Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen

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Musée des beaux-arts de Caen
Established 1801
Location Château de Caen
Coordinates 49°11′10″N 0°21′41″W / 49.1861004°N 0.3614867°W / 49.1861004; -0.3614867
Type Art museum
Website Official site

The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen is a fine arts museum in the French city of Caen, founded at the start of the 19th century and rebuilt in 1971 within the ducal château.



The Sainte-Catherine-des-Arts church.

On September 1, 1801, the Minister of Interior Jean-Antoine Chaptal selected 15 cities to serve as depots to display a large amount of paintings confiscated from émigrés or acquired through the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Although the city of Caen was chosen for its academic reputation and character as cultural capital of Normandy, it showed, at first, little enthusiasm because article 4 of the Chaptal decree specified that "the paintings will be sent only after the town has effected the expense for a gallery suitable to receive them". The paintings removed from churches and religious communities during the Revolution having already been stockpiled in the Sainte-Catherine-des-Arts church, the mayor Daigremont St. Manvieux first thought of installing the museum in the former Jesuit church. But on October 27, 1801, the decision was finally made to use the left wing of the former Eudist seminary, already partly occupied by the mayoralty since 1792. On October 27, 1802, the prefect of Calvados asked for the title of museum commissioner to be conferred to François-Pierre Fleuriau, a highly ranked design instructor at the Central School of Calvados. To augment the already existing collections, the new curator selected, in 1804, 46 paintings by various artists (Veronese, Poussin,…). This made the Caen collections the largest ones after those of Lyon. The curator also expended the new collections, even trying, although unsuccessfully, to have the Bayeux Tapestry transferred to Caen.

The development work of the museum progressed very slowly. In 1806, the prefect Charles Ambroise de Caffarelli du Falga, disallowed the appropriations voted by the municipality for resumption of the work that had been interrupted. Only once the funds were released in the budget of 1809 could the project can be completed. In November 1809, the paintings that had been stored in the former Jesuit church were transferred and the museum was officially opened on December 2, 1809. The curator was also in charge of the municipal art school founded in 1804.

Development and first monographs[edit]

The old Eudist seminary.

Starting from 1811, the new curator, Henry Elouis augmented the collections, notably thanks to a new collection of 35 paintings attributed by the Ministry of the Interior. In 1815, the Prussians camped in the ground floor of the old Eudist seminary to force the surrender of paintings confiscated in Germany. Elouis then hid the most important paintings. According to legend, he hid in particular Abraham and Melchizedek by Rubens under the very dinner table used by Prussian officers. After the Prussians had left the city following the restitution of lesser paintings, Belgium then asked for the return of paintings by great Brussels masters, but the curator and mayor of Caen, the count of Vandœuvre, were able to stem the new crisis.

The second half of the nineteenth century was a calmer period that favored the study of collections. In 1837, Bernard Mancel wrote the first catalog, and the first monograph concerning to the collections was published in 1850. While the acquisition policy of Alfred Guillard, the successor of Elouis from 1841 to 1880, was rather uninspired, a series of bequests endowed the museum with a hundred additional artworks. The Baroness de Montaran's, which included three paintings by Boucher, twenty Gudin and one Mignard, was the most remarkable bequest of the second half of the nineteenth century.

The largest donation in the history of the museum was bequeathed in 1872 by the Caen bookseller Bernard Mancel, who had purchased in1845 a large part of Cardinal Fesch, the uncle of Napoleon I in Rome's collection. The Mancel collection included more than 50,000 works: prints by Dürer, Rembrandt and Callot, and about thirty paintings by Perugino (The Marriage of the Virgin), Veronese (Temptation of St. Anthony) or Rogier van der Weyden (The Virgin and Child). A year later, the family of colonel Langlois bequeathed 256 paintings of battles and military views. These paintings were transferred in 1888 to the Pavillon des sociétés savantes, which had been remodeled at the expense of colonel Langlois' niece to house the museum.

Decline in prestige in the 1880s[edit]

Map of the museum in 1893.

