The Orsay museum in Paris is one of the most visited museums in the world, known for its vibrant collection of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century masterpieces by the likes of Courbet, Monet, and Seurat. This 2.5-hour Musée d'Orsay with kids tour, led by an art historian trained in working with children, provides a dynamic, child-oriented introduction to the museum and its highlights. Venturing through its expansive halls—the museum is housed in a former train station!—we'll look together at some of the major art movements represented in the collections, like Realism, Impressionism, and Post-Impressionism. Using learning activities and visual thinking strategies, we'll encourage close looking: What do you see in this image? Why might Van Gogh's works have such wild colors? Do Monet's Water Lilies look funny to you up close? Our hope is that our young art-spectators will come away with familiarity with these world-famous movements as well as a deeper appreciation for "reading" and understanding art.
From Trains to Tableaux—Musée d'Orsay for Kids Tour
The Orsay's collections are housed in an opulent turn-of-the-century building (quite à propos for displaying art of the same time period). But did you know this building wasn't always a museum? In fact, it was constructed as a train station! We'll begin our tour by interpreting the structure together, a first step in our lesson of "reading" art and our surroundings. Why would the building need such a lofty glass ceiling and enormous archways? Can you imagine where the trains might have gone? Surely we'll look at images of the station in its heyday before moving on to talk about the shift from station to museum. We might also talk about other museums we've seen, perhaps in our home cities, and imagine what other unconventional spaces could be used to house art collections.
Painting in Nature!
With discussions of trains under our belts, we'll move on to the art itself. We may start with works from the Barbizon school, considered a precursor to Impressionism. Barbizon painters worked almost exclusively outdoors, en plein air, and tried to paint their surroundings in as realistic a way possible. Have you ever taken a sketchpad outside to draw? How is it different than drawing a subject, inside, from memory? Would the colors of your drawing change depending on the time of day and the position of the sun?
Moving on from the Barbizon, we may look at Realism, particularly works by Courbet and Daumier. These artists and their contemporaries liked to paint the people they saw in the every day—doing their shopping, or playing chess—rather than stiff, idealistic portraits of people like Kings and Queens. Sometimes their paintings and drawings were humorous and even satirical, while at other times they were simple reflections of human activity. Looking at these works together, we'll turn the question to you: If you had to draw or paint in a Realist manner, what would you want to draw?
At the heart of our walk, we'll take in the work of the Impressionists. These artists—some of the most famous of which are Claude Monet (whose house and garden we visit on our Giverny Tour
), Edgar Degas, and Édouard Manet—rejected formal artistic rules. Like the Barbizon and Realist painters, they preferred subjects drawn from modern life. Can you detect any differences between the Impressionist works and the Realist works we just saw? One clarifying difference is in the brush strokes—in the Impressionist works, they are visible, short, and thick—almost texturized. Can you imagine what an Impressionist painting might feel like to touch? This was revolutionary at the time, and many of these artists were ridiculed by the press and art collectors for being too avant-garde
with their ideas.
"[Our guide] made the tour valuable and fun for both adults and children. He keyed into each of my children's different interests and worked with us in a pleasant and informative way. We felt that we came away from our tour with a much deeper knowledge of art and history. We would highly recommend . . ."
As our time together comes to a close, perhaps after a brief look at some of the Post-Impressionist works in the museum, like Pointillism (can you imagine the time it might take to paint a large-scale canvas with tiny little dots?), we'll emerge with a better understanding of how to look at art, and perhaps also the ability to see the evolution of these nineteenth-century movements. Our Musée d'Orsay for Families tour is the perfect complement to our Louvre for Kids Tour
, which looks at art from Antiquities until the early nineteenth-century.
Please let us know in advance of the tour if you or your children have special interests you would like addressed.
In addition to our family program tours, we may be able to adapt certain other tours to the needs of families, though please note such adaptations would not incorporate special activities. Please contact us for more details.
What kind of art is in the Musée d’Orsay?
The Musée d’Orsay collection contains works roughly from 1848-1914. Some of the art movements include Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, Symbolism, and Pointilism and such artists as Manet, Courbet, Corot, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Gaugain, Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Seurat. Our walk will focus on the tenets of these movements in a child-friendly way.
There are 7 in my family but your website won't allow me to include more than 6 participants. Can't you make an exception?
Unfortunately not. The group size restriction is imposed by the museum. Please contact us to work out an alternative solution.
When is the best time to visit Musée d’Orsay?
The Musée d’Orsay is very busy and not as spacious as the Louvre. We highly recommend visiting the museum when it is open late on Thursday evenings.
Is there a long line to enter the museum? Can I "skip the line"? Context pre-purchases tickets to the museum (unless you will have a Museum Pass), so you will not be required to wait in any ticket line. There is a security check through which all visitors to the museum are required to pass, and there is sometimes a line for this. Because we have advance tickets, we have access to a special ticket holder security line, which is very short. Museum Pass holders also have access to this special line.
Is the Musée d’Orsay wheelchair accessible?
The Musée d’Orsay is wheelchair accessible. There are elevators throughout the museum and you can print a wheelchair accessibility guide from the site. We are happy to custom-design visits to the Musée d’Orsay for visitors with mobility concerns.
Do you have an adult version of this tour?
We do! See our Musée d'Orsay Tour
for a small-group, in-depth tour of the collection geared for adults and mature teens.
Are children's tickets free?
Yes! If you booked a private tour, participants under 18 are free to enter the museum. If you booked for a group tour tickets are mandatory.