Housed in an old, abandoned train station, the Musée d’Orsay [63 Rue de Lille, +33 140494814, ad/ch €8/Free (prices vary for special exhibitions)] is one of the most visited sights in Paris. Despite its ‘post-apocalyptic’ setting, the museum has nothing to do with rebellions. In fact, the old station has become the prefect backdrop for the exquisite paintings that have been acquired from the French national collection, as it was refurbished to house these artworks. The station was initially built for the World Fair in 1900; however, due to changes in train carriage sizes and subway infrastructure, the station quickly fell into disuse. It was then converted to become a museum with the aid of some minor readjustments (e.g fitting the walls and ceilings with more artistic stone décor). The arched glass roof of the station was kept in tact, as it allowed natural light to flood into the museum, enhancing the beauty of the sculptures that stand at the ground level.

Previous to the most major refurbishment during 2010 and 2011, the layout of works followed a roughly chronological pattern, with the first floor housing neo-classical, romanticism and realism movements of the early to mid 19th century, and the upper floors displaying the later impressionist, post impressionist, symbolist and modernist works of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The refurbishment closed the top floor, so many stellar pieces migrated to the lower floors, and with a completely new design and interior decor the visitor now encounters the more modern genres on the ground floor.   A key change has been the colour of the walls.  Museum president, Guy Cogéval, said "Outside 20th-century and contemporary art, white kills all paintings".  Subtle greys now create a more homely atmosphere which allows the colours to leap out of the paintings as they were intended. 

Ready for a snappy lesson in French art history?  The early and mid 19th century were dominated by the neo-classical styles of early Ingres and Gérôme, which was contested by the Romanticism of Turner (though English, he was influencial in Fance), Gericault and Delacroix.  The 1848 Revolution that installed Napoleon III prompted a move towards the Realism of Courbet.  The Realism movement believed in an 'objective reality' that can be correctly apprehended by the senses and meaningfully represented in works of art, and shoudl not be distracted by the sentimentality of Romanticism.  Although both movements are philosophically related, the softer tones of the Barbizon works is contrasted with the more confronting works of the Realism school.   You can gain a sense of this divide by comparing Millet's divine The Gleaners with Courbet's powerful L'Origine du monde in Room 20.
The 1860's   This set the stage for the emergence of a strange and undefined movement

Pieces are still migrating, but you can get the latest display layout at a useful interactive floor plan at  Below, we have listed some of the iconic works in their respectives salles as of the time of writing.

Broadly speaking, the ground floor covers ther pre-Impressionist period up till 1870.
The decades preceding this date were heavily influenced by the Barbizon movement (includs Jean-François Millet, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Théodore Rousseau)  who were influenced by John Constable, and who moved away from formal depictions of historical events in favour of scenes from nature, as well as the Realist movement  (includes Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier),which emerged after the 1848 Revolution, and who counterpoised themselves against the sentimentalism of the Romantics. 

Around that time the French Académie des Beaux-Arts was firmly in control of the definition of art, which was evaluated at the annual Salon de Paris by a panel of jurists.   The defining event that marked the beginning of the Impressionist period may be the jurists' rejection of Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (along with about 3,000 works of other artists) depicting a nude woman in the company of two clothed men.  Althought the painting seems mild by today's standards, the subject matter in which the nude woman is not placed in the 'proper' classical context drew outrage from the jurists.  Emporer Napoleon III created a Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused) to contain the controversy.   A year later Manet and other younger dissidents influenced by the preceding Realist and Barbizon schools collaborated to form a rival institute, launching  a new movement that gained the term "Impressionism' , first coined by art critic Louis Leroy who used it as a derogatory term.  But the term stuck and was embraced by the Impressionists themselves who wanted to claim their own identity and a locus of expression. 

The museum was officially opened in 1986, and was created to display the explosive developments in art that occurred between the 19th and 20th centuries- its focus being the impressionist, post-impressionist and art-nouveau movements. These paintings, although belonging to bigger museums at that time (like the Louvre, Jeu de Paume and Pompidou Centre), were not displayed in their spaces, as they did not fit into their artistic norms. Hence, they were acquired by the Musée d’Orsay, which began functioning as their new home.

Ground Floor Rez-de-chaussée
At the ground level, you will encounter Roman sculptures, a library and several galleries (numerically coded) that house the early works of the pioneers of the Impressionist movement, as well as works by other era artists like Gerome, Delacroix, Daumier and Chasserieu.

Middle level Niveau médian
The middle level of the museum houses art-nouveau rooms.

Upper Level Niveau supérieur
 while the top level houses their crown jewels- the notable works of the impressionist movement by artists like Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Sisley and Degas; as well as post-impressionists, like Seurat, Matisse and Cézanne. As with the Louvre, try to prepare an exploration route as you can easily spend almost an entire day here, if you enter aimlessly.