Quimper Fine Arts Museum, Brittany, France

The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Quimper is an art museum located in Quimper. It was born in 1864, thanks to Count Jean-Marie de Silguy who bequeathed his entire collection to his hometown, on the sole condition that a museum be built there to accommodate his paintings and drawings. It is now one of the major museums of art in western France, with rich French painting collections (especially 19th century), Italian, Flemish and Dutch of the xiv th century to today.

History and Building
Count Jean-Marie de Silguy’s collection of 1,200 paintings, 2,000 drawings, and 12,000 prints is the core of the first museum in Quimper. The museum was built in Quimper’s main square and is in front of the cathedral which is adjacent to the new hotel that the city got in 1866. The building’s construction was left to architect Joseph Bigot in 1867, who also built the spire of the cathedral. The works debuted in 1869 and the museum was opened on August 15, 1872.

The museum was entirely renovated by architect Jean-Paul Philippon under the direction of André Cariou in 1993. Behind the front face of the museum, it was entirely redone according to modern architectural choices, founded on the principle of transparency. It permitted better exposure of the works and a notable gain in status. Since the renovations, 700 works have been displayed permanently and a specific space is dedicated to temporary expositions that can be created. The museum also has an auditorium, a reception service, and a bookstore.

In the middle of the 19th century, Quimper, Finistère prefecture and capital of Cornwall, is a modest city of 12,000 inhabitants. It can be compared to regional capitals like Rennes and Nantes, where are created in the late eighteenth th or early 19th century the first museum collections from seizures among emigrants of Church property and deposits Central Museum of the Arts.

In Quimper, considered by Jacques Cambry as a “city without fortune and without enthusiasm for the arts”, the painter François Valentin (1738–1805) tried, during the course, to create a museum from some old works recovered in the region. But without means and without enough works, his project failed. In the middle of the 19th century, the eyes are more likely to archeology and local history. In 1862, the General Council of Finistère voted the principle of the creation in Quimper of a departmental museum, devoted essentially to Finistère archeology, which would receive the collections gathered since 1845 by a learned, archaeological society of Finistère, and kept in a room in the girls’ college.

With the exception of the towns of Saint-Malo which, in 1861, undertook to collect some portraits and historical memories, and of Vannes where archaeological objects gathered by polymath from Morbihan have been stored since 1826, no museum exists in Brittany in the west of the Rennes-Nantes line when Quimper decided to create a museum of fine arts in 1864.

This creation is exceptional. It is not a question of regrouping some local works and some State deposits, but of receiving the considerable collection of Jean-Marie de Silguy which has just disappeared: 1,200 paintings, 2,000 drawings, 12,000 engravings and several dozen of art objects.


Breton-inspired painting
A hundred works, with no less than twenty large formats, some of which have been famous since their creation in the 19th century, make up this collection. One of a kind, and perfectly representative of the last fires of realism and its extensions via naturalism, it was patiently formed by the first curators after the opening of the museum in 1872. Today it offers an extremely varied and often just from a world that has disappeared or strongly evolved.

Among the most spectacular works, we will retain, without seeking exhaustiveness, L e Pardon de Kergoat by Jules Breton, a Widow of the Island of Breast by Emile Renouf, the Visit to the Virgin of Bénodet by Eugène Buland, several large and beautiful paintings by Théophile Deyrolle or Alfred Guillou, or more recently acquired: the superb Moissonneuses, Île de Bréhat by Pierre Dupuis.

Without forgetting the Lemordant room which in a way constitutes the heart of the museum. Its woodwork serves as a framework for the grand decor created in 1906-1909 by Jean-Julien Lemordant (1878 – 1968) for the Café de l’Epée in Quimper.

Flemish And Dutch Schools
The Nordic fund of Quimper is quite representative of the variety of genres tackled by Flemish and Dutch artists. Unsurprisingly, the 17th century dominates this set with, however, several important works dating from the end of the 16th century and representative of mannerism (in particular, The first Family of Cornelis Van Haarlem) or even more rare a narrow corpus of paintings from the 18th century (from which stands Suzanne and the old men of Nicolaes Verkolje).

Going back to the 17th century, the harvest is rich and culminates in history painting with a vibrant bozzetto by Peter Paul Rubens, the Martyrdom of Saint Lucia. Still in the grand genre, the museum presents a masterful Descent from the Cross by Pieter Van Mol from the Convent of the Minims in Saint-Pol-de-Léon.

