/ / 25 Most Famous Paintings In Orsay Museum You Have To See

25 Most Famous Paintings In Orsay Museum You Have To See

Visiting Musée d’Orsay and wondering which artworks you shouldn’t miss? This article will show you the most famous paintings in Orsay Museum to see!

Musée d’Orsay or Orsay Museum is one of the best museums in Paris!

Originally a railway station that debuted during the Universal Exhibition of 1900, it was converted into a world-renowned art museum that houses major works of Western art from 1848 -1914, including sculptures, paintings, and photography.

Musée d'Orsay is one of the famous monuments in Paris
Orsay museum

Disclaimer: This post might contain affiliate links. This means we may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you) should you choose to sign up for a program or make a purchase using one of our links. It’s okay – We love all of the products we recommend anyway, and you will too! Also, that commission helps us keep this awesome free blog up to date! You can read our full disclosure here for more details!

However, it is mostly known for its vast collection of Impressionist and post-impression work that features legendary names like Claude Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, and Degas.

While I recommend checking out the entire museum if you have time, spending 3 or 4 hours roaming in a museum may not be your cup of tea. Instead, you may want to see just the famous pieces.

If that’s you, read on to discover the most famous paintings in Orsay Museum that you shouldn’t miss.

Before You Go, Here’s How to Plan Your Visit To Paris: Practical Quick Tips

Best Eiffel Tower Views: Hôtel Le Walt (9.0)
Luxury stay: Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel (8.2)
Mid-range stay: Hôtel Eiffel (8.7)
Budget Stay: People – Paris Bercy (8.9)
Apartment Rental: Résidence Charles Floquet (9.1)  

Famous Paintings in Orsay Museum

I will not only be listing the famous paintings at Musee d’Orsay but also a brief background about them to help you get a deeper understanding of each when you finally see them.

Psst… To admire all the Orsay museum paintings on this list, you’ll need to purchase this skip-the-line ticket. Alternatively, you can opt for this Orsay museum-guided tour to learn about the museum’s famous pieces.

1. La Rue Montorgueil by Claude Monet

La rue Montorgueil is one of the French famous paintings.

Claude Monet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This 1878 painting is seen as a work of celebration. It depicts the June 30, 1878 celebration promoting peace and work by the reigning Republican party and was held to encourage national pride.

France’s national colors (red, white, and blue) are painted in Monet’s Impressionist style and the frolicking brushstrokes imitate the waving flags and celebratory atmosphere.

Monet played the role of the reporter, not a part of the festivities, but rather someone who observed and recorded the events from a distant window as Parisians celebrated along Rue Montorgueil.

Today, it is one of the most famous paintings by Claude Monet.

2. Dance at Le moulin de la Galette (Bal du moulin de la Galette) By Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Bal du moulin de la Galette is one of the famous Paris paintings.

Photo credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Renoir was one of the leading figures of the impressionist movement and his painting Bal du moulin de la Galette fully brings it out. In fact, it is one of the most famous French paintings.

He masterfully captures the scene of Parisian working-class people sipping on drinks and dancing in their fancy dresses and hats on a Sunday afternoon at Moulin de la Galette in Montmartre, through vibrant combinations of colors.

This painting was first exhibited at the Third Impressionist Exhibition that took place in April 1877 and was met with critical acclaim.

It is a beautiful example of Impressionist art, with its emphasis on capturing fleeting moments of everyday life.

If you’re short on time, this is one of the Orsay Museum’s famous paintings not to miss.

Related Post: Famous Paintings in Louvre Museum

3. Olympia by Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet is considered the father of modernism, and his work was often met with staunch criticism in Paris and Olympia was no exception.

Olympia was painted in 1863 and caused a major scandal when first shown at the Paris Salon in 1865.

Critics considered it to be profane and unacceptable due to the fact that Manet reworked the classical nude into a more contemporary subject — a pr0stitute.

Venus was now a pr0stitute leveling a contemptuous stare at the viewer with her slave in the background.

Manet depicted his subject with strong, uncompromising technique, and some of his contemporaries were staunch supporters of this work even with the scandal it caused.

Today, it has taken its rightful place with other Musee d’Orsay artwork.

4. The Absinthe Drinker (L’Absinthe) by Edgar Degas

The Absinthe Drinker is one of the famous artwork in France.

