If you visit Paris, you’ll probably want to visit some of the amazing museums in France’s capital city. If you’re looking for works from the greatest French and European painters, you have to visit the Musée d’Orsay.

The Musée d’Orsay is one of the most famous national museums and with good reason; most impressionist painters have their work kept here. Nevertheless, they aren’t the only ones because the Musée d’Orsay is also a gold mine of modern and impressionist art.

If you’re looking to learn more about painting or you just love good paintings (like those from the Impressionists), you should definitely visit this temple of art.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of some of the museum’s most famous paintings that you should definitely check out when you’re there. Don’t worry, either, you don’t need to be an art historian or critic since anyone can enjoy art with their own eyes.

Luncheon on the Grass by Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass is a work of art from 1863. This oil on canvas was originally called Le Bain (The Bath).

Which are Manet's most famous pieces?
The same model regularly appears in Manet's work. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

It goes without saying that painting a naked lady in 19th-century Parisian society was quite scandalous. However, upsetting the bourgeoisie turned out to be a good idea since his piece has since come to be considered a masterpiece of modern painting.

Luncheon on the Grass has been reinterpreted by various artists:

  • Claude Monet in 1865
  • Pablo Picasso in 1961
  • Alain Jacquet in 1964
  • Daniel Spoerri in 1983
  • John Seward Johnson II in 1994
  • Mickalene Thomas in 2010

According to Michel Butor, the piece is one of “105 decisive western paintings”.

Discover the great pieces in the Louvre.

Vincent van Gogh Self-portrait

The world-famous artist Vincent van Gogh painted several self-portraits throughout his life that showed his development as an artist and how he changed physically.

“It is difficult to know oneself, but it isn’t easy to paint oneself either.” - Vincent van Gogh

The Musée d’Orsay has one of the most famous of van Gogh’s self-portraits, the one he completed in 1889, a magnificent oil on canvas.

Van Gogh painted himself 37 times and most of these show his left side, i.e. not the side where he cut his ear off. His last self-portrait sold for 71.5 million dollars!

Find out more about the Prado's best pieces.

The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet

The Gleaners depicts a rural scene in which peasant women are gleaning a field for wheat after the harvest. This is an illustration of rural life at the time (1857) that shows how difficult this lifestyle could be.

At the time, the painting highlighted issues with the Second French Empire. The right denounced the work as a symbol for the popular revolution and the left saw it as a way to show the growing poverty in rural France.

This painting is one of the museum’s best pieces and you shouldn’t miss it.

The MET is also home to plenty of great pieces.

The Card Players by Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne was a French painter and one of the trailblazers for post-impressionism and cubism. He’s widely considered the father of modern art and The Card Players is a fine example of why.

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What Cézannes are there in the Musée d'Orsay?
There are five versions of this piece and the last version sold for €191.5 million.

The painting shows two people playing cards and it’s very dark. Cézanne left nothing to chance and this intimate scene almost makes you think of still life.

You can enjoy this piece at the Musée d'Orsay, another great reason to visit.

L'Origine du Monde by Gustave Courbet

Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde has been spoken about since it was created. This nude focuses on the female genitalia and went against the tradition of the time:

"Fine art is knowledge made visible." - Gustave Courbet

The model is thought to be Joanna Hifferman, an Irish model, but her identity still remains unknown. This provocative piece caused controversy when it was finished because academic painting has never seen such realism.

In short, you have to see what all the fuss is about. Even by today's standards, it's quite out there!

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La Gare Saint-Lazare by Clause Monet

The Saint-Lazare train station was a popular spot for Monet who painted it no less than 12 times. This painting from 1877 wasn’t the master impressionist’s first foray into the field.

Here are some of his other pieces:

  • Bain à la Grenouillère (1869)
  • Impression, Sunrise (1872)
  • Poppies (1873)
  • Woman with a Parasol - Madame Monet and Her Son (1875)
  • Woman with a Parasol, facing left (1886)
  • Poplars (1891)
  • The Houses of Parliament, Sunset (1903)
  • Water Lilies (1916)
  • The Japanese Footbridge (1922)

Émile Zola was inspired by La Gare Saint-Lazare when writing his novel “La Bête Humaine” (The Beast Within).

Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette by Galette by Auguste Renoir

It’s hard to miss this giant piece (1.31m high and 1.75m wide) when visiting the Musée d’Orsay. Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette is an oil on canvas from 1876 that was painted by Auguste Renoir, another impressionist painter.

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What impressionist pieces are there at the Musée d'Orsay?
This is one of the greatest Renoirs. (Source: Wikimedia)

This painting depicts a typical Sunday afternoon at the Moulin de la Galette in the Montmartre area of Paris. It’s representative of everyday Parisian life at the time.

Renoir included a few of his friends in the painting including the writer Georges Rivière and the painters Gœneutte, Cordey, and Franc-Lamy. When you see this painting, you’ll want to travel back in time.

The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte

You can see The Floor Scrapers painted by Gustave Caillebotte in 1875 at the Musée d’Orsay. While Millet usually painted the proletariat in the countryside, Caillebotte decided to show urban workers who’d never been painted in such a way.

While the painting doesn’t seem to be a criticism of the politics of the society at the time, the realism made an important painting from the movement.

That said, it was met with negative reviews as the theme was judged to be too trivial. However, the talent of Caillebotte exhibited in this piece did receive a lot of praise. It’s definitely worth having a look at.

The Ballet Class by Edgar Degas

You may have heard of some of Degas’ famous painting such as Washerwomen, The Absinthe Drinker, Semiramis Building Babylon, and L’École de Danse. The Ballet Class is an oil on canvas from 1874.

During the 1870s, ballerinas were the focus of Degas’ work. He was more interested in behind the scenes than the shows themselves. In this painting, the lesson is coming to an end and the dancers are tired.

Degas’ had a big influence on post-impressionist painters such as Paul Gauguin. You can see it at the Musée d’Orsay.

Arearea by Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin is a French painter known for his strange and colourful paintings inspired by Polynesian culture:

“Color which, like music, is a matter of vibrations, reaches what is most general and therefore most indefinable in nature: its inner power.” - Paul Gauguin

Arearea is an oil on canvas in 1892 which was part of a triptych of paintings representing a voyage Gauguin took to Tahiti from 1891 to 1893. The painting shows aboriginal peoples in Gauguin’s particular style.

Gauguin’s most famous painting is still “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” which is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. However, Arearea is a good example of Gauguin’s style.

We could also have spoken about artists in the museum like Kandinsky, Delacroix, Pissarro, Ingres, Sislet, Corot, Vermeet, and Watteau. There’s so much to see at this museum!

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