We should also cite a remarkable acquisition dating from 1985, the Reading Lesson by Pieter Fransz de Grebber, a masterful demonstration of the spread of the Rembranesque movement. Landscape, portrait, still life are also genres abundantly illustrated in Quimper’s collections. For the still life, the collection contains several nuggets and in particular two variations on exotic fruits of a rare painter in France, Dirk Valkenburg and especially the ambitious and strange composition of Otto Marseus Van Schrieck, Thistles, squirrel, reptiles and insects, probably his masterpiece.

Italian painting
The Italian collection includes many copies after the great masters of the Renaissance (Raphael, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.) which had been collected by Jean – Marie de Silguy in order to serve as models for young Cornish artists. Essentially, these works are no longer intended to be exhibited today. The fact remains that Italian works are among the most interesting, if not the most precious, of the museum’s old collections.

The chronological field is vast, since the oldest work dates from the end of the 14th century (Saint Paul by Bartolo di Fredi) and stretches until the middle of the 18th century with, for example, the masterpiece of Giulia Lama, The Martyrdom of Saint John the Evangelist. Several outstanding works punctuate this route such as the extremely rare wood of Nicolo dell’Abate, Sleeping Venus or the classicizing Saint Madeleine in prayer by Guido Reni from the collections of Louis XIV.

The Caravaggesque movement as well as Rococo painting are represented by important compositions which ensure this part coherence and originality.

Spanish painting
If the corpus of Spanish works is limited, it nevertheless includes several interesting 17th century paintings and above all a superb and large sketch of the 18th century, Christopher Columbus offering the new world to the Catholic kings of Antonio Gonzales Velazquez.

French painting

The 17th French
In this admittedly modest collection, however, we can cite some important works:

The two works of Pierre Mignard, one of the greatest decorators of his time, rival of Le Brun: Faith and Hope, deposits of the State in 1897, today property of the City after transfer.
The second classic generation of the Grand Siècle is represented by Nicolas Loir (Moses saved from the waters, around 1670, a painting which was kept in the maternal family of Jean-Marie de Silguy).
Atticist landscapes inspired by the ancient ruins of Pierre-Antoine Patel (Landscape with harvesters, circa 1670-1680 and The Flight into Egypt) and Henri Mauperché.
A genre scene by Jean Tassel close to the painters of “bamboches” (Three shepherds and their flock, around 1660-1665, acquired in 1974).

The 18th French
This collection testifies to the appetites of Count de Silguy who, in accordance with the evolution of taste at the end of the 18th century, was reluctant to collect religious painting.

The portraits
They hold a special place, ceremonial portraits (Trémolières, Boizot, Tocqué) to portraits close to the French Revolution such as those of Adelaide Labille-Guiard or Philippe Chéry, and neo-classicists (Lethière, entourage of David…)

Jean-Marie de Silguy also directed his purchases towards sketches, the “fire” of creation. One of the jewels in the collection is undoubtedly L’Enlouverture de Proserpine by François Boucher who was joined by L’Enlouverture de Déjanire, by Boucher’s brother-in-law, Jean-Baptiste Deshays (acquired in 2013). There are also the sketches of Berthélémy, Hallé, Callet, Amand and of course Fragonard (Le Combat de Minerve contre Mars).

The Night Festival Hubert Robert is another signature piece of the collection.

De Silguy set out to collect the landscape. It is worth mentioning, for the birth of the historic landscape, the two works by Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (Biblis changed into a fountain and Narcissus mirroring in the water), Caesar cutting a sacred tree by Achille-Etna Michallon or Orpheus playing lyre in front of Jean-Victor Bertin’s Eurydice.

This set was supplemented by countryside landscapes painted on the motif dating from the beginning of the 19th century and due to artists who are today little known but whose quality is not without interest (Renoux, Guyot, Sarazin de Belmont…)

Historical painting
The revival of historical painting, notably through neo-classicism, interested the founder of the museum: some of them are large formats, the whole of which spans the years preceding the Revolution (Esther and Assuérus de Lagrenée, the three works of Nicolas-Guy Brenet) until the first third of the 19th century (Alexandre-Evariste Fragonard) via Taillasson, Girodet, Lethière, Drolling or Dubois.

Can be highlighted the paintings of Charles Meynier, L’Amour adolescent weeping over the portrait of Psyche he lost and Jean-Charles-Nicaise Perrin, Alcibiades surprised by Socrates in the house of a courtesan.

The 19th French
Among the masterpieces of the 19th century in France, the dazzling portrait of Marie-Thérèse de Cabarrus painted by Théodore Chassériau is worth mentioning; for the landscape, the very subtle Vue du Château de Pierrefonds by Camille Corot or for the large genre the two Wilhelm List, major artist of the Viennese Secession.