Photo credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Unlike his fellow Impressionist colleagues, Degas often painted urban scenes.

The Absinthe Drinker or In a Café as sometimes known is one of the most famous paintings by Edgar Degas.

Painted between 1875-186, it depicts a fashionable man and woman sitting together at a table but are painted in such a way that they also seem completely alone.

They have glasses of absinthe in front of them and some saw this painting as a denunciation of absinthe, a dangerous substance that was later banned.

Degas used two of his acquaintances as the models, but he later had to release a public statement that they were not really alcoholics as the painting had suggested.

With each showing of the painting, critics called it ugly and disgusting with some going as far as considering it a blow to morality.

Nonetheless, L’Absinthe has become one of the most famous paintings in Orsay museum and conveys the absolute melancholy that alcoholism brings — at least according to the English when it was showcased in London in 1893.

5. The Church in Auvers by Vincent van Gogh

The Church at Auvers is one of the famous paintings in Paris.

Photo credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The name Vincent van Gogh has become synonymous with troubled artistry. A struggling painter, he was often in and out of mental institutions while his brother financially supported his artistic endeavors.

After a stay at a psychiatric hospital, Van Gogh settled in Auvers-sur-Oise, and painted many of his works there! Among them is The Church at Auvers painted in 1890.

Van Gogh was very different from other Impressionist painters of the time. His Post-Impressionist style was known for its dancing brushstrokes, flamboyant proportions, and unique color choice.

The Church at Auvers in particular is not meant to be seen as a faithful representation, but rather as a reflection of what the artist was feeling.

This painting, along with many other Van Gogh paintings in Musee d’Orsay is an incredible look into how the artist perceived the world.

6. The Luncheon on the Grass (Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe) by Édouard Manet

The Luncheon on the Grass or Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe in French is no doubt the most famous painting by Édouard Manet.

Painted in 1862 and 1863, Manet tried to pay homage to European art but his boldness counterbalanced that and the public found the nude woman sitting among clothed men having a picnic ridiculous.

The painting was the subject of ridicule and laughter at the Salon, but today it has taken its place among the most famous paintings at Musee d’Orsay. In fact, it is now considered to be the departure point for modern art.

Related Post: Famous Paintings by Eugene Delacroix

7. Blue Water Lilies by Claude Monet

Blue Water Lilies is one of the famous paintings in Orsay museum.

Claude Monet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Monet was a prolific Impressionist artist during his lifetime, and his Water Lilies paintings are a testament to that.

During the last 30 years of his life, Monet’s pond and his garden in Giverny became his sole inspiration and he created 250 works centered around them.

This particular iteration, hanging among other famous art in Musee d’Orsay, was painted between 1916 and 1919, and while the series is still markedly Impressionist, his brushstrokes became more abstract and freer.

You can find his biggest Waterlillies paintings in Musée de l’Orangerie, still in Paris.

8. The Angelus by Jean François Millet

The Angelus is one of the famous paintings at Musee d'Orsay.

Jean-François Millet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Angelus is a prayer spoken to commemorate when the angel Gabriel came unto Mary, although Millet was not a churchgoer and this painting (1857-1859) was inspired by childhood memories.

In 1865, Millet said: “The idea for The Angelus came to me because I remembered that my grandmother, hearing the church bell ringing while we were working in the fields, always made us stop work to say the Angelus prayer for the poor departed”.

The painting is dark and moody, with a somber tone meant to emphasize peasant life and the time they would stop to say a prayer every time the church bell rang.

The church tower can also be seen in a distant background to fully bring out the message.

Once venerated by Salvador Dali, this is definitely among the best Musee d’Orsay highlights.

Related Post: Best Free museums to visit in Paris

9. The Floor Scrapers (Les raboteurs de parquet) by Gustave Caillebotte

The Floor Scrapers is one of the famous paintings in Orsay museum.
The Floor Scrapers is one of the famous paintings in Orsay museum.

Caillebotte was one of the first French painters to depict city workers and urban life, and his 1875 work that depicts floor scrapers is among his best.

Although this is considered to be a Realist work focusing on technique rather than moral message, Caillebotte was actually an accomplished Impressionist.

He decided to join the Impressionists after critics lambasted this work during the 1875 Paris salon for being crude and vulgar due to the shirtless floor scrapers and mundane subject matter.

