At the back end of the ground floor of the Musée d’Orsay, I was surprised to find an exhibit on the construction of the then-new 19th century opera house which was commissioned by the Emperor Napoleon III and designed by the young architect Charles Garnier (1825-1898).
The model in my first photo shows a cross-section of the opera building, with its entrance hall, grand staircase, auditorium with crown and the stage and backstage areas. Today this opera house is known as the Opéra Garnier or Palais Garnier, after its architect. It is one of four, five or six opera houses currently operating in Paris (depending on what you count as what), the others being:
- the Opéra Bastille, the newest and largest;
- the Opéra Comique (Salle Favart);
- the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées;
- the Théâtre du Châtelet, which now plays mainly operettas and musicals;
- the Athénée Théâtre Louis-Jouvet, which describes itself as the smallest lyric theater in Paris.
L’escalier de l’Opéra, a painting of the Grand Staircase of the Garnier opera house, was painted around 1880 by Victor Navlet. The French State bought this painting directly from the artist in 1881 and displayed it for six years in the French Embassy in Berlin.
This is the definitive sketch for the ceiling of the Garnier opera house, by the painter Jules-Eugène Lenepveu, who proceeded to paint exactly this on the round ceiling of the auditorium. Lenepveu’s ceiling painting is still there, but it is no longer visible because it has been covered since 1964 by the new ceiling paintings of Marc Chagall (1887-1985).
This portrait of the architect Charles Garnier was painted in 1868 by Paul Baudry.
Under a glass floor there is a model of the Garnier opera house and the entire district around it, as it was in the early years of the 20th century.
My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2021.
I have filed this post under two different districts, because the Orsay Museum
is in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, and the Garnier Opera is in the 9th.
See also: Ten days, eight operas, seven venues.
9 thoughts on “Garnier in the Orsay”
It is interesting to compare this big grand opera house with the one in San Jose Costa Rica
I’ve never been to Costa Rica, but I understand they also have an impressive opera house.
I was trying to link to my photos of the Opera House in Costa Rica but I couldn’t do it and I had to leave to go practice snorkeling for a trip I’m taking in September. I think the Costa Rica Opera is smaller – it has survived earthquakes. And one of the points of interest is that the paintings were done by Italians who had no idea what the people in Costa Rica looked like or wore. And especially they had no idea of the crops – they didn’t know that bananas grow around sea level and coffee up in the mountains. And especially they had no idea that banana’s grow pointing up and not pointing down. This is an excerpt of the original blog
Thanks for the link.
From your photos, this theater reminds me of some of the early theaters in Europe, for instance the Théâtre du Gymnase Marie Bell in Paris from the year 1820.
I agree – I didn’t think of it when you posted that originally, but there are definite points of correspondence
Not to mention the Hanoi Opera House. The Palais Garnier influenced the style of quite a few projects in far-flung places.
I think d’Orsay is great; I am not alone, I know. I do not recall these models from my one visit there long-ago, but I hope they will be on display the next time I am fortunate to visit. Thank you for sharing this.
As I recall, this exhibit was way in the back on the ground floor, under some kind of balcony, I think.
We’ve managed to miss this exhibit . . . another great reason to return to Paris!