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200 Years of History

 
The Royal Abbey
One of the oldest monasteries in Gaul
The Royal Abbey of the Sisters of St. Pierre
The refectory and the monumental staircase
Church of St. Pierre

Creation of the Museum

The museum in the XIXth Century
The First Years, 1803-1830
The Palace of Arts 1830-1875
The Painting Room, before 1870
The Golden Age, 1875-1900

The museum in the XXth Century
The Turn of the Century
Between the Wars
Large Exhibits
The Latest Renovation, 1990-1998

The Museum in the XXIst Century

The Museum Garden
From the Cloister to the Garden
Sculptures

Detail of a perspective map of the city of Lyon
Detail of a perspective map of the city of Lyon, around 1550 © Municipal Archives of Lyon

One of the oldest monasteries in Gaul

From its foundation around the 6th century to its total reconstruction in the 17th, the abbey underwent many transformations. In former times, the churches of St. Saturnin and St. Pierre were located next to the service quarters and houses of wealthy nuns inside an enclosed area. Because of its wealth and privileges, this monastery was always regarded as being the most important one in the city.
See the video (2'28") who explains the perspective map of the city of Lyon around 1550.


The Royal Abbey of the Sisters of St. Pierre

In 1659, under Louis XIV, the abbess Anne de Chaulnes obtained the necessary funds to construct the Royal Abbey. Royers de la Valfenière, an architect from Avignon, designed an imposing, Italian-inspired building composed of four wings around a cloister. Work was finished in 1685 under the direction of the abbess Antoinette de Chaulnes, Anne's sister.

Around thirty nuns, who were mostly of high aristocratic descent, lived there under the authority of the abbess. In 1730, the abbey was home to some sixty Benedictine nuns, and thirty-two were living there in 1792, when they were expelled. Decorated with beautiful pink marble columns, the private prayer chapel remains as a vestige of their living quarters. It now houses the Greek vase collection. In the 18th century, the abbey was among the wealthiest in France, in particular because of revenue obtained from store rentals on the ground level.

Listen  and download extract from the audio guide : History of the St. Pierre Palace

S. Guillaume, "Saint Ennemond bénissant", 1684-1686
S. Guillaume, "Saint Ennemond bénissant"|1684-1686

The refectory and the monumental staircase: the Baroque style in Lyon

From 1675 to 1684, Thomas Blanchet created the refectory and the staircase of honor, superb examples of the Baroque style in Lyon. N. Bidaut (1622-1692) and S. Guillaume (active between 1680 and 1708) were in charge of stucco bas reliefs for these areas. Their themes were a mix of allegories on monastic virtues and portraits of patron saints. Two paintings, The Miracle of the Loaves and The Last Supper, are the work of P.L. Cretey (around 1645, known until 1690).
 See the Baroque refectory slide show

Church of St. Pierre

Founded in the 7th century, the church was rebuilt in the 12th century in the Romanesque style. The windows found in the interior passageway and the splendid porch date from this period. Side chapels were added in the 14th century. The current site was designed in the 18th century by the architect A. Degérando (active in Lyon from 1731 to 1773). He enlarged the choir, built the bell tower and decorated the arches and pilasters. Deconsecrated in 1907, the church was allotted to the museum.
 See the chapel slide show

J.M. Jacomin, “Painting Class at the School of Fine Arts” | 1817 - © Gadagne Museum
J.M. Jacomin, "Painting Class at the School of Fine Arts” | 1817 - © Gadagne Museum

Creation of du museum

Thanks to its proximity to the Lyon city hall, the abbey was not sold or destroyed during the French Revolution. In 1792, the Municipal Council designated the building as a place to conserve medals, bronzes and other artistic monuments.
On 14 Fructidor in the year IX (1801), the Chaptal decree to establish painting collections in fifteen French cities enabled the founding of the Lyon Museum of Fine Art. The institution also fulfilled local aspirations, such as recalling the city's prestigious Roman past and furnishing models for the silk industry, which was in crisis at that time.

