Musée d'Orsay - History

Musée d'Orsay - History (59A)

Forming a large area dedicated to art the Orsay Museum forms a complex with the Louvre, which is practically opposite. Despite being one of the newest museums in France, it is the third most visited.

A little history of the area and the building in which the museum is found dates back to more or less 1600. Where the museum stands today was once a garden owned by Queen Marguerite de Valois, the disowned wife of Henry IV. On her death the land was parcelled off and sold in parts. The aristocracy settled in the new area building luxurious small palaces. The district became an exclusive area. In the 19th century it had become the Barracks of the Cavalry and the Palace of Orsay.

The times of the Commune were not very fortunate for the district, which was devoured by flames. It seems that in this period fire was all the rage, above all if the combustible material referred to royalty or the nobility. The ruins of the palace remained buried and in oblivion until 1900. The state awarded the land to the railway company of Orleans. There they built a railway station.

Lucien Magne, Emile Bénard and Victor Laloux were in charge of restoring the ruins. In just two years the works were ready and on the 14th of July 1900 the station and ostentatious Hotel Orsay were opened.

The station was operative until 1939. In this period it had become too small for the growing flow of people. Once again the palace of Orsay was abandoned. However, it was still used as a setting for films, among them The Trial, by Orson Wells. It was also the centre of the Renaud-Barrault theatre company.

In 1973 the Hotel Orsay closed. But once again the building would be saved thanks the Museum Department of France. At the time they were looking for a place to show the art collections of the second half of the 19th century. The abandoned station was saved by a miracle from demolition to build a new hotel. Thus, Orsay was declared a historical monument in 1978. The President of the time, Giscard d'Estaing, authorised the creation of the new museum. It would be his successor, François Mitterrand, who would officially open the museum on the 1st of December 1986.

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