The History of France’s Famed Louvre

The Louvre is generally regarded as the premiere art museum in France. With a collection of about 35,000 items contained in 652,300 square feet, it’s not hard to understand why. Why would you go anywhere else when every piece of art and antiquity you could ever want to see are contained in one place? But the Louvre is obviously not the only art museum in France. Several decidedly smaller art museums in France house collections comprehensive enough to rival the Louvre.

These lesser known but equally compelling museums include the Musee de l’Orangerie, the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Vile de Paris, even a geographically confused Palais de Tokyo – the list goes on. One particularly successful museum is the Musee d’Orsay. The Musee’s collection’s scope is admirable and covers several centuries of European visual and decorative art.

The history of this particular museum is long and illustrious. The Musee d’Orsay used to be a railway station, Gare d’Orsay. This railway station was built specifically for the glorious 1900 Exposition Universelle. This exposition was a World’s Fair held in Paris, and featured the rededication of the Eiffel Tower, which had been created for the previous World’s Fair. The Gare (“gare” means railway station in French) was elaborately constructed in the fashionable Art Nouveau style.

The design was the pride of the three architects who created it; Lucien Magne, Victor Laloux, and Emile Benard were top designers at the time. The vaulted ceilings of the Gare were made of tiny interlocking panes of glass, and intricate stone carvings paneled the walls. The sizable Gare, carefully crafted out of innumerable tan stones, overlooked the glistening Seine River.

For the time of the World’s Fair and up until WWII, the Gare. The Nazis appropriated the now-dingy railway station for transporting munitions, soldiers, and even looted possessions from European citizens. After the fall of the Third Reich, the Gare fell into further disrepair. The unstable economy of France prevented the Gare from getting the restoration it needed until the early 1970s. By that time, the station wasn’t large enough to adequately support a large amount of train commuter traffic. For a few years it was used as a hotel until in 1977. Because of faltering profits and public pressure, it was decided to convert the Gare into a museum. The conversion was complete in 1986 and was dedicated by then-president Francois Mitterrand.

Today, the Musee is home to an impressive collection of mainly French art. It is now well known for its broad selection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, of which it has the largest collection in the world, and is no longer a railway station. These include renowned artists such as Paul Cezanne, Gustave Caillebotte, Mary Cassatt, Gustave Courbet, Paul Gaugin, and Vincent van Gogh, The list is endless.

There are even eighty-six Monet paintings in the Musee’s catalog. It also holds decent architecture and photography exhibits. While there are several larger Musees in France, the Musee D’Orsay should definitely be a priority for anyone going on vacation in France.

By Laura