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The Museum

History of the museum

The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen was created shortly after the Revolution through the Chaptal Decree of 1801, but the first steps towards forming a public collection began in 1790. The museum was initially housed in the Jesuit church and began receiving the public in 1799, before being transferred to the new City Hall, where it was inaugurated in 1809 with a catalogue of 244 paintings. The collections grew dramatically during the 19th century. Democritus by Velázquez was added as part of the collection of the artist Gabriel Lemonnier, one of the museum's founders; Delacroix asked for his masterpiece The Justice of Trajan to be deposited at Rouen in 1844, and the works of artists from the region, such as Poussin and Géricault, were sought out. Purchases and donations (including Clouet, Van Dyck, Puget, Ingres, Moreau and Traversi) soon outnumbered the works by Gerard David, Veronese and Rubens confiscated under Napoleon and sent to the museum in 1803.

The collection increased from 300 pictures in 1823 to 600 "of the very highest merit" in 1878, in a museum now cited as "the most comprehensive in France after that of Paris". 

Soon there was a pressing need for a new building. In 1873, the mayor commissioned a project from the architect Louis Sauvageot, which led to the opening of a new wing in 1880,  and in 1888 to that of the complex that now houses the museum and the library. A hundred years later, it underwent a complete renovation. This was finished in 1994, and the fine architectural quality of a building that had suffered greatly during the 20th century was restored under Andrée Putman's supervision. During the century, the collection took on a new scale thanks to some remarkable donations (the Impressionists of François Depeaux in 1909; the Jacques-Emile Blanche collection in 1921; the incredible Baderou donation of nearly 400 paintings and 5,000 drawings in 1975; the Modiglianis from the Alexandre family in 1988-2001), and some splendid purchases: Caravaggio in 1955 and Poussin in 1975.

The collections

The Musée des Beaux-Arts houses one of the most outstanding public collections in France. It features paintings, sculptures, drawings and objets d'art from every school, ranging from the 15th century to the present day. Perugino, Gerard David, Clouet and Veronese are the first major landmarks in a circuit that continues with an exceptional group of 17th century paintings, including masterpieces by Rubens, Caravaggio, Velázquez, Vouet, La Hyre, Poussin and Le Sueur. The rooms dedicated to 18th century art contain paintings by Fragonard, Boucher and Hubert Robert, together with sculptures and objets d'art. Meanwhile, the sheer variety of the collection, the breadth of the artistic movements represented and the presence of key works by great masters from Ingres to Monet make the museum a high temple of 19th century painting. Géricault, Delacroix, Corot, Gustave Moreau, Degas and Monet are represented by several of their masterpieces, and the donation by François Depeaux (1909) established Rouen as the home of France's biggest Impressionist collection outside Paris. Modigliani, Dufy and the Duchamp brothers introduce the collections of the 20th century, mainly focused on the Puteaux group, followed by abstract artists such as Vieira da Silva, Dubuffet and Nemours. And with ambitious works by Delvoye and Varini, 21st century art has now made its appearance in the museum. 

The Musée des Beaux-Arts drawings, regularly exhibited and often loaned elsewhere, have long contributed to the museum's glowing reputation. Complementing the collection in the Bibliothèque Municipale, the museum's graphic arts section with its eight thousand-odd drawings is famous the world over, largely thanks to the extraordinary donation by Henri and Suzanne Baderou in 1975 of over five thousand drawings, with major pieces by Vouet, Tiepolo, Ingres and Degas. Several events have provided opportunities to unveil the wealth of the Rouen collection (or some of it, at least), often outside France, including the anthological exhibition presented in Washington, New York, Minneapolis and Malibu in 1980-1981 (French master drawings from the Rouen Museum: from Caron to Delacroix). The Italian drawings also feature in a luxurious publication (Grandi disegni italiani delle collezioni pubbliche di Rouen, 2003) commissioned by the Italian publisher Silvana Editoriale.