The Spectacular Second Empire, 1852-1870

The Empire Strikes Back
October 12, 2016

Devotees of design and art adore Paris’s jaw-dropping Musée d’Orsay, a majestic museum in a converted industrial space launched in 1986. Occupying the glass-roofed former Orsay railway station, built in 1900 on the banks of the Seine opposite Tuileries Gardens, it houses art collections spanning 1848 to 1914. That’s the big-hitting Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, including stellar talents Manet, Monet, Degas, Cézanne, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Rousseau.

Like all grand dames, the gallery needed a little nip and tuck, and in 2011 the Nouvel Orsay was unveiled, a design makeover incorporating renewed spaces, including a cool cafe, behind the iconic giant clock, by Brazil’s Campana brothers.

Now, to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the Musée d’Orsay focuses on a controversial and, some might say, frivolous era, with new exhibition The Spectacular Second Empire, 1852-1870. The paintings, sculpture, photography, architectural drawings, objets d’art and jewellery create a fascinating picture of this prolific and brilliant epoch, once associated with decadence and superficiality. The Second Empire was denigrated in its time and held in contempt after its fall, but now the time is right to rediscover its splendid charms. In a period of social unrest and aesthetic crisis, its movers n’ shakers were torn between excessive decoration, ostentation and the quest for the real. Entertaining, festive but rich in contradiction, the era provides food for thought.

Until 15 Jan, 2017.

Musée d’Orsay / 1 rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 7th / +33 1 40 49 48 14 / 9.30am-6pm Tue-Sun, 9.30am-9.45pm Thu /