Even in its condemnation, critics had to admit the skill with which Caillebotte executed his work! Emile Zola (a popular French writer) even said that the “painting is so accurate that it makes it bourgeois”.

10. A Burial at Ornans by Gustave Courbet

A Burial at Ornans is one of the famous paintings in Musee d'Orsay.

Gustave Courbet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Courbet led the Realism movement of the 19th century and this 1849-1850 work is his first monumental painting.

He used a canvas size usually reserved for “noble” or “religious” subject matters and painted an ordinary burial scene and critics did not like it!

They thought the people were too ugly and the scene too ordinary for a grandiose canvas. However, all these criticisms just made him more popular as an artist.

The painting eventually came to be understood as a work of “universal understanding”, that included people from all walks of life, especially since they were under the watchful gaze of Jesus Christ on the cross in the background.

For this painting, he took inspiration from 17th-century Dutch art and his dark and austere tones hark back to Spanish art.

11. Starry Night Over the Rhône By Vincent van Gogh

Starry Night Over the Rhône is one of the famous art in Musee d'Orsay.

Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Starry Night Over the Rhône is one of the famous paintings at Musée d’Orsay.

It depicts the view of the reflection of the stars and lights on water from a quay on the east side of the River Rhône with the Great Bear Constellation in the night sky.

Van Gogh was fixated on portraying the beauty of the night sky, similar to what he expressed in letters to his brother, Theo and a fellow painter, Emile Bernard, and in his other paintings like The Starry Night housed in MoMA in New York and Café Terrace at Night in Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands.

Gas lights were quite new in France in 1888 (the year this painting was painted), and Van Gogh was eager to include this artificial reflection of light which became a prominent element in this piece.

12. Poppies by Claude Monet

Wild Poppies near Argenteuil is one of the famous painting by Claude Monet.

Claude Monet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Monet settled in Argenteuil after returning from England in 1871 and he used the bright countryside as the subject matter for his paintings of that period.

Poppies (sometimes called Poppy Field), painted in 1873 depict figures strolling through a poppy field on a bright summer’s day! The flowers are painted with vibrancy and suggest a step towards abstractionism.

The woman and child in the foreground are believed to be Monet’s wife, Camille, and their child, Jean.

Poppies is among those tranquil Musee d’Orsay paintings that bring some respite from the more serious subject matter.

13. Dante And Virgil by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Bouguereau had a fierce desire to succeed in the art world and painted this work after failing to win the Prix de Rome on two previous occasions.

Dante And Virgil painted in 1850 depicts a scene from Dante’s Inferno (the eighth circle of hell), during which two damned souls fight each other.

It is a bitter battle of strength and purveys the themes of horror and monstrosity to which Bouguereau would never return.

This monumental artwork definitely holds its own among the other great Musee d’Orsay masterpieces.

14. Luncheon on the Grass (Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe) by Claude Monet

Luncheon on the Grass is one of the Musee d'Orsay masterpieces.

The first half of the painting – Claude Monet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Monet’s 1865-1866 work was intended as a tribute and challenge to Manet’s painting of the same name (seen above).

The key difference between the two paintings is that Monet’s version does not have a female nude and is a work of Impressionism instead of Modernism and Monet uses the trees above to create light and shadows for the painting.

The original work was split into three parts by Monet after it was kept in a dank cellar by his landlord as collateral.

Luncheon on the Grass is one of the famous Musee d’Orsay paintings.

The second part of the painting – Claude Monet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When Monet got it back, it had gone moldy and he had to split it. The third fragment is now lost, but this fragment and the second are housed along with other famous paintings in Musee d’Orsay.

15. The Origin of the World (L’Origine du monde) by Gustave Courbet

Also known as one of the most famous paintings to seldom be seen, this 1866 work by Courbet depicts the naked torso of a woman with a sense of frankness and daring.

It was probably commissioned by the Turkish-Egyptian diplomat, Khalil-Bey, who was a collector of works related to female anatomy.

It was added to the Musee d’Orsay collection in 1995 and is a definite must-see when visiting.

While it was quite shocking and daring at that time to fully show a woman’s nakedness with her legs fully open, it’s still quite shocking to some even today and many wonder what Courbet thought when he painted it.

Since I like to keep things PG on this blog, I won’t be adding its photo but you can see it here if you’re curious.

