Impressionist Museum in Paris: The Musée D'Orsay clock

An Art Historian’s Guide To the 7 Impressionist Museums in Paris

Welcome to the first post in a new series called “An Art Historian’s Guide” — we’ll be starting with impressionist museums in Paris. This series will be my guide to museums and artistic movements around the world.


As an art historian, how I interact with museums is different than the average person strolling through them. My goal is to provide other art lovers a thorough guide to hidden gem museums, artworks, and a deeper understanding of these institutions. I want to make art historical knowledge accessible for people who don’t have degrees!


This guide will be a thorough walkthrough of all the impressionist museums in Paris, answers to some of the internet’s frequently asked questions, and a primer of the impressionist movement, so if you love art but don’t necessarily know what you’re looking at or why it moves you, this hopefully acts as a bit of a primer. So let’s hop in!

Impressionist Museums in Paris

There are six Impressionist museums in Paris and one located nearby in Giverny. Many of these museums have stunning glasswork, so in addition to seeing work by impressionist artists, you also see some of Paris’ most impressive architectural glasswork.


So seeing impressionist art in Paris isn’t quite as hard as trying to see the Eiffel Tower from one of Paris’ airports, let’s say. There will be plenty of options for you, whether you just want to see the hits or focus on the work of one specific artist.
Impressionist Museum in Paris: The Musée D'Orsay clock
The Musée D’Orsay is famous for its clock. Photo by Claudio Mota.

Musée D’Orsay

Located on the river Seine across from the Jardin des Tuileries in the 7e arrondissement, the Musée D’Orsay is the premiere place to see impressionist art in Paris. This museum used to be a train station and it’s the Paris museum with the big clock in it. The Musée D’Orsay has been in operation since 1986 and if you want to see impressionst art in Paris, this is one that’s not to be missed!

Is the Musee D’Orsay Worth It?

If you’re an impressionist fan, then yes. You cannot miss this museum when you go to Paris. The museum has works from major impressionist artists including Manet, Monet, Degas, Fantin-Latour, Millet, Courbet, Sisley, Morisot, Seurat, etc. The museum also has an excellent collection of Vincent Van Gogh works.

Many of the most iconic and recognizable works of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism can be found at the Musée D’Orsay. The museum’s bright and airy rotunda (now the sculpture garden) is truly a sight to behold, designed by architects Lucien Magne, Émile Bénard and Victor Laloux for the 1900 Paris Expo.

How Many Impressionist Paintings Are in Musee D’Orsay?

The Musée D’Orsay has 480 impressionist paintings and over 600 post-impressionist paintings. In total, there are over 5000 works in the museum’s collection.

What Floor Are the Impressionist Paintings at Musee D’Orsay?

You can find Impressionist works on every floor of this Paris museum. Edouard Manet’s Olympia, for example, is in one of the side galleries of the sculpture garden (room 14). There is the largest cluster, though, are on the 2nd and 3rd floors. But you’ll need to do every single floor to make sure you’re seeing all the major works.

How Much Time Do You Need at Musee D’Orsay?

You can finish the Musée D’Orsay in a morning or afternoon. As an art historian, I’d say I take longer than 99% of people in an art museum and I can easily get through the museum in an afternoon. I’d say if you’re zooming through to see the major artworks, 2 hours would be a reasonable timeframe.

What Should You Not Miss in the Musee D’Orsay?

The top impressionist artworks (and post-impressionist and their cirles) at the Musée D’Orsay you absolutely have to see are:

  • Manet’s Olympia
  • Degas’ The Ballet Class
  • Degas’ ballerina sculptures
  • Renoir’s Young Girls at the Piano
  • Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette
  • Cézanne’s Apples and Oranges
  • Van Gogh’s self-portrait
  • Van Gogh’s Starry Night (the other one is in the MOMA)
  • Monet’s Poppy Field
  • Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass
  • Toulouse-Lautrec’s Rousse
  • Manet’s The Balcony
  • Gaugin’s Arearea
  • Morrisot’s The Cradle
  • Monet’s Blue Water Lillies (not to be confused with the curved water lillies)
impressionist museum in Paris: Monet's water lillies
Monet’s Water Lillies curved panels are unlike any other work you’ll see in Paris

Musée de L’Orangerie

The Musée de L’Orangerie is located at the Jardin des Tuileries on the opposite side of The Louvre, right across from the river Seine. It houses both a permanent collection of impressionist works and holds temporary contemporary and modern art retrospective exhibitions. When I was in Paris last year, one of the highlights was the Mickalene Thomas exhibition at this museum.
If you happen to go around lunchtime, grab a ham and emmental sandwich. It still doesn’t take the top spot for my ultimate best museum sandwich in Europe (that goes to the focaccia at the Scuderie del Quirinale), but this is a great second place.

