The Orsay Museum (Musée d’Orsay)

Mention the Universal Exhibition or ‘World’s Fair’ in Paris, and nearly every Parisian will tell you that that is the event for which the Eiffel Tower was built, as a temporary exhibit, in 1889. But in the Paris World Fair which followed in 1900, a no less illustrious but lesser known Parisian landmark was built: the Orsay train station, designed to bring trains into the very heart of Paris, on the upper limits of the Left Bank of the Seine.

Description: The Orsay Museum (Musée d’Orsay)

This grandiose building of steel, concrete and glass, 32 metres high at its highest and built in the Art Nouveau style, already looked like a work of art long be-fore it was turned into a museum in 1986. Now it is home to some of the most valuable and well-known works of art in the world: late nineteenth and early twentieth century European art of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist schools.

Description: Inside The Orsay Museum (Musée d’Orsay)

Inside The Orsay Museum (Musée d’Orsay)

One does not need a degree in art history to recognise the movements and the artists themselves, so well imprinted is their touch in much of our collective psyche. Bonnard, Cézanne, Degas, Delacroix, Gauguin, Ingres, Klimt, Manet, Monet, Munch, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Toulouse Lautrec, van Gogh:  after seeing their work on so many school posters, tea coasters, postcards, T-shirts, screen savers, here, finally, is a chance to see the real thing up close. And if you want a whiff of scandal, this is also the place to come to. The Origin of the World, an oil painting by Gustave Courbet is on display here. It depicts in graphic detail female genitalia and has been the subject of censorship and controversy more or less constantly ever since it was painted in 1866. The last time it was censored was in 2011, when Facebook removed it from a user’s wall. Its never-ending fame means that this painting alone guarantees a steady stream of visitors to the museum.

Apart from the extraordinary collection of paintings, the museum also boasts a fine collection of sculptures, photo-graphs, decorative objects, works of graphic arts and architectural drawings. The place may no longer be a train station, but it will transport you nevertheless. Arrive early and plan to stay the whole day.

Musée d’Orsay, 1 rue de la Legion d’Honneur

Métro: Solferino or Assemblée Nationale (line 12)- RER: Musée d’Orsay (line C)

Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 am to 6 pm; Thursdays open till 9 pm, temporary exhibitions only

Entrance: $13.7-18.7

The Pompidou Centre (Centre Pompidou)

Description: The front of the Pompidou museum

The front of the Pompidou museum

From the outside the Pompidou Centre looks like an urban factory covered in giant coloured exhaust pipes. A large glass-covered tube staggers its way up across the frontal façade, somewhat like a graph charting the uninterrupted rise of a financial asset blinking on a computer screen. Inside the tube is an escalator, and riding it one feels like an extra in the film set reconstruction of a space ship: this is one of the most important modern art museums in the world, housing the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe.

The museum’s mission statement is to present art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and the works on display are divided into two broad periods: 1905 to 1960, and 1960 to the present day. The Pompidou Centre is not only about paintings. Architecture plays a big role, as does photography, multi-disciplinary art and installations. Current events include an exhibition explaining the relationship between dance and the visual arts, and contemporary artists on show use multiple media to infuse life into their art: video, film, music, light, human movement, to name but a few.

Description: The Pompidou Centre (Centre Pompidou)

The Pompidou Centre (Centre Pompidou) at night

The bridge between history and modernity is firmly drawn as well, with retrospectives on great figures of twentieth-century art throughout the year. 2012 has already seen Munch and Matisse, and a much-awaited exhibition of Dali’s masterpieces will open in November.

Above all, the Pompidou Centre has a reputation for being hip and avant-garde and is located in a lively, somewhat alter-native part of central Paris. The concrete slope leading down to its entrance is a favourite hangout for edgy fashionable youth, urban picnickers, musicians and skate boarders. To reflect its young client base, parts of the museum stay open late.

Centre Pompidou, Place Georges-Pompidou

Métro: Chatelet (lines 1, 4, 7, 11 and 14); Hotel de Ville (line 1)

Open daily (closed on Tuesdays), 11 am to 9 pm; Thursdays until 11 pm (galleries 1 and 2)

Entrance: $12-17.3

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