Starting in 1803, Louvre Museum sent a total of 110 paintings (including The Adoration of the Magi by P.P. Rubens, The Circumcision by Le Guerchin and
Discovery of the Relics of St. Gervais and St. Protais by Philippe de Champaigne).

During the 19th century, the building was home to different institutions. The museums of painting, epigraphy, archeology and natural history shared the structure with the School of Fine Arts, the Municipal Library (Arts and Sciences section) and learned societies.

A. Thierriat, "Palace of the Arts at Lyon, July 3, 1859”
A. Thierriat, "Palace of the Arts at Lyon, July 3, 1859”"

The Museum in the XIXth Century 

The First Years, 1803-1830

From 1803 on, visitors could inspect the first paintings sent by the French state every Wednesday from ten a.m. to one p.m. New deposits (The Assumption of the Virgin by G. Reni, Bathsheba Bathing by Veronese) and purchases (St. Francis by F. Zurbaran, Fruits and Flowers in a Wicker Basket by A. Berjon) helped to build a true museum of fine art that was inaugurated by the Count of Artois on September 20, 1814. The Cabinet of Antiques contained older collections and acquisitions (Greek Kore statue). In the cloister gallery, inscriptions and sculpted fragments make up the lapidary museum.


The Palace of Arts 1830-1875

In 1834, the architect R. Dardel (1796-1871) enhanced the museum. In the restructured areas, he added a sumptuous décor, which is currently present only in the Medal Room (formerly the room for modern marbles).
In the middle of the century, the development of the Lyon school of painting and new deposits from the French state enriched the collections (Last Words of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius by E. Delacroix, Odalisque by J. Pradier, Dante and Virgil by H. Flandrin, who was a painter from Lyon).

The Painting Room, before 1870
The Painting Room, before 1870

The Golden Age, 1875-1900

During this period, the architect A. Hirsch (1828-1913) began extensive work on the building, garden and cloister. His most spectacular undertaking was the restructuring of the south wing to present the large preparatory drawings for the décor of the Pantheon in Paris by P. Chenavard (The Philosophy of History). In 1881, decoration of the monumental staircase was assigned to P. Puvis de Chavannes from Lyon (The Sacred Woods, Dear to Art and the Muses). In the east wing, from 1876 to 1891, the J. Bernard Museum presented some three hundred paintings which had been donated by the former mayor of the La Guillotière district of Lyon to the city.

An ambitious acquisition policy marks this period. Museum curators purchased at large sales and from antiques dealers in Paris, Rome, Florence and other cities. They bought primarily Greek and Roman art (Mirror with a Greek Stand), works from the Middle Ages and Renaissance (sculpted group of The Announcement to Mary), Islamic art and 19th century paintings.

The Museum in the XXth Century

The Turn of the Century

At the beginning of the 20th century, the museum was a precursor in acquiring Impressionist paintings (Café-Concert at Les Ambassadeurs by E. Degas, Nave Nave Mahana by P. Gaugin), which was unique for museums outside of Paris. As a reward for its daring choices, the museum obtained works of established artists such as J. Chinard (Juliette Récamier), Theodore Géricault (Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy) and A. Rodin ; the museum acquired five of his sculptures (including The Temptation of St. Anthony).


Between the Wars

The collections opened up a world of  art to public viewing, ranging from the Far East to modern decorative arts. During this period, many of the institutions and collections left the St. Pierre Palace. These included the Museum of Natural History in 1914 and the School of Fine Arts in 1935. In 1921, works related to the history of Lyon were transferred to the new Gadagne Museum. The deconsecrated church exhibited sculptures from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Exhibition poster, Fernand Léger, 1955
Exhibition poster, Fernand Léger, 1955

Large Exhibits

After World War II, retrospectives focusing on modern artists such as Picasso or Matisse were the source of many major acquisitions (Portrait of an Athlete by M. Larionov). Museum resources were also enriched from bequests (Guimard Bedroom).
At the end of the sixties, the departure of French antiquities for the new Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilization and the transfer of the Egyptian Gallery to the Guimet Museum of Lyon represented major upheavals for the collections. More recently, the Museum of Contemporary Art was removed from the New Saint-Pierre wing (built in 1860 by the architect T. Desjardins).