What Is L’Orangerie in Paris Famous For?

Musée de L’Orangerie is home to Claude Monet’s Water Llillies masterpiece on the curved walls. This is by far the number one reason that people visit this museum, and it’s well worth passing by.

Even if that’s all you see, I highly recommend visiting, especially if you’ve got the Paris Museum Pass. I’ve spent time in a lot of museums, and nothing grips people quite like the water lillies. Even when the room is filled with people, it’s nearly silent because people are so transported by the work.

Musee D’Orsay or Musée de L’Orangerie for Impressionist Works?

I’m going to be controversial and say I actually prefer the Orangerie for impressionist works. Although there aren’t as many masterpieces as there are in the collection of the Musée D’Orsay, I think the arrangement of the impressionist works and the diversity of artists represented in the section on the Impressionists and their friends edges it out for me, especially if you’re a repeat visitor to Paris.

It’s also much less busy. One thing to note: Reserve online for free museum day. The staff at L’Orangerie are very particular about this and I was told (before eventually being let in) that even President Macron wouldn’t be able to get in without a reserved ticket on that day.

Musée Marmottan Monet

The Musée Marmottan Monet has the largest collection of Monet works in Paris. Claude Monet is the most recognizable impressionist artist, so it makes sense that there’s an entire museum dedicated to his work. I haven’t yet visited (Paris is so big and I’ve had other things to see), but I’m very much looking forward to visiting in the future.

If you’re a fan of Monet’s work, but you don’t care as much about the work of the other impressionists, then this is theone that I would choose to visit, maybe along with L’Orangerie.

Musée de Montmartre

Montmartre was an impressionist hotspot, so if you want to live like an impressionist for a day, then I highly recommend taking a stroll through this particular area of Paris. On your tour, stopping at the Musée de Montmartre is a must! Architecturally, you’re in for a treat at this 17th century home and garden, where Renoir famously worked. The gardens are named after him.

Impressionist Museum in Paris: Musée Rodin

The Rodin impressionist museum in Paris has one of the nicest gardens in the city!

Musée Rodin

Most people think of painting when they think of impressionism. Except, perhaps, when it comes to Auguste Rodin. The Musée Rodin is a two-part museum, one of which is located in Paris. If you’re a big Rodin fan, then I recommend visiting his home outside of town, but if you want to just dip your toes into the work of Impressionism’s leading sculptor, then the museum in Paris proper will give you a great taste of the artist’s work.

I have a special place in my heart for the Musée Rodin. It’s the first placed I visited (simply because it was open on a day where many other things were closed) when I was in Paris. If you go, I highly recommend the ham and emmental cheese sandwich. Unlike museum cafeterias in North America, the cafeterias in most museums in Paris are great.

Petit Palais

Built for the Paris exhibition in 1900, the Petit Palais is one of the most stunning buildings in Paris. The museum’s collection includes works from the classical era all the way to about 1900, when the building opened for the world expo that catapulted France onto the world stage at the start of the 20th century.

The Petit Palais has impressionist works by artists like Degas, Corot, Pissaro, Manet, and Monet.

If you’re wanting a broader look at French painting and sculpture, then this is a fantastic impressionist museum in Paris. However, if you’re really wanting to get a heavy dose of Impressionism, I would skip this one if you’ve got limited time in favor of some of the others I’ve already mentioned.

Fondation Monet in Giverny

Okay, okay, you got me. Fondation Monet in Giverny is technically not one of the impressionist museums in Paris. However, it’s located very nearby and if you want to see Monet’s home, then you can’t skip this one. I haven’t made it out to Giverny yet because I can barely get through The Louvre. It’s so big I’ve never been able to finish it all in one day, so I usually go for that over a trip out to Giverny.

But if you’re a big fan of Claude Monet’s work or you study Impressionism, then I highly recommend giving it a visit.

Which Museum Has the Most Impressionist Art?

If you want to visit the impressionist museum in Paris with the most works, then you need to go to Musée D’Orsay. It’s really the museum where you’ll see the most works and the layout makes it very easy to get in and out. The queue is also super organized, and everyone that works there is friendly so don’t be shy to ask questions if you want to be directed to specific works.

Which Impressionist Museum in Paris should I visit?

It really depends on your goal.

If you want to see the most important works of Impressionism or you want to see the works of Vincent Van Gogh, then definitely go to the Musée D’Orsay.

If you’re a fan of Claude Monet’s work, then go to the Musée Marmottan Monet or Monet’s house in Giverny.

If you like sculpture, then I recommend the Musée Rodin.

And if you want an underrated recommendation, then Musée de L’Orangerie, which has a better overall presentation of Impressionist works in my opinion.

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