I have a passion for sculpture, drawn to the fluid lines, the grace and the seemingly impossible mission of creating something so alluring out of raw materials. One of our favorite destinations for immersing ourselves in this fine art form is the Musée d’Orsay on the banks of the Seine in Paris.
At the outset, the ‘sculpture’ of the museum itself is so appealing. We can thank historic preservationists for the transformation of the d’Orsay from the Orsay railway station to the stunning museum we enjoy today.
As the Universal Exposition neared in 1900, the French government saw the need for a more centrally-located station than that of the Gare d’Austerlitz. Three architects contributed to the Beaux-Arts design – Lucien Magne, Emile Bénard and Victor Laloux (the latter designed the magnificent station clock that looks over the grand hall of the museum), who were challenged to integrate the new station into its elegant environs.
“The station is superb and looks like a Palais des beaux-arts…” – painter Edouard Detaille, 1900
Clearly they accomplished their goal, but plans for an expansive modern hotel complex threatened its destruction. Fortunately revived interest in 19th-century architecture generated a declaration of the d’Orsay as a Historical Monument in 1978, when a commission was established to create the museum.
The sculptures of the Musée d’Orsay
The debut of the museum in December 1986 included some 1,200 sculptures, mostly from the former collections of the Musée du Luxembourg, the Louvre and state loans. The 19th century marked a prolific period for sculpture; when the ‘mood’ of the people sought to proclaim triumphant social progress, and the politicos wanted to carve their beliefs in bronze and stone.
Fortunately, we are able to enjoy the many magnificent works of art under the changing daylight that streams through the museum’s glass roof. Among the diverse sculptures are Rodin’s The Age of Bronze, Bourdelle’s head of Beethoven, works by Belgian sculptor Constantin Neunier and Edgar Degas’ enchanting Small Dancer.
Over three-and-a-half million visitors enjoyed the Musée d’Orsay in 2012, a number that continuously increases over time. If you haven’t had the opportunity to join those fortunate folks, we suggest you rectify that oversight on your next visit to Paris with indelible moments in the grand old station.
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