First floor - galleries of various sizes
With the exception of a few works provided by the state, the starting point of the collection was basically that of the Nantes-born Cacault brothers – the diplomat François (1743-1805) and the painter Pierre (1744-1810) – purchased by the City of Nantes in 1810. François's long political career and extensive travels – to Naples, Florence, Rome, Genoa, etc. – enabled the acquisition of the many works that made up his collection.
Endlessly curious, François was drawn to the Italian Primitives – Daddi and Mariotto di Nardo, for example – even though they were little appreciated at the time. Hence the sumptuousness of the museum's Italian holdings. The Cacault Collection also shows a predilection for the Italian painters of the 13th to the 17th century, including Tura, Perugino, Solario, Tintoretto and Giordano; while another striking feature is the large number of pictures taking their inspiration from Caravaggio: paintings by Vitale, the Master of the Announcement to the Shepherds and Asseretto from Italy; Georges de la Tour's Le Vielleur and Le Songe de saint Joseph from France; and works by the Northerner Matthias Stomer.
The 17th century – the "Great Century" – is mainly represented by large French paintings, with the state providing works by Vouet, Champaigne and La Hyre. These are eloquently echoed by compositions by Rubens, Gentileschi and Vannini. The art of the Northern schools offers an interesting panorama, from late Renaissance works by Bloemaert and Goltzius to Rembrandt's pupils Flinck and Ovens and a number of splendid still lifes and landscapes.
The 18th century collection includes such greats as Watteau (Arlequin empereur dans la Lune), Lancret (La Camargo dansant), Greuze (Le Guitariste) and Pajou (Portrait de Jean-Baptiste II Lemoyne). There are, too, Chevalier Volaire's Eruption du Vésuve et vue de Portici, Panini's Prédication d'une sibylle and works by Vernet, as illustrations of the Enlightenment's taste for landscapes.