H I S T O R Y
Portrait de Calvet
An official decree issued by Emperor Napoleon founded the Calvet Museum on 2 April 1811, in keeping with the wishes of Esprit Calvet (1728 - 1810).
The museum was first established in the former Saint Martial Benedictine abbey, then transferred in 1835 to the magnificent city mansion built for the Villeneuve¬Martignan family between 1741 and 1754 by architects Jean¬Baptiste and François Franque.
The Calvet museum owes its name to the Avignon physician, Esprit Calvet, who left his cabinet to the city of Avignon with instructions to create a foundation to conserve his collections. Esprit Calvet had indeed acquired properties and over 5000 works including ancient Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Gallo-Roman objects.
His cabinet included several thousand ancient coins and a very important piece of ivory sculpted from an elephant’s tusk from West Africa.
From the very start and up until 1983 the name “Museum Calvet” covered a library, a collection of medals, and a museum, which was primarily an archaeological museum at first. Among other gifts, in 1846 Horace Vernet gave the museum Death of Bara, a masterpiece by David painted in 1794. For the museum, 1851, then 1872, 1933 and 1953 were important years for acquisitions.
Over time, Fine Arts, in particular painting, gained precedence. Painter Carle Vernet and his son Horace Vernet, both descendents of the great landscape painter Joseph Vernet (1714-1789), were a major source of the painting gallery.
La Mort de Joseph Bara
The French government successively deposited La Baigneuse endormie by Chassériau, Italian works from the Campana collection Campana, and paintings by Joseph Vernet and Hubert Robert recovered from Germany by the Allies (M.N.R.).
Generous gifts from private donors have also considerably enriched the collections now displayed at the Calvet museum. Louis Thomas in 1944, Emile Joseph-Rignault in 1946-1947, Victor Martin in 1967, Marcel Puech from 1986 to 2001 were all exceptional donors.
In 1916, a rare ensemble of wrought iron was left by Noël Biret, one of the trustees of the Calvet Foundation. This collection is unique in France, with the exception of the Le Secq des Tournelles collection in Rouen. It is not yet on display to the public, and will be exhibited in 2018 to celebrate the centennial of Noël Biret’s death.