Gare d’Orsay: Parisian Beaux-Arts Railway Station Transformed into Art Museum

Musee-d'Orsay-5 (Image: Alexander Franke, cc-sa-3.0)

To date we’ve covered all manner of railway-related topics, from hauntingly impressive abandoned stations and crazy train markets to vintage railway images from the glory days of train travel. And now, inspired by positive engagement around our recent feature about Madrid’s former Atocha station – now a tropical garden – we wanted to showcase Musée d’Orsay, a Parisian art museum housed inside a repurposed Beaux-Arts railway terminus. (Thanks to Facebook subscriber Bob Boisen for the heads-up!)

Musee-d'Orsay-Gare-d'Orsay-universal-exposition (Image: Library of Congress, public domain)

Located alongside the River Seine, the Musée d’Orsay began life as the Gare d’Orsay, which originally served as the terminus of the Paris-Orléans Railway. Construction began in 1898 based on plans submitted by three separate architects – Lucien Magne, Émile Bénard and Victor Laloux. The magnificent station opened two years later, in time for the Universal Exposition of 1900.

Musee-d'Orsay-2 (Image: Sanchezn, cc-sa-3.0)

But like New York’s grand City Hall subway station, the short platforms of Gare d’Orsay had become inadequate for the modern mainline trains that had entered service by 1939. As a result, the terminus was relegated to suburban and mail services, and was in danger of demolition by 1970.

Thankfully France’s Minister of Cultural Affairs, Jacques Duhamel, got involved and the ailing structure was designated a historic monument in 1978. A competition launched the same year brought together a variety of architects and designers to create 20,000 square metres of floor space and internal decorations.

Musee-d'Orsay-3 (Image: Benh, cc-sa-3.0)

The conversion – an imaginative example of adaptive reuse – was finally completed by 1989. But it took six months to install 2,000 paintings and 600 sculptures by artists such as Degas, Monet, Manet, Cézanne, Renoir, Gauguin and Van Gogh. Renamed Musée d’Orsay, the new gallery was opened by President François Mitterrand in December 1986.

Keep reading – wander the narrowest street in Paris, or go more mainstream and check out the city’s most luxurious sites.

paris-luxury (Image: Marriott via Luxe Lounge)

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