Monet's water lilies
Stuart Bak

Musee d'Orsay vs Musee Marmottan Monet

It’s 1874, and a group of young artists known collectively as the ‘Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc.’ launch a low-key exhibition in Paris. Flash forward 150 years and many of the artists involved – among them Monet, Degas and Pissarro – are household names; pioneers and leading practitioners of the movement that became known as Impressionism. It’s fitting then that the world’s finest collections of Impressionist and indeed Post-Impressionist art are housed in Paris museums, among them the mighty Musée d’Orsay and small-but-perfectly-formed Musée Marmottan Monet. Read on for our guide to this dynamic duo as we pit the Musée d’Orsay vs Musée Marmottan Monet…

Musée d’Orsay in Brief

Visitors viewing a Renoir at the Musée d'Orsay

The Musée d’Orsay opened in 1986, inside the Beaux-Arts beauty that is the former Gare d'Orsay, a turn-of-the-century railway station. It’s set on the Left Bank of the Seine with views across the river to the Tuileries and the Louvre and boasts the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art on the planet. We’re talking works by (deep breath): Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Cézanne, Rodin, Renoir, Whistler, Toulouse-Lautrec and some dude called Vincent van Gogh, to name just a few (phew!).

Here’s your opportunity to see – in real life – world-renowned masterpieces like Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’ series, Whistler’s ‘Mother’, van Gogh’s hypnotic ‘Starry Night over the Rhône’ and Renoir’s ‘Bal du Moulin de la Galette’ (pictured above). And these historic paintings and sculptures are only the half of it: the building is a work of art in itself, as evidenced by the soaring arches of the main hall, and the massive station-clock window with its timeless views across the Seine to the Louvre Museum and Sacré-Cœur Basilica beyond.

Musée d’Orsay in Numbers:

Clock at the Musée d'Orsay
  • Size: 574 feet long and 246 feet wide, this former train station is supported by 12,000 metric tons of steel – beat that, Eiffel Tower!
  • Artworks: You can explore up to 3,000 sculptures, paintings and pieces of decorative art from the collection at any one time.
  • Top artists: Among the most represented artists here are Monet (86 paintings), Renoir (81), Redon (106), Carrière (86), Cézanne (56) and Vuillard (70).
  • Visitors: around 3.3 million annually.

Unmissable Musée d’Orsay Highlights

Exterior shot of the Musée d'Orsay
  • We’re in the Monet! Here’s where to ogle many of the maestro’s most famous works – in fact the biggest collection of his art outside of the Musée Marmottan Monet (of which more below). Don’t miss pieces from his mesmerizing ‘Water Lilies’ and ‘Haystacks’ series, plus the majestic ‘Londres: Le Parlement’ and ‘Coquelicots’.
  • The van Gogh collection here is equally impressive. Get up close to the original canvases of paintings you’ll feel you’ve known your entire life, including ‘Self Portrait’, ‘Starry Night over the Rhône’, and ‘Bedroom in Arles’.
  • A modern master, Manet’s early works were considered utterly shocking back in the 1860s, and pieces including ‘Le Déjeuner Sur l'Herbe’ and ‘Olympia’ still pack a mighty punch.
  • The light and movement in Renoir’s iconic ‘Bal du Moulin de la Galette’ is a joy to behold. The 1876 masterpiece is rightly celebrated as one of the best pieces produced by the Impressionist movement. Do. Not. Miss.

Getting In

Entry to the Musée d’Orsay is included with the Paris Pass, which can save you up to 50% if you plan to take in a number of popular Paris attractions, tours and activities while you’re in town. 

Get more information and buy your Paris Pass here.

Musée Marmottan Monet in Brief

Japanese footbridge by Monet

The Musée Marmottan Monet, set on the edge of the epic Bois de Boulogne park in the 16th arrondissement, is a rather different prospect to the mighty Musée d’Orsay. For starters, it’s way smaller. And, as the name suggests, it’s primarily focused on the work of Claude Monet. In fact, it contains the world’s largest collection of his work; something in the order of 100 pieces. These include instantly recognizable works including ‘Impression, Sunrise’ (the extraordinary oil on canvas that gave the art movement its name), plus large scale paintings from the ‘Water Lilies’ and ‘Haystacks’ series, and his views of Japanese bridges, the Tuileries, Gare Saint-Lazare and the Houses of Parliament in London. Many of the artworks here were bequeathed in 1966 by Michel Monet, Monet’s son and heir.

But it’s not all about the Monet, Monet, Monet here. Many other artists of the Impressionist and modern era are represented, including Degas, Manet, Gauguin, Rodin, Sisley, Pissarro et al, plus the world’s largest permanent collection of works by Berthe Morisot, the first female Impressionist.

Musée Marmottan Monet in Numbers:

Monet painting of the Houses of Parliament in London
  • Size: A former 19th-century hunting lodge, Musée Marmottan Monet is inevitably smaller than a train station, yet still packs a considerable punch.
  • Artworks: The collection comprises more than 300 carefully curated works of art; there are around 100 in the Monet exhibition, 25+ by Berthe Morisot, and dozens more paintings and sculptures by the world’s best-loved Impressionists.

Unmissable Musée Marmottan Monet Highlights

  • The clue’s in the name here and the Monet collection does not disappoint. You’ll want to ogle ‘Impression, Sunrise’ for sure (though do check it isn’t on loan elsewhere before you go!). Then there’s the maestro’s stunning take on Rouen Cathedral, various snowy European landscapes and the Gare Saint-Lazare.
  • Several paintings from Monet’s beloved ‘Water Lilies’ series are displayed in a monumental, light-filled rotunda-style space: strategic seating invites viewers to pause a while and contemplate the art. The result is both hypnotic and illusory.
  • Don’t miss the permanent collection of works by Berthe Morisot. Highlights include her ‘Reclining Shepherdess’ and portrait of Manet’s brother with his daughter.
  • The Impressionism and Modern Times exhibition is the Impressionist movement in microcosm. Check out Gustave Caillebotte’s masterful ‘Paris Street, Rainy Day’, Gauguin’s colorful ‘Bouquet of Flowers’ and Manet’s alluring portrait of Berthe Morisot for the win.

Getting In

Musée Marmottan Monet is open daily except Mondays. Hours are 10AM-6PM, with late opening until 9PM on Thursdays. Last admission is an hour before closing time. Tickets cost €14 and can be purchased via the official website.

Musée d'Orsay vs Musée Marmottan Monet: Which is Best?

Main hall at the Musée d'Orsay

There’s a great deal to enjoy at both museums. The obvious benefits of Musée d’Orsay would be its central location and huge, broad collection of painting, sculpture and decorative arts. That said, the sheer size of a place like this can be intimidating, and its popularity can mean lots of standing on tiptoe trying to catch a glimpse of your favorite piece over an ocean of bobbing heads. The fact that Musée Marmottan Monet is a little off the beaten track can be considered a positive for that reason; it’s far less busy and its size makes the exhibitions easier to digest. It’s unlikely anyone but the most die-hard Impressionism enthusiast would want to see both. We’d recommend Musée d’Orsay if you only have time for one, and perhaps combine Musée Marmottan Monet with something like the mighty Louvre, for a broader overall perspective on the history of European art.

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