The founding of the Nantes Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts in Nantes was founded, together with fourteen other major museums in the French provinces, by the consular decree of 1 September 1814 (or 14 Fructidor, Year IX of France's Revolutionary calendar). The "Chaptal Decree" – named after the famous chemist Jean-Antoine Chaptal, minister for the interior from 1800–04 – offered the new museums "treasures captured from the enemies of the Republic": mainly post-Revolution confiscations effected in France, but also works seized elsewhere in Europe by the Republican and, later, Napoleonic armies. In concrete terms this meant that between 1804–09 Nantes received 43 paintings formerly in storage at the Central Museum, now the Musée du Louvre. However, it was the purchase of the Cacault Collection by the City of Nantes in 1810 that gave the collection real substance and scope.
It was not until 1830 that the collection was first presented to the public on the upper floor of the fabric market in Rue du Calvaire. It quickly became clear that the space was both unsuitable and too small, and in 1891 the municipality decided to provide the works with a home of their own – a true "Palais des Beaux-Arts". A competition was launched for the designing of a "museum of painting and sculpture"
Designing a museum
The winner of the competition, Nantes-born architect Clément-Marie Josso, based his plan on the newly constructed museums in Lille and Amiens. The core of the structure was the "patio" a central courtyard covered by a skylight. Two floors of galleries and exhibition rooms surrounded the patio, which was reached via a vaulted lobby boasting a monumental double staircase. The building highlighted the majesty of the collection, with lighting coming from broad windows on the ground floor and through the skylight upstairs. The latter took its inspiration from the Grande Galerie in the Louvre, and was made possible by a modern system of metal framing.
Resolutely worthy of a "palace of the arts", the grandiose, ostentatious exterior reflected the triumphant eclecticism of the Universal Exposition of 1900, the year the museum opened. The recesses between the twin Ionic columns housed allegories of the arts, with Architecture in pride of place above the entrance.
The City of Nantes is currently implementing an ambitious extension of the museum. For more information, go to the
The Chapelle de l'Oratoire
Situated on Place de l'Oratoire, between the museum and the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, the Chapelle de l'Oratoire is now an integral part of the museum. The Oratorian Fathers came to Nantes in 1617 and took over the running of the Collège Saint-Clément in 1625. A handsome example of Counter-Reformation architecture, the college chapel was begun outside the college precinct in 1651 and consecrated in 1665. The project was overseen by Jacques Malherbe and, after his death, by Gilles Corbineau, who was to become the City's official architect. The steps were added in 1765, after the creation of the Promenade des Cours by Jean-Baptiste Ceineray. With the Revolution the chapel was stripped of its religious status and used for various purposes, and from 1856 until 1899 was the home of the Nantes Archaeological and Historical Society. It then served, at different moments, as a concert hall and a courthouse, until it was completely restored in 1988 and entrusted to the museum. It is now used for talks and exhibitions.