Located on Place des Terreaux with its main entrance facing the famous Bartholdi Fountain, Lyon’s fine arts museum was created in 1803 and is housed in what was during the 17th and 18th centuries a Benedictine convent. Extensively restored between 1988 and 1998, its collections span from ancient Egyptian antiquities to the Contemporary art period. The museum is ranked fifth among France’s museums and first amongst those outside of Paris.
The small café-restaurant of the museum features an exceptionally pleasant terrace looking out onto the garden in the main courtyard. The garden itself is municipal, and therefore has no entrance fee. It can be accessed directly from Place des Terreaux. A perfect place to shelter from the sun and the noise of the city centre on a hot day, it is decorated with several 19th century statues.
History of the building itself
Prior to 1792, the buildings in which the museum is now housed, belonged to the Royal Abbaye des Dames de Saint-Pierre. The present style of the palais Saint-Pierre is largely due to its renovation by King Louis XIV during the 17th and 18th centuries when the building was a convent, home to nuns of the Benedictine order.
Palais du commerce et des Arts
The nuns were expelled and the église Saint-Saturnin was destroyed during the French Revolution (1789-1799). The abbey’s second church, église Saint-Pierre, still exists and is where the museum’s 19th and 20th century sculptures are on display. Following the Revolution, the buildings which remained housed Lyon’s Palais du Commerce et des Arts. At first the collection was made up entirely of the works that had been confiscated from the nobility and clergy.
Additional exhibits were introduced later. Collections such as archaeology and natural history went on display as well as those of the Académie des Sciences et des Lettres. The imperial drawing school was founded in 1805 in the Palais du Commerce et des Arts to train designers for Lyon’s silk industry. The Chambre de Commerce left the Palais Saint-Pierre in 1860 and the establishment became known as the Palais des Arts. From 1875, a major expansion of the museum’s collections began, ultimately resulting in the permanent exhibits that can be viewed today.
The Musée des Beaux-Arts
At the beginning of the 20th century, the collections were opened up significantly. This led to the Palais des Arts being renamed the Musée des Beaux-Arts. The building acquired its present layout as a result of its restoration during the 1990s.
The museum boasts paintings, sculptures and antiquities collections.
European works from the 14th to mid 20th century are the primary focus of the painting department which displays exhibits chronologically and by major schools throughout its 35 rooms. Highlights include works by the likes of Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Rembrand, and Pablo Picasso.
The main theme of the museum’s antiquities department is Ancient Egypt. This is largely due to the historic significance of egyptology in Lyon. Men like Victor Loret, whose family donated more than 1000 objects to the museum in 1954, are responsible for this tradition. Beginning in 1895, Paris’ musée du Louvre donated almost 400 objects which formed the basis of the department; other objects were later added and a significant augmentation occured in 1936 with the inclusion of objects from the artisans’ village of Deir el-Medina.
Highlights include the display of sarcophaguses and the gates of Ptolemy III and Ptolemy IV from the temple of Medamud, which were discovered in 1939 by the Lyon archaeologist Alexandre Varille.
The majority of the collection is on display in two sections: the ground floor hosts Medieval and Renaissance sculptures; and the abbey’s church holds 19th and early 20th century sculptures. Works by Auguste Rodin, Léon-Alexandre Delhomme, Emile Antoine Bourdelle, Aristide Maillol, and James Pradier feature.
Address: 17-20 Place des Terreaux, 69001 Lyon
Transport: The entrance to the museum is less than 250m from the Hôtel de Ville-Louis Pradel metro station (line A).
Opening hours: Open every day except Tuesdays and bank holidays from 10:00am – 6:00pm (on Fridays 10:30am – 6:00pm)
Some rooms may be partially closed between 12:30pm and 2:00pm.
Permanent Collections : €8
Temporary exhibitions : €12
Entry ticket is valid for the whole day
Audioguides : 1€
Guided tours : Entry price + €3 (€1 for under 18s).
Midday briefing: €3 (€1 for under 18s)