Purchases made by the City of Nantes, together with state deposits and allocations, bequests and gifts allow us to follow the main trends in art during the Modern period. Initially works bought between 1880 and 1914 emphasised a certain kind of academic art, but with the founding of the Friends of the Museum in 1919 truly modern art began to find its place in the collection; and in the 1950s, thanks to a gift from collector Gildas Fardel, the museum opened its doors to abstraction.
In all the modern fields – Impressionism (Monet, Valadon), Expressionism (Kees Van Dongen), Pointillism (Signac) and the Fauvism-inflected (Dufy, Delaunay) – the collection offers visitors works by significant artists.
There are, too, landmark works that subtly intimate the move towards abstraction. Figurative Surrealist images by Roy and Chagall and the disturbing frottage's of Max Ernst (La Forêt) rub shoulders with samples of Cubism (Laboureur, Metzinger) that sometimes verge on the abstract (Magnelli's Deux femmes debout). Non-figurative art is represented by twelve pictures from Kandinsky's Bauhaus period (on deposit from the Centre Pompidou), arranged around his Herunter (Vers le bas), donated by Gildas Fardel in 1958. This group is filled out with works by artists like Manessier, Bissière, Hartung, Soulages, Barré and Bryen. Abstract sculpture is very much present, with pieces by Gilioli and Gonzàlez; and by Nantes sculptor Jean Gorin, a major representative of Neoplasticism, with Construction plastique n°97.
Various late-modernist currents are also illustrated, among them Art Brut with Chaissac (La Cène) and Dubuffet (Champ d'expansion (L33)), and two works from Picasso's last period, Le Couple and L’Homme assis à la canne.