Whilst traveling about in Paris, one is obliged to hit the "biggies." Effiel Tower, The Louvre, Arch de Triomphe, Notre Dame, and the like. One destination that didn't make the short list when I visited Paris during high school nor on my current sojourn was The Musée d'Orsay. I am very happy to report having corrected this oversight and being absolutely amazed at size and scope of the collection. The Museum itself didn't exist until 1986, which makes it one of most recent additions as a tourist attraction in the city. The building itself was originally a train station connecting Paris and Orleans (the old one). That fact makes for some interesting and impressive use of open space and natural lighting but also offers more intimate locations through the structure.
While the Louvre might lay claim to the most extensive collection of paintings, and certainly the most expansive in terms of artists and history, the number of works that I enjoy looking at is to tell the truth, quite limited. Being no scholar of European royalty, my take on the innumerable portraits of Kings, Queens, and hords of illegitimate children are along the lines of "if I've seen one, I've seen 'em all." The Musée d'Orsay, on the other hand has a much more focused collection that seems to teach and entertain like a story as you walk though the many exibits. Focusing on mainly French artists from the middle to late 19th century up until the early 20th century, the works place primary focus on the period of high impressionism and post-impressionism. There is pointillism, typified by Georges-Pierre Seurat, which never fails to catch my eye, although at the end of the day I find Pissarro's work more interesting. The realism movement of the Barbizon school is also on display, and the oranges and browns in Jean-François Millet's work make him one of the highlights. Of course, the delight of any visit is the Vincent van Gogh room. Yes, an amazing wall of works painted in the final years of his life after he committed himself to a mental institution under the stipulation the he be allowed to paint whenever he wanted. And paint he did, as this was one of his most prolific periods. This is the era during which he painted the famous Starry Night , although every painting is a masterpiece on that wall!
I could go on for quite a bit long, but there is hardly any point in describing in words what should be experienced first hand. My only suggestion is to arrive early, take a break for lunch at the café located on the upper floor, definitely skip the decorative arts section, and leave with a smile on your face just as the crowds are getting to be too much around 2:00 pm.