In 1880, the acquisition policy by the new curators, Xenophon Hellouin and Gustave Ménégoz, was uninspired, and the prestige of the museum waned. Under the influence of mayoralty of Caen, the curators acquired mostly regional works with exclusive local interest, now exhibited on the ground floor of the old Eudist seminary set up as a museum of Norman art and history. Donations became less frequent, and often consisted of minor works bequeathed more for ostentatious reasons than for the sake of art. Despite the bequest by the mayor Fervaques, Dr. Jacquette, of paintings by Courbet, Boudin and Lepine, modern, especially impressionist artwork remained virtually unrepresented at the museum.

While other cities built large museums to house their collections, the Caen museum remained cramped in a wing of City Hall. The structure was in a precarious state and on November 3, 1905, part of the collections went up in flames. Several works from the Dutch and Flemish schools were lost as well as The Battle of Hastings by François Debon. Partly because it represented the Norman victory over the English during a context of high international tension, partly because of its romantic design, this particular painting enjoyed a certain popularity, and the fire caused a scandal. Local and national newspapers called for museum reorganization. The town council then agreed on "the principle of the construction of a museum housed in a dedicated site in the conditions of security and lighting a museum as wealthy as ours is entitled to ask for". The councilors planned on organizing a lottery to build a new museum on the terrace of the Place de la Prefecture (now Place Gambetta), but the idea was quickly abandoned and the museum remains in a precarious state.

Destruction in 1944[edit]

The site of the museum after 1944.

In 1934, Louis-Edouard Garrido was appointed as curator. From 1936, he undertook a restoration of the museum and improved the lighting of the works. When his work was interrupted by the war in 1939, 360 paintings, the collection Mancel, the Bernard van Riesen Burgh chest and other artifacts were transferred to the priory of Saint-Gabriel, the abbey of Mondaye and the castle of Baillou. The collections went largely unharmed through Nazi occupation when on June 7, 1944, the old seminary was mostly destroyed by the Allies. On July 7, the last Allied air raid flattened what was still left standing. 540 paintings (the nineteenth-century collections, and many anonymous seventeenth-century works), the 400 drawings of the cabinet of drawings, archives, inventories, and frames were lost forever. Much of the Langlois museum was bombed too, and half of the exhibited works were lost as well.

Rebirth in 1971[edit]

The surviving works were hastily stored in the unsound ruins of the hotel Escoville and the Langlois museum. In 1963, it became possible again to think about rebuilding the museum. Collections were inventoried and, in addition to the Mancel collection, 567 paintings and miniatures, ceramics and porcelain were identified. 1971 saw the inauguration of the new museum built by Jean Merlet in the castle of Caen. Meanwhile, Francoise Debaisieux, the new curator embarked on an ambitious acquisition policy, focusing on the seventeenth-century French, Italian and Flemish schools. Her policy was sustained by the Louvre depots. In 1982, the museum was promoted to the rank of "musée classé", in recognition of the importance of the collections and the vitality of the policy that enriched them. In 1988, Francoise Debaisieux was succeeded by Alain Tapie who organized major exhibitions and added in 1994 a new wing built by Philippe Dubois. The new curator expanded the collections by acquiring contemporary works. Following this extension, the Ministry of Culture presented the museum with the Grand Prix National des Musées in 1995, in recognition for its architecture and program. Since 2007, the museum had been at the center of the Parc des Sculptures, housed in the castle, at the initiative of Patrick Ramade, chief curator, and museum director since 2004.

Starting on February 1, 2005, access to permanent exhibitions was made free of charge in order to democratize access to culture. The museum has also diversified its cultural stance by organizing workshops for younger audiences and adults. The museum also accommodates, since 1997, Les Cyclopes, a Baroque musical ensemble that gives an annual series of concerts in conjunction with the institution's cultural programming. Likewise, Michel Onfray's Université populaire de Caen holds some of its seminars at the museum.


The museum offers 64,583 square feet (6,000.0 m2) of space dedicated to the public collections with many works of Italian and Flemish, as well as French Renaissance, and of contemporary art. The prints from the Mancel collection are presented in a 400-m² room. The museum is equipped with a conference room seating 230, used notably by the Université populaire de Caen. Finally, the curatorial library, comprising over 20,000 art history volumes, is open to the public.

Paintings destroyed in 1944[edit]

  • Jacques-Antoine Beaufort (1721–1784), The Death of Calamus or Calamus Going up the Stake in the Presence of Alexander, Salon of 1779.