History scenes, genre scenes
For the first decades of the 19th century, the museum presents numerous small formats oscillating between scenes of history and scenes of genre and often representative of what is called troubadour art. The whole forms a coherent whole from the studies of Léopold Boilly through the more developed canvases of Georges Rouget or the vibrant sketch by Eugène Devéria, La Birth d’Henri IV +, which allows us to approach the romantic movement. Remarkably, the museum keeps for this period a decorative ensemble of primary importance (not currently exhibited due to lack of space) designed in 1825 for one of the rooms of the Council of State then housed in the Louvre. The whole is perfectly representative of an official art where allegory serves the interests of the State.

The landscape
The section developing the art of landscape is essential in that it extends the neoclassical section and ensures the transition with the new formulas developed in Pont-Aven. Numerous and attractive works make it possible to follow the attractiveness of the Breton coasts on number of artists since Théodore Gudin, Emmanuel Lansyer, Paul Huet, until the View of the port of Quimper by Eugène Boudin. A special mention must be reserved for the painter Jules Noël whose museum keeps a significant set of works.

The presentation of the 19th century finds its conclusion (apart from the Pont-Aven School and the section dedicated to the “Black band”) with a small set which proceeds from the Symbolist movement. The two essential works of Wilhelm List are essential but we can easily complete them with creations by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, Henry Lerolle, Maurice Chabas, Eugène Carrière… The whole is enriched by several important paintings by an artist with a strong temperament, Yan’Dargent, whose work demonstrates his attachment to Finistère.

Pont-Aven School
It was in 1861 that Jean-Marie de Silguy, originally from the Quimper region, decided by will to bequeath his collection of works of art to the City of Quimper, on the condition that a specific building be constructed. When he died in 1864, nearly 1,200 paintings and 2,000 drawings, mainly of ancient art, made up the nucleus of the museum of fine arts inaugurated in 1872. Successive curators at the head of the institution multiply the acquisitions of works of Breton inspiration but their proximity to the academic painters of the 19th century gathered in Concarneau makes them abandon the pictorial modernity of the School of Pont-Aven.

The 1930s, fifty years after Gauguin’s arrival in Brittany, saw the acquisition of interesting but still minor works such as La Vieille du Pouldu by Sérusier or Le Pardon du Folgoët by Maurice Denis. The attempts of the son of Emile Bernard to sell a work of his father, emblematic painter of synthetism, remain unsuccessful.

An interest in the works of Pont-Aven after the War
In 1950, the State deposited in the Le Pardon museum of Notre-Dame-des-Portes in Châteauneuf-du-Faou de Sérusier while the artist’s widow gave Ogival Landscape. One might think that the organization this same year of an exhibition devoted to Gauguin and the Pont-Aven group could have largely contributed to these proposals for enriching the collections.

However, Gauguin’s works were then financially out of reach for the museum. We can however note the acquisition in 1999 of L’Oie, testimony above all historical of Gauguin’s stay in Le Pouldu because it is a fragment of the decor of Marie Henry’s inn just like the closet door made by Meijer de Haan and plaster Le Génie with Filiger’s garland, from the sale of the Marie Poupée collection. A few years later, the entry to the engraving museum La Femme aux figues and the pilgrimage flask abounded this Gauguin collection, admittedly modest but not without interest.

Thanks to the renovations of 1976 and then of 1993, an active policy of deposits, purchases and donations has enabled the collection of the School of Pont-Aven and the Cenacle of the Nabis to play a major role today in the attractiveness and influence of the museum.

The Black Band
Little known to the public, this fascinating moment in art history was born in reaction against the clear painting of impressionism as much as against the hermetic and / or stylized painting of symbolism and the Pont-Aven School. The references to the realism of Gustave Courbet as well as to Spanish and Dutch painting of the 17th century are clearly assumed.

The references to the realism of Gustave Courbet as well as to Spanish and Dutch painting of the 17th century are clearly assumed.
This pictorial movement is developing intensely in Brittany thanks to the regular stays of Charles Cottet or Lucien Simon. Composed of thirty quality works (by associating other painters like André Dauchez or René-Emile Ménard), this section presents authentic masterpieces, notably La Récolte des pommes de terre by Lucien Simon or the extraordinary Self-portrait by Charles Cottet.

20th And 21st Century Art

The first half of the 20th century
Few works allow us to evoke the first half of the 20th century, but we can note some masterpieces, such as Le Port de Fécamp by Albert Marquet from 1906, an important work for fauvism (deposit of the National Art Fund contemporary); a handsome Robert Delaunay, witness to the influence of the Pont-Aven School on this artist, enriched by the recent deposit of a private collection, Brûleuse de goémon.

The years 1930-1950 are represented by Composition Bretagne by André Fougeron (1946), Le Roi Arthur by Charles Lapicque (1953), both depots of the National Museum of Modern Art or Les Alignements de Carnac by Marcel Gromaire (1953).

