This Context Travel Paris Musee d'Orsay Private Tour Review is part of a Paris trip report featuring luxury hotels and Michelin-star dining. For the prior posts, please see:
What is Context Travel?
Context Travel provides small group and private tours led by art historians, scholars, and specialists in fields ranging from architecture to cuisine to theology, who enjoy sharing their passion with travelers. The company got its start in Italy, so there are many docents (as Context Travel refers to the scholars leading its tours) in Rome and Florence, as well as Paris and London, but the 30 or so cities include Barcelona, NYC, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney, Shanghai, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Montreal, and others.
Context Travel Paris Private Tour Options and Cost
Context Travel offers many Paris tours, which are typically about $100 per person for a small group (6 or fewer participants) or $416-$452 for a private tour. Note that the full amount is charged within 2 days of booking, and the cancellation policy is that up to 48 hours prior to the tour, 85% of the tour cost (not including museum fees) is refundable. Within 48 hours of the tour, the tour is final and non-refundable. Be sure to use your Chase Sapphire Reserve card so that if your cancellation is due to illness or another covered reason, you can be reimbursed.
Most Context Travel tours are 3 hours long, although family private tours are usually 2.5 hours. Here are a few of the most popular:
- Louvre Crash Course
- Musee d'Orsay and Paris in the 19th Century
- Montmartre Tour
- Notre Dame and Gothic Paris
- Revolutionary Paris
- Welcome to Paris (2 hour orientation tour)
- Louvre for Families: Gods, Queens & Heroines (2.5 hours)
- Paris Market Walk (2.5 hours)
Getting to the Musee d'Orsay
The Musee d'Orsay is just a 10-12 minute walk across the Seine from Le Meurice, or if coming from further away by Metro, take line 12 to the Solferino stop, about a 4 minute walk away.
Highlights of our Context Travel Tour of the Musee d'Orsay
1. The Musee d'Orsay Building Itself
This was my husband's and my son's first time to the Musee d'Orsay, and I hadn't been to the museum in over 20 years, so the sheer grandeur of the building, a former railway station (the Gare d'Orsay) was beautiful to behold. Originally it was to have been demolished, but fortunately this Beaux-Arts landmark was spared the neglect and demolition of Penn Station in NYC, and is an integral part of any visit to the museum.
Be sure to ascend the stairs at the other end of the museum from where you enter, to have a bird's eye view of the hall, plus it leads to the upper floor galleries where some of the most notable Monet paintings are exhibited.
2. Renoir's Bal du Moulin de la Galette
Who hasn't seen this famous Renoir painting, of dancers in Montmartre, and admired its lively scene and colors? With Laurent, we looked more closely at the way the light filtering through the trees is depicted on the subjects, and at the various relationships between the genders, from the conversation and flirtation in the young men and women in the foreground, to a couple dancing contentedly, to a woman trying to avoid a kiss, to a couple arguing.
3. Degas' L'Absinthe
Edgar Degas is well known for his paintings of ballet dancers, but I hadn't seen this more depressing painting of his, originally called “In a Cafe,” but known now as simply “L'Absinthe,” after the alcoholic drink in front of the woman. While at the time the painting caused outrage due to the depressing depiction of its subjects, and Degas had to publicly state that neither of his models were alcoholics. But it's also a reflection of the social isolation and anxiety that accompanied city life. The off-center composition hints at the influence of Japanese prints, which Degas and other artists of the time collected.
4. Monet's The Rue Montorgueil in Paris
Claude Monet is best known for his water lilies paintings, some with Japanese-style bridges in them (see earlier photo above) but this one of Rue Montorgueil in Paris is stunning as well. The French tricolor flags seem to wave in the breeze, a sea of red, white and blue during a festival day on June 30, 1878 (two years before July 14 became France's official national day).
5. Manet's Olympia
Edouard Manet, unlike Edgar Degas, relished controversy, and he found it with this painting. The exhibition of Olympia in 1865 caused a huge scandal, since Manet's nude was not a goddess-like nude, such as the 16th century Venus of Urbino by Italian painter Titan it was modeled after, but rather a wealthy prostitute, as evidenced by the black cat by her feet (the opposite of the dog in Titan's painting, which symbolized loyalty) and by other details, such as the black ribbon around her neck, and the bouquet of flowers that her maid holds, most probably from one of her clients.
There were many other paintings we covered, as well as a model of the Opera Garnier, but the above were some of the most memorable.
We all really enjoyed our Context Travel tour of the Musee d'Orsay, with the exception of some of the more risque allusions that we didn't really want to explain to our son. Since I did book the longer 3 hour version of the tour, I do accept that our guide is not the one who would normally be guiding families (and he doesn't have kids) but I feel that he should have taken into account our request to not focus on paintings with these themes after we made it, and either spent minimal time on, or skipped Edouard Manet's Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe painting altogether.
But apart from that awkwardness, which won't be a factor if you're not with kids, or if you stick to the family-oriented private tours if you do have kids, I highly recommend Context Travel's Paris Musee d'Orsay tour. Our docent, Laurent, was so engaging that the 3 hours passed very quickly, and we came away with a much better sense of what inspired and intrigued Impressionist masters, by focusing on several selected paintings, rather than trying to see too much in a short amount of time.
Have you gone on any Context Travel small group or private tours?
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