16. The Swing by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The Swing is one of the famous Renoir paintings.

Renoir, along with Monet, was a leading artist of the Impressionist movement. His 1876 painting, The swing depicts a woman standing on a swing talking with a man while another man and a child look on.

The woman’s head is turned to the side as if she was shy and the scene has a carefree atmosphere that is enhanced by Renoir’s depiction of dappled sunlight on the figures.

Although the painting annoyed critics during the 1877 Paris Salon, it still found a buyer and has taken its place among Orsay Museum’s most famous paintings.

This painting was painted in today’s Musée de Montmartre gardens in Montmartre which you can visit to see close to what Renoir saw when he painted it.

You can also check out other famous paintings by Auguste Renoir.

17. Summer Night (Nuit d’été) by Winslow Homer

Summer Night is one of the famous Orsay museum paintings.

Winslow Homer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Homer started his art career as a cartoonist reporter during the American Civil War and his paintings usually depicted marine life, American landscapes, and American daily life.

His work focused on subject matter that landed somewhere between symbolism and realism, and Summer Night has a sense of poetry and mystery about it.

Painted in 1890, two women can be seen dancing on the shore while the moonlight seems to bounce off of the water behind them.

When viewing this Musee d’Orsay artwork, one is overcome by the tranquility of the scene, and it provides a much-needed break from the more intense subject matter on display in the museum.

18. The Card Players by Paul Cézanne

Card Players is one of the paintings from France.

Photo credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Card Players was painted between 1890-1895 and carries a theme of Caravaggian inspiration along with his other works in this series which has a total of 5 paintings.

The painting depicts two cardplayers locked in a serious game, painted in dark and moody hues.

The Post-Impressionist based the two players on peasants he used to see at his father’s property — the man smoking the pipe was the gardener.

Some have suggested the card game represents the struggle Cezanne faced in getting his father to approve of his artistry.

His father was a successful co-founder of a bank and wanted his son to study law in order to inherit and run the bank one day.

However, Cézanne persisted and became one of the best Post-Impressionists of his generation.

19. Van Gogh Self-Portrait By Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh Self-Portrait is one of the famous Musee d'Orsay artwork.
Van Gogh Self-Portrait is one of the famous Musee d’Orsay artworks.

Vincent van Gogh’s self-portrait is one of the most famous Musee d’Orsay paintings.

In fact, he painted a lot of self-portraits — over 40 — and this one is believed to be his last self-portrait though some historians argue that the self-portrait without a beard was the last.

As you might already know, van Gogh was a troubled artist mentally! He painted this painting in 1889 to express how he felt.

His face looked calmer, his eyes insecure and the entire painting shows the despair that was going on in his life at that time.

It is a powerful and intimate portrayal of Van Gogh during a tumultuous part of his life.

20. The Painter’s Studio (L’Atelier du peintre) By Gustave Courbet

The Musee d’Orsay collection includes many Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works but The Painter’s Studio painted in 1855 is not one of them.

Instead, The Painter’s Studio: A Real Allegory summing up seven years of my artistic and moral life represents the Realism artistic movement that paved the way for subsequent painting styles.

As its name suggests, it summarizes Courbet’s painting topics throughout his life as a painter — from a landscape, people from various backgrounds, a nude woman, his friends, and more.

Though Courbet felt strongly about this piece, it was rejected during the 1855 Paris World Fair in favor of 11 of his other paintings.

He felt that this painting needed more recognition and he started an exhibition of his own, The Pavilion of Realism though it never took off.

21. Whistler’s Mother By James McNeill Whistler

Whistler’s Mother is one of the famous paintings at Musee d'Orsay.

Whistler’s Mother or Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 as originally named is a memorable work of art created by American artist, James McNeill Whistler back in 1871.

As you might have guessed, the subject is the mother of James McNeill Whistler, but it is believed that his mother was just a sit-in for a real model who didn’t show up for their painting session.

What you may find fascinating about this painting is the way Whistler uses colors or rather the lack of them.

He is famous for his limited color palette, but in this particular painting, he manages to create distinguishable monochromatic effects using shades of black and gray.

While the painting was rejected when showcased in London in 1872, it had better success in France when it was purchased for the Luxembourg Museum.

It might not be the most famous painting in Paris but it has made a huge impact in America.