After war
For art after 1950, the collection developed around abstraction and the representation of the seascape. Emphasis was therefore placed on:

La Nouvelle Ecole de Paris – abstract landscape – particularly well represented in the collections by works by Jean Le Moal, Jean Bazaine, Alfred Manessier.

The artists defended by the Breton art critic, Charles Estienne, the “Argenton painters” such as René Duvillier, Jean Degottex, Yves Elléouët.

We also find for the abstract works of Geneviève Asse and Tal Coat.

We also cite artists like François Dilasser, Norbert Nüssle, Jeanne Coppel and the guardian figure, Jacques Villeglé whose recent acquisition by the association of the Friends of the Rue Joubert museum constitutes a major enrichment for the museum.

Donations of works by artists working in the region such as François Béalu, Yves Doaré and before them, Yves Elléouët give the opportunity to devote themselves to these artists who take Brittany and its landscapes as sources of inspiration to take a look. contemporary.

Graphic Arts

Jean-Marie de Silguy designer
This strong collection of around 2,000 sheets comes mainly from the legacy of Jean-Marie de Silguy. Pupil of the painter François Valentin at the Quimper high school, then of Jean-François-Léonor Mérimée at the Ecole polytechnique where the teaching of drawing occupied an important place, the collector liked to draw.

He kept some of his own drawings as well as those of the paternal and maternal families. The whole shows that drawing was a common practice in the entourage of the collector.

A predilection for the 18th century French
De Silguy mainly purchases French drawings and some Italian ones. The Nordic and Spanish are almost absent. It acquires in batches, rarely isolated leaves. This acquisition process explains why there are very many academies in the collection, copies, counter-proofs, many anonymous figures from the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Let us point out some remarkable 17th century drawings by Callot, Vouet, Stella, Le Sueur, Courtois, La Fage or Verdier which, in their own way, fill the gaps in the collection of paintings from the same period.

The 18th century collection, just like the paintings, remains the collector’s favorite subject and provides a didactic overview of the evolution of drawing during this period with pieces by masters like Watteau, Natoire, Boucher, Vincent and Robert.

The Italian group, less numerous, brings together from the 16th to the 18th century the names of Dell’Abate, Cambiaso, Allegrini, Tiepolo or Piranesi.

We can add to this brief description of the fund drawn, the collection of old engravings, very important digitally but which is above all a set of reproduction engravings having served as an icon library for de Silguy.

After its opening in 1872, the museum received copies of antiques from the State, rarely originals including the Psyche of Aizelin or the Cupid of Fourquet.

We can underline the rather astonishing case of the plaster Les Trois Ombres by Rodin deposited in the museum by the State in 1914, preserved in poor conditions for years to the point that we thought it was a copy before its masterful restoration in 2008.
On the other hand, the artist Hector Lemaire regularly made donations to the museum between 1885 and 1909. Winner of the Wicar Prize, this sculptor of Lille origin stayed in Rome from 1866 to 1870. The Bust of Transtévérine preserved in Quimper is probably his third year shipment.

More recently, a very important sculpture by James Pradier entered our collections thanks to the gift of Monique Lavallée in 2001. A set of Breton-inspired sculptures has also been created, in which the work of René Quillivic occupies an important place.
Exhibition halls

Max Jacob
A room in the museum is dedicated to Max Jacob, a Quimper native. There, one will find many works of Jacob himself (gouaches, pencil drawings, prints, etc.) and his entourage: notably Jean Cocteau (drawings), Picasso (strong on all three), Roger Toulouse, and Amedeo Modigliani (drawings).

Jean Moulin
Jean Moulin was a senior official before becoming an emblematic figure of the Resistance, serving as the sub-prefect in Chateaulin from 1930 to 1933. During his trip to Brittany, he encountered Max Jacob and by his advice, illustrated the collection of Tristan Corbière’s poems. He signed the 8 prints under the pseudonym “Romanin”

Jean-Julien Lemordant
At the heart of the museum, in a specially designed space, an exceptional ensemble of Jean-Julien Lemordant’s paintings are shown. At other times, they decorate the restaurant in l’Hotel de l’Épée in Quimper.

The last few years have focused on the restoration of works from the Silguy legacy (1864) and the Columbian legacy (1893), even if we cannot ignore the masterful restoration, in 2006, of the sculpture “Les Ombres” by Rodin. Several works, more or less exhibited for several years, even since their entry into the collections, have been the subject of very special attention. Under a yellowed varnish or behind some alteration, the curators, whether from the Quimper museum or other institutions, recognized the aesthetic and historical quality of several paintings.