14th to 16th Century[edit]

Author Work Date Type Dimension Image
Barnaba da Modena Crucifixion with the Virgin and St. John Between 1361 and 1383 Wood with cut sections 0,675 x 0,640
Cosme Tura Saint Jacques Panel 75,1 x 40,9
Perugino Saint Jerome in the Desert Vers 1499-1502 Panel 89,3 x 72,5
id. The Marriage of the Virgin (or Sposalizio) Between 1500 and 1504 Panel 236 x 186
Cima da Conegliano The Virgin and Child with Saint George and Saint Jacques c. 1510-1511 Triptych on panel, transposed on canvas 137 x 61 (central panel) et 121 x 44,5 (side panels)
Andrea del Sarto Saint Sebastian holding two arrows and the palm of martyrdom Wood (poplar) 0,839 x 0,680
Taddeo Zuccari The Beheading of St. John the Baptist 1555–1560 Canvas 66 x 51
Rogier van der Weyden The Virgin and Child Panel 51,5 x 33,5
Pieter Brueghel the Younger The Payment of tithing (or The Numbering in Bethlehem) Panel 110 x 160
Master de Hoogstraten The Virgin and Child with Saint Catherine, Saint Madeleine and Saint Barbara 1510 Wood (oak) 78,8 x 71
Frans Floris Portrait of elderly woman (or The falconer's wife) Panel 107,7 x 83,4
Paris Bordone Annunciation 1545–1550 Canvas 102 x 196
Lambert Sustris The Baptism of Christ Vers 1543 Canvas 129,4 x 236,1
Tintoretto The Descent from the Cross 1556–1558 Canvas 135,6 x 102
id. The Last Supper 1564–1566 Canvas 90 x 121
Paolo Veronese The Temptation of St. Anthony 1552 Canvas 198,2 x 149,5
id. Judith and Holofernes After 1581 Canvas 231,5 x 273,5
Benedetto Caliari The Departure of the Israelites or the Israelites out of Egypt Canvas 95 x 121

17th Century[edit]

18th Century[edit]

style=Template:Color:black; background-color:transparent; | Author Work Date Type Dimension Image
Anonyme d'après Jean Jouvenet Saint Peter curing the sick vers 1700 Canvas
Hyacinthe Rigaud Portrait of Mary Cadene 1684 Canvas 139 x 102
Hyacinthe Rigaud Supposed Portrait of the Comte de Gacé Canvas 136 x 113
Jean-Baptiste Oudry Sow and piglets attacked by dogs 1748 Canvas 258 x 400
Robert Tournières Portrait of Goldsmith Nicolas Delaunay and his family c. 1705 Canvas 56 x 70,2
Jean Restout Portrait of a Premonstratensian c. 1725-1735 Canvas 81 x 65,5
Pierre Subleyras Portrait of Countess Mahony c. 1740-1745 Canvas 100 x 74,5
Giovanni Paolo Pannini Prince Vaini Being Awarded the Order of the Holy Spirit by the Duc de Saint-Aignan Canvas
François Boucher Pastoral (or Young Shepherd in a Landscape) Canvas 89 x 121,5
Hubert Portrait of an elderly woman 1779 Canvas 231,5 x 273,5
Firmin Perlin Death of Jacques Clinchamps de Malfilâtre

19th Century[edit]

style=Template:Color:black; background-color:transparent; | Author Work Date Type Dimension Image
Eugène Delacroix Quentin Durward and Scarface c. 1828 -1829 Canvas 40,5 x 32,4
Eugène Isabey Sailors leaving the port of Saint-Valery Canvas 40,5 x 61
Théodore Chassériau Group of Arabs (or Joseph sold by his brothers) Canvas 82 x 66
Gustave Courbet The Sea 1871–1872 Canvas 38 x 45
id. Lady with the Jewels 1867 Canvas 81 x 64
Théodore Rousseau Landscape Canvas 82,6 x 124,8
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot The Goat-herders of Castel Gandolfo 1866 Canvas 59 x 78
Eugène Boudin The Beach of Deauville 1863 Canvas 50,5 x 74,5
id. Pasture in Fervaques 1874 Canvas 55 x 38
Gustave Doré Scottish Landscape 1881 Canvas 92 x 165

21st Century[edit]

Parc des sculptures[edit]

External links[edit]