The Latest Renovation, 1990-1998

In 1989, debate on the Museum's missions led to a vast renovation project (The City of Lyon and the French State in the Context of the Major Renovation Mission). The curator, Philippe Durey, and the architects P.C. Dubois and J.M. Wilmotte undertook a complete remodeling of the building. Work was carried out in five phases, from 1990 to 1998, in order to keep the building open to the public. There are 14,500 square meters of surface area and the collections are found in 70 rooms. The Lyon Museum of Fine Arts groups the Saint-Pierre Palace, the church and the New Saint-Pierre wing. In 1997, the prestigious collection of J. Delubac (Woman Seated on the Beach by P. Picasso) considerably enriched Museum resources.

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The Museum in the XXIth Century

Currently, the Lyon Museum of Fine Arts is one of the leading French and European museums, thanks to the wealth and impact of its collections and exhibitions. It also develops partnership projects with the world's largest museums.

Over 8,000 antiquities, 3,000 decorative objects, 40,000 coins and medals, 2,500 paintings, 8,000 works on paper and 1,300 sculptures are preserved, studied and, in large measure, presented to the public.

Each year, temporary exhibitions on an international level offer visitors the pleasure of discovering different subjects, from Antiquity to contemporary art.

Today, at the beginning of the third millennium, the Lyon Museum of Fine Arts reaches out to new audiences both far and near through its Internet site.

The Museum Garden
The Museum Garden

The Museum Garden

Located at the heart of a modern city, the garden of the Lyon Museum of Fine Arts is a pleasant refuge of calm and harmony.
The walls of the former abbey protect visitors from the bustle of the city. In the shade of linden trees, birches and a giant oak, the garden pathways are filled with the joyous sounds of children and the conversations of leisurely strollers.
A circular fountain featuring an antique sarcophagus and crowned with a small statue of Apollo, the god of arts, adorns the center.

In summer, the garden is open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and in winter from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Voir le diaporama du jardin

Sculptures


Among flower beds and under leafy branches, the museum garden offers a group of original sculptures in bronze.
Two major works of A. Rodin serve as an introduction to the artist's other sculptures inside the museum. The Age of Bronze (1876), with its proud young body, provides a contrast to The Shadow (1904-1905), with softer contours.
In his movement-filled portrait of Carpeaux at work (1909-1910), A. Bourdelle evokes the sculptor's act of creation. L. Cugnot (Drunken Faun, 1853), A. Delhomme (Democritus, 1868), J. Delorme (The Flute Player, 1861), F. Duret (Chactas Meditating over the Body of Atala, 1835) and J.F. Legendre-Héral (Giotto as a Child Drawing a Ram's Head, 1842) are also present.
Two monumental marble sculptures are found under the west gallery: E. Guillaume, Castalia or the Source of Poetry (1883) and J. Carlier, Gilliatt and the Octopus (1880-1890).
Moldings of celebrated antique statues decorate the niches of the exterior wall: Venus de Medici, Ephebe, Satyr, Diana of Gabies, the Capitoline Aphrodite, Discobolus at Rest, Venus Genitrix and the Capitoline Antinous.
Above the arcades and in no particular order, plaster moldings reproduce the frieze of the Panathenaic Procession from the Parthenon at Athens and the frieze of the Nereids at Xanthos.
At the center, the fountain features the body of an antique sarcophagus and a marble altar surmounted by a statue of Apollo (sculpted after the antique original) by C. Viety.