Musee d’Orsay, Paris (Five Favorites Series)

The Musee d’Orsay opened in 1986, in the former Gare d’Orsay in Paris – a Beaux Arts stone-and-steel railway terminal. The museum mostly houses French painting, sculpture, furniture, and photographs from 1848 to 1914. It has the best collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in the world. However, since I like the colors of such paintings but not the subjects, I haven’t included a single one on this list!

Jean Béraud, The Wait (L’Attente, rue de Chateaubriand, à Paris), undated

Jean Beraud, The Wait, n.d. (22 x 15 inches.) Musee d’Orsay, Paris. Image: Wikipedia

Béraud, a realist painter, often seems to be merely recording what he saw on the streets of Paris; but this work suggests a story that intrigues me. Is she waiting for that man on the far right? Is she leaning forward from an attempt to see him, or from eagerness, or from tension? If he’s the one she’s waiting for, why isn’t he moving?

See here for more works by Béraud. The Metropolitan Museum has his charming A Windy Day on the Pont des Arts, ca. 1880-1881 (not currently on display).

Albert Edelfelt, Louis Pasteur, 1885

Albert Edelfelt, Louis Pasteur, 1885. (60 x 49 inches) Musee d’Orsay, Paris. Image: Wikipedia

When this portrait was painted, Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) was one of the most famous scientists of his time, a hero to his fellow French. He is shown in his laboratory, surrounded by the apparatus he used for experiments in microbiology, bacteriology, and chemistry. The jar in his hand contains the spinal cord of a rabbit infected with rabies, which he used to develop a vaccine against rabies. I like the fact that the window at right sheds a glow on the scene, but it’s positioned at such a sharp angle that we can’t see anything distracting outside it.

When he was about twenty, Edelfelt (1854-1905) came from his native Finland to study in France. This portrait won him acclaim at the Salon of 1886, and it has become the most famous portrait of Pasteur. Pasteur hung the portrait in his dining room.

Giovanni Boldini, Count Robert de Montesquieu, 1897

Giovanni Boldini, Comte de Montesquiou, 1897. (63 x 32 inches) Musee d’Orsay, Paris. Image: Wikipedia

Such elegance! Marie Joseph Robert Anatole, Comte de Montesquiou-Fézensac (1855-1921) was  a Symbolist poet, art collector, dandy, and aesthete [“one having or affecting sensitivity to the beautiful, especially in art” – N.B. often paired with the adjective “pretentious”]. He was one of those highly influential, occasionally brutal arbiters of taste that no artist wanted to be on the wrong side of. James McNeill Whistler painted a full-length portrait of him in 1891-1892 (“Arrangement in Black and Gold“) that now hangs in the Frick Collection. See a photo of M. le comte with his cat here.

I had never seen Boldini’s work until I came across his Walk in the Park while looking for favorites in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples. More of Boldini’s works here.

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, The Prince Imperial and His Dog, Nero, 1865-1866

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Portrait of the Prince Imperial and his Dog, Nero, 1865-1866. (55 inches high) Musee d’Orsay, Paris. Image: Musee d’Orsay

At the Metropolitan Museum’s Carpeaux exhibition a few years ago, several versions of this utterly charming portrait of a boy and his pet were on display. I love the way the dog affectionately curls itself around the boy’s legs. The boy is nine-year-old Prince Eugène-Louis-Jean-Joseph Napoléon (1856–1879), only son of Emperor Napoleon III. The Empire fell in 1870 and the former prince was killed by Zulus in 1879, but this portrait continued to sell in Sevres porcelain reproductions, as “Boy with a Dog.” (The Metropolitan Museum has one of those.)

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, The Dance, 1865-69

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, The Dance, 1865-1869. (Stone, 13 x 9 feet) Musee d’Orsay, Paris. Image: Sailko / Wikipedia

When Charles Garnier was designing the new Paris opera house in 1863, he commissioned four sculptural groups for its ground-level facade: diagram here. In Carpeaux’s sculpture (image in situ here), a group of women circle gaily around a leaping male figure who symbolizes Dance. Some Parisians were so shocked by the realism of the female figures that they demanded that the work be removed.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 that ended the Empire (see Boy and His Dog above) also ended the controversy over The Dance. It remained on the Opera’s facade until a copy replaced it in 1964, and the original was put on display in the Louvre, and then the d’Orsay.

The Metropolitan Museum has a 21-inch bronze of the central figure, and of course Carpeaux’s astounding Ugolino.


  • If I were doing Six Favorites rather than Five Favorites, Manet’s Fifer,  (63 x 38 inches) would have made the cut. I like the boy and the style, but as a figure in art history, I don’t like Manet. See Seismic Shifts in Subject and Style.

Edouard Manet, The Fifer, 1866. Musee d’Orsay, Paris. Image: Wikipedia

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Posted in Painting, Sculpture Tagged permalink

About Dianne L. Durante

I constantly seek out art that's inspiring, thought-provoking, skillfully executed, and/or beautiful so I can share it (in jargon-free language) with others who need and enjoy such art, but don't have time to search for it themselves. As an independent scholar, writer, and lecturer, I focus on art history and history, with forays into food, history, politics, and publishing. My most recent projects are three volumes on Alexander Hamilton, Central Park: The Early Years, Innovators in Sculpture (a survey of 5,000 years of art in 2 hours), and videoguide apps by Guides Who Know. Click on the Books & Essays tab for a list of all books. For upcoming projects, see my Patreon page.

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