave Caillebotte, Isaac de Camondo, Etienne Moreau-Nélaton and Alfred Chauchard, who filled gaps by bringing in the Barbizon painters, Manet and the Impressionists, housed in the Jeu de Paume Museum from 1947 to 1986 - and so played a major part in laying the foundations of the Musée d’Orsay’s present collection.

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Gauguin's Paintings on Glass


Paul GauguinTahitian Woman in a Landscape© RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Daniel Arnaudet
There are two works in the Musée d'Orsay collection that, ever since it opened in 1986, the museum has never been able to exhibit. These are paintings on glass that could not be shown because of their condition, and because there was no suitable space to accommodate them. Today, after a long restoration process, and presented in new display cases made specifically for them, visitors can enjoy them at last.

Floral and Plant Motifs and Tahitian Woman in a Landscape, date from 1893 when Gauguin moved to Paris after his first visit to Polynesia. At that time he was continuing the decorative research that he had embarked on in the late 1880s when he decorated the windows of Marie Henry's inn at Le Pouldu, and which he pursued again in Tahiti in 1892, painting the glass panes in the window of a house.
Paul GauguinFloral and Plant Motifs© RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Daniel Arnaudet

Wishing no doubt to create his own exotic decor on his return to Paris, on this occasion he chose the glass panes of the doors of his studio in rue Vercingétorix as a support, and composed these two landscapes. They remained in situ when the artist left for his last trip in 1895 and were only placed on deposit in 1905. In the end it was the widow of the American painter Harold English, their last owner, who gave them to the French National Museums in 1958.

This presentation is therefore quite an event, as these works from the reserve collections demonstrate one of Gauguin's principal concerns, as he stated in a letter to his friend Daniel de Monfreid: "Painted glass which attracts the eye with its groupings of colours and forms, is still the best".

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