After 1939 it was used for suburban services and part of it became a mailing centre during World War II. It was then used as a set for several films, such as Kafka’s “The Trial” adapted by Orson Welles, and as a haven for the Renaud–Barrault Theatre Company as well as for auctioneers, while the Hôtel Drouot was being rebuilt.
In 1970, permission was granted to demolish the station but Jacques Duhamel, Minister for Cultural Affairs, ruled against plans to build a new hotel in its stead. The station was put on the supplementary list of Historic Monuments and finally listed in 1978. The suggestion to turn the station into a museum came from the Directorate of the Museums of France. The idea was to build a museum that would bridge the gap between the Louvre and the National Museum of Modern Art at the Georges Pompidou Centre.
The plan was accepted by Georges Pompidou and a study was commissioned in 1974. Twelve years later, the museum was ready to receive its exhibits. It took 6 months to install the 2000 or so paintings, 600 sculptures and other works. The museum was officially opened in December 1986 by then-president, François Mitterrand.
The initial purpose of the museum was to house art from the Impressionistic period, but now it displays artworks from other movements as well. The museum holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1915, including paintings, sculptures, furniture and photography. Many of these works were held at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume prior to the museum’s opening in 1986.
The Musée d’Orsay, located on the left bank of the Seine, is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, an impressive Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900. It is probably best known for its extensive collection of Impressionist and Post-impressionist masterpieces (the largest in the world) by such painters as Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin and van Gogh.
Gare d’Orsay was the terminus for the railways of south-western France until 1939. By 1939 the station’s short platforms had become unsuitable for the longer trains that had come to be used for mainline services. In the 1970s it was almost demolished but thanks to the Minister for Cultural Affairs, the building survived.
There you can find eighty-six paintings by Claude Monet, twenty-four by Vincent van Gogh, including ‘Self Portrait’, and twenty-seven of Jean-François Millet’s works. But it’s only the thin end of the wedge. The whole collection is counted in thousands. Major sculptors include François Rude, Jules Cavelier, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Auguste Rodin, Paul Gauguin, Camille Claudel and Honoré Daumier.
The museum building was originally a railway station, Gare d’Orsay, constructed for the Chemin de Fer de Paris à Orléans and finished in time for the 1900 Exposition Universelle to the design of three architects: Lucien Magne, Émile Bénard and Victor Laloux.
In 1978, a competition was organised to design the new museum. ACT Architecture, a team of three young architects (Pierre Colboc, Renaud Bardon and Jean-Paul Philippon), were awarded the contract which involved creating 20,000 square metres of new floor space on four floors. In 1981, Italian architect Gae Aulenti was chosen to design the interior including the internal arrangement, decoration, furniture and fittings of the museum.