It has been used as a symbol to show a mother’s love when the U.S. Post Office Department issued a stamp with the painting on it, and a statue erected in Pennsylvania “as a tribute to mothers by the Ashland Boys’ Association in 1938, during the Great Depression” based on it.

22. The Gleaners By Jean-François Millet

The Gleaners is one of the famous paintings in Musee d'Orsay.
The Gleaners is one of the famous paintings in Musee d’Orsay.

The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet is another famous art in Musee d’Orsay not to miss.

Painted in 1857, it depicts three women collecting leftover wheat from a recently harvested field, which was a common practice in France back in the day.

It’s a simple scene but Millet still manages to beautifully capture the dignity of these hard-working women.

Though the painting became famous for its sympathetic look, it was also met with a lot of controversies from the middle and upper classes who saw it as glorifying the lower class people which made them scared for their status in case the huge groups of people in the low status decided to revolt against them since the French Revolution was still very fresh in their minds.

Another criticism came from the fact that the painting was made on a large canvas which were usually reserved for noble, historical, and religious scenes.

However, today, it is considered a masterpiece of the Realism art movement and one of the most important paintings of the 19th century when it came to the representation of poverty and workers.

23. Girls at the Piano by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Young Girls at the Piano is one of the famous paintings of Pierre Auguste Renoir.

Photo credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Girls at the Piano is a painting by the French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, a well-recognized figure in the Impressionist movement.

Completed in 1892, this artwork is a clear representation of Renoir’s style which focuses on real-life scenes and bright, natural light.

The painting shows two girls at a piano! The use of light is a standout feature with Renoir portraying it naturally falling on the subjects, giving depth to their facial expressions and the surroundings.

The room they are in is also modestly decorated with hints of a well-lived and familiar environment.

24. Haystacks by Claude Monet 

Haystacks is one of the famous paintings by Monet.

Claude Monet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Monet is famous for painting one subject over and over again, and like in the Water Lillies Paintings, Haystacks is a series of paintings.

At the time Monet was living in Giverny, he saw his farmer neighbor’s stack of hay and how they changed due to changes in light and he was inspired to capture it.

He started with just 2, capturing one with the sun and one without but he soon realized that the light changed too fast and frequently.

Monet requested his stepdaughter to keep bringing him empty canvas so that he could capture every change in light on a different canvas and before he knew it, he had 25 paintings depicting different lighting of the day, weather, and seasons.

And although paintings from this series are located in a number of museums, you can find the biggest collection in Orsay Museum!

If you love Monet’s work, then this is one of the famous Orsay museum paintings you shouldn’t miss!

25. Dance in The Country by Pierre-Auguste Renoir 

Dance in The Country  is one of the famous paintings in Orsay museum.

Musée d’Orsay, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s safe to say that Renoir loved painting Dance paintings!

From Dance at Le moulin de la Galette (1876), Dance at Bougival (1883), and Dance in the City (1883) which is also a famous artwork in Orsay Museum, to the painting in question, Dance in the Country which he also painted in 1883 as part of his “Dance” theme.

The painting was commissioned by Paul Durand-Ruel who wanted a painting based on a theme of a ball and Renoir beautifully brought it to life.

It clearly shows the movement of the dance as though the couple is on a dance floor! From the woman’s twirling dress to the position of the man, this Orsay museum painting truly shows how skilled Renoir was.

Final Thoughts on the Best Orsay Museum Paintings

This list contains the essential and most famous paintings in Orsay Museum, which all hold a piece of their makers within them.

When visiting, you can see the melancholy in Van Gogh’s blue, the fierce aspirations in Bouguereau’s subject matter, and the flamboyance in Monet’s brushstrokes.

One cannot accurately describe the immense awe that viewing these legendary works evokes! You have to experience it yourself to understand!

So, by familiarizing yourself with these 25 most famous paintings in Orsay Museum, you will be able to appreciate them more when you see them in person.

You may also like these articles:

Was this post on the famous paintings in Orsay Museum helpful? Then please consider sharing it with others.

Visiting Musée d’Orsay and wondering which artworks you shouldn’t miss? This article will show you the most famous paintings in Orsay Museum to see! famous paintings at Musee d orsay| paintings in Musee d orsay| famous art in musee d orsay| musee d orsay masterpieces| orsay museum paintings| musee d orsay artwork| orsay museum famous paintings| musee d orsay masterpieces.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.