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.

Exceptional loan: Renoir, "A Box at the Theatre"

Pierre Auguste RenoirA Box at the Theatre© Musée d'Orsay / Eric Jouvenaux
In exchange for major loans

from our collections for the exhibition "Renoir : The Body, The Senses", the Musée d’Orsay is delighted to host this masterpiece from the Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, Massachussetts) on temporary loan.
The Clark Art Institute, which is both an art museum and a centre for art history research, was founded in 1950 by major Impressionist art collectors Sterling Clark (1877-1956), who was American, and his French wife Francine Clary (1876-1960). After the Barnes Foundation and the Musée d’Orsay,

it has the largest collection of works by Renoir in the world.

A Box at the Theatre
The Impressionists often chose theatre spaces as subjects. They did not turn their attention to the stage, but rather towards the auditorium and boxes where spectators could see each other and be seen. Unlike Eva Gonzales (A Box at the Théâtre des Italiens), Renoir invites us into the box space, and creates a sense of closeness to his models.

The absence of a male figure and the presence of a bouquet suggest a possible gift from a gentleman admirer. The subject matter allows Renoir to give free rein to his talent as a colourist and to his virtuoso brushwork in the treatment of fabrics and skin.
While day outfits in the 19th century hid women’s skin, evening gowns allowed them to wear low necklines and to bare their arms and shoulders.

Renoir had originally painted a man in the top right-hand area of the picture; this was probably Edmond Turquet, Under-Secretary of State for Fine Arts, who commissioned the work. Turquet did not find the painting to his taste and rejected it. Renoir therefore painted him out and added the girl on the right, thus transforming a society portrait into a scene from modern life.

On display room 31, Impressionist Gallery, until January 2020

Exceptional Presentation: "The Sacred Grove" by Toulouse-Lautrec

When barely twenty years old, Toulouse-Lautrec dashed off, in just a few days, this parody of The Sacred Grove Beloved of the Arts and Muses by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898), a huge allegorical composition, which he saw at the 1884 Salon.

Probably helped by his close friends from the Académie Cormon, the young Lautrec effectively mimicked the style of the original but did his utmost to subvert its serious tone by introducing a number of obviously anachronistic elements: a clock is featured on a classical portico, a winged figure brandishes a giant tube of paint, while a cohort of male figures in modern Parisian dress joins the heavenly choir.
Finally, he depicts himself with his back turned to the viewer, facing a tree that he “deconsecrates” in the most shameless way by urinating on the ground, while a police officer tries to keep the intruders on the right path.

Over and above the provocative prank, Toulouse-Lautrec is thumbing his nose at outdated Symbolism and Academism, and is unreservedly affirming his preference for modernity.

Usually on display exhibited at the Princeton University Art Museum, this work is currently presented in the Musée d'Orsay, at the end of the Symbolist Gallery, ground floor.

Henri de Toulouse-LautrecThe Sacred Grove© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Crépy

Moving Courbet's large-scale paintings

Monday June 11, 2018 The Artist's Studio et A Burial at Ornans, two of the largest paintings in the Musée d'Orsay collections have been moved to their new settings in room 7. They are now facing Couture's Romans during the Decadence, recently restored and hung in the nave.

This move marks the beginning of a genereral reorganization of the way the collections are displayed in the museum galleries that will take place over the coming few months.

"The Artist's Studio" and "A Burial at Ornans" by Courbet© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Boegly-Crépy

Four unfinished panels by Puvis de Chavannes

Pierre Puvis de ChavannesPanels for the decoration of the Panthéon© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Crépy
Recently restored, these four unfinished works by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes were originally designed to decorate the Panthéon in Paris, and are currently on display in gallery 59.

As of the 1860s, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes created several large wall decorations that earned him international acclaim. Among these were ensembles for the Pantheon, based on the life of Saint Genevieve.
Before becoming a Panthéon celebrating the glory of France, the monument was in fact a church dedicated to Saint Genevieve, and it was this first role as a church built by Louis XV to the patron saint of Paris that influenced part of the cycle of paintings commissioned by the Third Republic from numerous artists to decorate the temple to its heroes.

Puvis de Chavannes first completed two decorations in 1878, dedicated to the Childhood of Saint Genevieve and the Meeting of Saint Genevieve and Saint Germain. As part of another commission received in 1893, he painted three panels on the theme of Saint Genevieve provisioning Paris under siege, which were to be topped by a frieze. But this work was brought to a halt by his death in 1898.

Pierre Puvis de ChavannesFrise destinée à la décoration du Panthéon© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Crépy
The preparatory drawings for this frieze representing the saints were left incomplete by the artist. Their unfinished state allows us to understand his work process: squaring, charcoal and sepia drawing, then wash colouring and painting.
The final completion of this section of the décor was ultimately entrusted to the painter Victor Koos, former assistant to Puvis, who transposed his master’s drawings onto the walls of the Panthéon in the early 1920s.

