The Calvet Museum is one of several worthwhile art museums in Avignon. Its main building is this mansion on Rue Joseph Vernet, which was built from 1741 to 1754 for a family called Villeneuve-Martignan. The museum has been located here since 1835.
The street was named after the eighteenth-century painter Joseph Vernet (1714-1789). Many of his paintings are on display in the Galerie Vernet of the museum. Joseph Vernet’s son, grandson and great-grandson also became well-known painters during their lifetimes.
In the Calvet Museum I was surprised to find an early sculpture by Camille Claudel (1864–1943), showing her brother Paul as a young Roman, dressed in a toga.
This sculpture, Moissonneuse endormie by Louis Veray (1820-1891), shows a young female harvest worker (note the sickle by her side) who has apparently fallen asleep on the job. This is said to be an example of the ‘official’ conventional sort of sculpture that was common in the middle of the nineteenth century.
The Vernet family was not the only dynasty of famous painters in Avignon. These busts are of six painters from the Parrocel family, spanning several generations.
Of all the paintings I saw in the Calvet Museum, the one that surprised me the most was this one called Ugolin et ses fils (Ugolino and his sons) by Charles-Hippolyte-Émile Lecomte-Vernet (1821-1900). On orders of his mortal enemy, the Archbishop, Ugolino and his sons have been imprisoned in a tower and left there to starve to death, the keys having been thrown into the river. At least two of the sons seem to be unconscious, but one is wide awake and is pleading with his father to eat their bodies after they die, so at least the father will survive.
What surprised me is that this depiction is so different from the well-known sculpture by Auguste Rodin. In Rodin’s version, all the figures are naked and in agony. In Lecomte-Vernet’s painting, they are clean and fully clothed, and at least the two main figures look positively aristocratic — which of course in real life they were. Here is Rodin’s sculpture, from my post on the Rodin Museum in Paris:
As I explained in that post, there really was a man named Ugolino della Gherardesca who lived in the thirteenth century, from about 1220 to 1289. He was an Italian count who betrayed his city and his allies. He is remembered today primarily because his story was told by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) in his Divine Comedy — in the Inferno part, of course. In Dante’s version, Ugolino was punished for his sins of betrayal and cannibalism by being condemned to eternal torture in the ninth circle of hell — along with his enemy, the Archbishop.
This large painting of exhausted workers and their families was inspired by Émile Zola’s novel L’Assommoir, and is now on display in the Calvet Museum in Avignon.
This is a maritime scene by Joseph Vernet (1714-1789), showing a port with a temple at sunrise. If I have understood correctly, Joseph Vernet was the great-grandfather of Charles-Hippolyte-Émile Lecomte-Vernet.
This Baigneuse endormie (a bather who has fallen asleep) was painted in 1850 by Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856).
This view of the Palace of the Popes in Avignon was painted in 1845 by Jules-Romain Joyant (1803-1854).
The Calvet Museum also includes several paintings of Saint Bénezet’s bridge as it looked in various centuries. I have already shown three of these in my post on Saint Bénezet’s eclipse and bridge, but here they are again in case you missed them over there:
This one is from the year 1700 and was painted by Robert Bonnart (1652-1733). It shows the four spans that still exist today, along with some other fragments on the big island in the Rhône.
This one is by Paul Huet (1803-1869). It shows Avignon in the year 1834, with some squalid but picturesque ruins in the foreground and a surprisingly intact bridge barely visible in the distance.
Also from the Calvet Museum, this painting by Isidore Dagnan (1790-1873) shows the four arches of the bridge that still exist today, with the Palace of the Popes in the background.
Location, aerial view and photo of the Calvet Museum on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2017.
See more posts on Avignon, France.