SEARCH by keywords

all terms one of the terms entire phrase
» Advanced search


Established as a foundation by Napoleon 1st in 1811, organized by the State Council in 1823, 1832 and 1833, initially called "Bibliothèque Calvet" [Calvet Library], then "Museum Calvet" [Calvet Museum], then "Musée Calvet" [Calvet Museum] and now again "Fondation Calvet" [Calvet Foundation] (Meeting of April 8, 1826).

Two centuries of donations and inheritances

Calvet Foundation is an institution dating back two centuries, established by Napoleon 1st, the fruit of the will of a local man of letters : Esprit Calvet .

A great collector, the later was a physiocrat by training. He devoted his entire life to medicine and to arts. Animated by generosity and by a spiritual requirement, he transmitted his entire property to the institution that would later bear his name.

Calvet Fondation is an autonomous public establishment owner of the works constituting the fund of the seven major museums in the cities of Avignon and Cavaillon. It is responsible for managing  a huge artistic heritage (artworks, natural history, medal collection and libraries), covering all areas of art from prehistory to modern art. It is one of the first to have given birth to the concept of museum. Designed in the 18th century, it is organized as a trust of Anglo-Saxon Law .

It is the owner of a large real estate report (buildings, houses, farms) that allows it to meet its expenses. Donations, inheritances  and purchases of buildings, art objects and collections of local and international origin (Avignon, Provence, Paris, Champagne, Italy, Great Britain, Japan ...) have succeeded in thousands since 1811.


Nicolas Dipre, Le Songe de Jacob (détail)

Calvet Fondation : An original institution

It's not just the institute that manages several museums in France.

In Provence, Avignon and Cavaillon, there is, for almost two centuries, an institution with original status established under Napoleon 1st, three years after the British Museum, which has a library and several museums, housed in magnificent private palaces and mansions:
  • CALVET Museum, itself, is housed in the very beautiful Hôtel de Villeneuve, where, among many other valuable collections, between the courtyard and the garden, an anthology of the great treasures of French, Spanish and Dutch painting, from the Renaissance to the twentieth century is exhibited.
  • At Avignon the Archaeological Museum, said "Lapidary" is established in the former Jesuit college.
  • The Museum of the Middle Ages and of the Italian Renaissance, with over 700 paintings and sculptures, enriched by the filing of CAMPANA collection, occupies the former Palace of Bishops, said Petit Palais, opposite the palace of Popes.
  • Alibrary called «CALVET library» containing more than 90,000 ancient books, to which the second collection of medals of France, is attached, is currently housed in the Palace of Cardinal CECCANO.
  • The Natural History Museum, Museum Requien, is located in the private mansion of RAFFELIS-SOISSANS.
At Cavaillon :
  • An archaeological museum is also housed in Hôtel Dieu
  • A museum called "Jouve" or museum Comtadin.
  • A Judaic museum, situated within the old « carrière » around one of the finest synagogues in France with its ritual baths, bakery, library and butcher, the whole constituting the former Jewish ghetto of the city.

All of this is the result of the pugnacious will of a man of the eighteenth century, Esprit Calvet, his first name being predestined for such a strong and visionary intelligence. His enlightenment gave birth to a work that has lasted for two centuries. The Foundation consisted of an informed and prudent Managing Board, attended by members of the most illustrious families in the city. All conservatives were inspired by the same intelligence, including: Esprit REQUIEN, the friend of Prosper MÉRIMÉE, Henri FABRE, the famous entomologist and Joseph GIRARD, the father of one of today's Immortels.

Their dedicated implications have attracted the generosity of many donors and testators. Among these, there were respectable and world famous names, attracted by the seriousness, the spirit of independence, financial stability and discrete reputation of the institution.

By leaving in 1810, his library and cabinet of antiquities Esprit Calvet Spirit entrusted the city of Avignon with the creation of an independent foundation run by eight men of letters so that visitors can admire the treasures hidden so far in religious libraries or private cabinets. Mr. Calvet wished indeed that the institution should continue and that his legacy should be constantly enriched by donations and purchases of new works.

To this purpose, he endowed his Foundation with rental properties the incomes of which were to be used exclusively for the acquisition and restoration of works of art.

It was only gradually that these masterpieces could be presented in spaces that were worthy of them, thanks to an appropriate legal structure.

This is the work of Calvet himself who created it freely "without the help of the people of law", as he recalls them in his will and as the State Council translated in 1823, with a wonderful brevity, in a settlement approved by the Minister of Interior of Louis XVIII, a settlement the infringement of which the Tribunals and the State Council consistently punished with much rigor.

This independent property has a legal personality. It is a practical synthesis of ancient and modern institutions, of public and private law, without theoretical ideas or political intentions, in perfect harmony with the intended objective. Its role is to get private treasure owners offer them to the public by preserving the impression of keeping a little for them. 


Tombeau Cardinal Jean de Lagrange, Le Gisant - XVème siècle

Its management structure called "Council of the Eight" contains two facets, a private one, represented by three executors liable on their private property, and a public one, played by five persons appointed by the City Council of Avignon.

Some of these are responsible for ensuring the commitment of the founders, donors or testators - a will executor is in fact a post mortem agent - and some others, for representing the cultural elite of their time; yet all of them have to be man of «letters» in the definition of the time; one could say today, a man of morality, authorised, enterprising and cultivated. The formers are renewed one for the other by cooptation, the latter are appointed for ten years. The Council is chaired by the mayor of the city when it comes into session; the effective and daily management is provided by the vice president always selected from the three will executors, any delegation being prohibited.

Joseph GIRARD (*) author of the history of the institution, called this Council in a speech at the Institute of France in 1933, «Board of trustees», including in it the legal concept that has made the fortune of the large Anglo-Saxon libraries and foundations. In fact, the Foundation is the owner and guarantor of land and artistic goods that it owns, but on condition, however, to allow the enjoyment of the public.

Fearing that the expenditure required to house the collections and preserve the works should not jeopardize one day the financial stability of the institution, CALVET imposed - in charge of his legacy - that the city of Avignon should only assume the maintenance of buildings and of museum staff.

Here served the "Council of Eight" the land resources, by the provision and management of the housing stock, and by the enrichment of the collections, the preservation, restoration and enhancement of which were assigned to conservative leaders responsible before him.

This balance between men representation, cost allocation and management of rental properties and works of art, attracted to the Foundation numerous donations that enriched the purchases made from its own resources. Embodying the generous idea of its founder, the Institution has thus accumulated, over two centuries, always remaining in surplus, important movable and immovable artistic and high quality assets the taxpayers of the cities of Avignon and Cavaillon not having to bear the burden for all these.

The Foundation is happy to leave these communities the honor of showing its works of art to as many people as possible. Cities thus benefit from the prestige that this type of cultural tourism, now in full growth, generates.

(*) Joseph Girard, Histoire (Joseph), Histoire du musée Calvet, Imprimerie Rullière, Avignon, 1955.