Collection of sketches produced for the Prix de Rome

Ensemble d'esquisses pour le Prix de Rome© Musée d'Orsay / Paul Perrin
“Why does a beautiful sketch please us more than a beautiful painting? It is because there is more life and less definition […] Does the sketch perhaps have such a strong appeal because it is indeterminate? The more undefined the artistic expression, the more our imagination is free to see what it wants.”
(Denis Diderot, Salon of 1767)

In the Room 2 of the Musée d'Orsay, groudfloor, you can now enjoy 16 esquisses sketches, part of a production of 31 recently bought buy the Musée d'Orsay, all produced between 1825 and 1861 for the Prix de Rome competition for historical composition and historical landscape.
Awarded every year by the Institut de France, the Prix de Rome enabled the most outstanding student of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris to spend five years at the Villa Medici in the Eternal City to complete his/her training.
For the final test, participants had to produce a drawing and a painted sketch of their future composition on a subject taken from mythology or from Classical history, and followed by a finished, large format painting (now all kept in the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris).

Ensemble d'esquisses pour le Prix de Rome© Musée d'Orsay / Paul Perrin
At the end of the competition, it was customary for the students of the Neo-Classical painter Francois-Edouard Picot, who had been awarded prizes by the jury, to give their painted sketch (or another version in the same format) to the master.
This collection comprises sketches produced by twenty-one of his students. Picot’s studio, just like those of Heim, Cogniet and Delaroche, was one of the most important of its time. Some of the most famous names in Academic painting in the second half of the century had studied there, including Achille Bénouville, William Bouguereau, Alexandre Cabanel, Jean-Jacques Henner, Jules-Eugène Lenepveu, Louis-Hector Leroux and Emile Levy, who are all represented in this acquisition.

The collection of these "sketching exercises" (Bruno Foucart) has fortunately been preserved with a coherence that shows not only the great constants of Academic teaching inherited from David (composition, drawing, classical models), but also the slow but sensitive developments from history painting to Romantic dramatisation and Ingresque refinement.

Long-term loan from the Fondation Napoléon to the Musée d'Orsay

Eugène GuillaumeNapoleon I, legislator© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Crépy
Since the beginning of the year 2018, the nave of the Musée d'Orsay has been home to a major loan from the Fondation Napoléon: the plaster study of Napoleon I, legislator by the sculptor Eugène Guillaume (1822-1905).

In 1860, Prince Napoleon (1822-1891), son of Jerome Bonaparte, inaugurated on the Avenue Montaigne a vast mansion that sought to imitate ancient villas and that became known as the "Pompeian house". In the atrium, the centerpiece was a life-size representation of the Emperor dressed in a Roman gown, holding the Civil Code, a crown of laurels on his head and an eagle at his feet.

Gustave BoulangerRehearsal of "The Flute Player" and "The Wife of Diomedes" at Prince Napoleon’s house© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Adrien Didierjean
This sculpted piece can be seen in a painting by Gustave Boulanger also housed in the Musée d'Orsay and entitled Repetition of the "Flute Player" and the "Woman of Diomedes" at Prince Napoleon’ House (1861).
This loan is the original plaster, a study that has remained in the workshop of Guillaume, passed on to his descent until it was donated in 2003 to the Fondation Napoléon.
The marble version, which suffered extensive damage during the fire of the Tuileries Palace in 1871, is now at the Napoleon Museum in Arenenberg (Switzerland).

Click here to find out more by visiting the website of the Fondation Napoléon (in English).

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The Donation Zeïneb and Jean-Pierre Marcie-Rivière

Edouard VuillardGirl © Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
In 2016, the Musée d’Orsay presented, for the first time within its walls, the entire donation by Zeineb and Jean-Pierre Marcie-Rivière as agreed in 2010, the usufruct on which ended with the death of Jean-Pierre Marcie-Rivière on 6 January 2016.
This generous act marks a major event in the history of French public collections

The donation includes 25 paintings and 94 drawings by Bonnard; and 24 paintings, 3 pastels and 2 drawings by Vuillard. Begun in the 1960s by André Levy-Despas, Zeineb Kebaïli’s first husband, the collection has been enriched over more than forty years by Zeineb and Jean-Pierre Marcie-Rivière.
It expresses a tendency towards intimate subjects and mysterious compositions, even hermetic and caricatural at times. Musical evenings, unposed portraits, interiors with figures and urban scenes testify to the great similarities between Bonnard and Vuillard in the Nabi period.
Paintings from the two painters’ later years complement this set of works produced in the 1890s.

The paintings from the donation are currently presented in Room 9, Level 0.
Find out more

Second Empire decorative arts

Second Empire decorative arts© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie 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 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

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 Crépy
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 Crépy
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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