Young Woman Holding a MaskThere's something for everyone in Avignon's museums, from a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull and avant-garde art to the Countess du Barry's adorable travel tea service and the only painting by Vincent van Gogh on permanent view in Provence.

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This is a complete guide to Avignon's museums. The Palais des Papes and the Pont d'Avignon, which both have their own exhibition areas, are dealt with in separate articles, as are the Musée Angladon and the Collection Lambert.

If you are planning to visit more than one venue, be sure to pick up the "Avignon Passion" pass. Ask for it on your first visit to a local monument and you will get discounts of between 10% and 50% to subsequent attractions both in Avignon itself and in Villeneuve.

The card is valid for 15 days and can apply to up to five persons. More details from the Avignon Tourist Office.

The Countess du Barry's personal portable tea service, in the Musee Louis Vouland, AvignonThose museums within the walled city are housed in lovely historic buildings and so it comes as something of a surprise that a number have been open for less than half a century, and some, such as the Collection Lambert, since just 2000 when Avignon was the European City of Culture.

In a number of cases, Avignon's museums originate in the idiosyncratic passions of individual collectors: the Lambert, Angladon, Petit Palais, Louis Vouland, Calvet and Requien, among others.

This gives their holdings an excitingly quirky, personal quality. Expect the unexpected, and enjoy.

Insider tip for the museums of AvignonMany French museums offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month. Watch out, too, for occasional late-night openings (nocturnes) when entry is also free.

This happens systematically once a year in mid-May on the Nuit des Musées (European Night of the Museums), when a number of venues remain open until very late, often offering special events as well.

To avoid the crowds and long queues for popular shows, turn up around 12 noon. The lunch hour is sacred for many French visitors!

Many museums are closed on certain days of the week, mostly Mondays, though some private museums are open every day.

As opening hours can vary throughout the year - and certain places are closed for part of the winter season - please check the links to the museum websites for current details.

Pictured top left: Young Girl Holding a Mask (1745) by Charles-Antoine Coypel in the Musée Calvet and above right, the Countess du Barry's personal portable tea service in the Musée Louis Voulard

The Musée Louis Vouland

The Musée Louis Vouland (Louis Vouland Museum) is a discerning collection of 17th and 18th century furniture, porcelain, chandeliers, tapestries, paintings and other decorative items.

Interior, the Musee Louis Vouland, AvignonLouis Vouland (1883-1973) made his fortune in the meat business and spent it on amassing a fine array of objets d'art, as well as on buying the Villeneuve-Esclapon mansion, a 19th century hôtel particulier (town house).

On his death he bequeathed this house and its contents to the nation, requesting that they be turned into a museum in his name.

You enter the Musée Louis Vouland through its rather severe, north-facing classical façade on the rue Victor Hugo (hidden at the back on the south side is a pleasant, sunny garden).

Inside, the treasures are all set out as though the house were still inhabited. An imposing entrance hall - with a sedan chair parked ready for use - leads to a dining room and salon, while a sweeping staircase takes you up to the private quarters on the first floor.

Highlights of the Musée Louis Voulard include a superb 17th century Dutch marquetry armoire, a Gobelins tapestry of Diana returning from the hunt, a splendid, very red, very large Chinese four-poster bed (with the bedside tables inside the canopy area) and a fine porcelain tea set for one which formerly belonged to the Countess du Barry, complete with its own travelling case (pictured above).

Where: Musée Louis Vouland, 17 rue Victor Hugo, 84000 Avignon. Tel: (+33) 4 90 86 03 79. Website for the Musée Louis Vouland

 

 

The Musée Calvet

Housed in an 18th century mansion, the Musée Calvet (Calvet Museum) is one of the 32 top-rated museums in France. Among Avignon's oldest museums, it celebrated its bicentennial in 2011.

The meeting of Alexander with the Queen of the Amazons by Pierre MignardThe collection, originated by the Avignon physician and scholar Esprit Calvet (1728-1810), ranges from ethnology to ceramics, furniture and fine arts.

A special display is dedicated to the Avignon School of painters, among them Simon de Chalons and the ubiquitous local artist Joseph Vernet.

The Musée Calvet is constantly expanding. In 2010 it opened a new room of modern art with 75 works by, among others, Bonnard, Manet, Sisley, Vuillard and Camille Claudel.

In 2012 three extra rooms were added featuring some of the artefacts which were restored for the museum's 2011 blockbuster show, Sumptuous Egypt.

And the museum received a donation of The Meeting of Alexander with the Queen of the Amazons by Pierre Mignard (1612-1665).

Pictured above, it complements the other paintings by the same artist in the Calvet's collection. The museum's archeological treasures are on display at the Musée Lapidaire (see below).

Another recent show was called Trésors cachés (Hidden Treasures) and included many objects not previously seen on public display, among them a Louix XIII ebony cabinet, a 14th century Mamluk ceremonial basin and many other sculptures, paintings and drawings.

Where: Musée Calvet, 65 rue Joseph Vernet, 84000 Avignon. Tel: (+33) 4 90 86 33 84. Website for the Fondation Calvet Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Musée Lapidaire

Housed in the atmospheric 17th century Jesuit College Chapel, the Musée Lapidaire (Lapidary Museum) is dedicated to archaeology: Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Greco-Roman, and Gallic sculptures, sarcophagi and objects from everyday life. It's notable for its remarkable series of masks from Vaison la Romaine and for the statue, unique in the world, of a Tarasque, a man-eating monster.

The Lapidary Museum underwent extensive renovation in 2014 and its substantial collection has been reorganised and enlarged with the loan from the Louvre of two major Greek funerary steles.

Where: Musée Lapidaire, 27 rue de la République, 84000 Avignon. Tel: (+33) 4 90 85 75 38. Website for the Musée Lapidaire

 

Collection Lambert

In 2000 the legendary gallery owner and art dealer Yvon Lambert offered hundreds of works by the cream of contemporary artists to the city of Avignon for what has become the Collection Lambert.

Collection Lambert forecourt with art installationAnselm Kiefer, Douglas Gordon, Nan Goldin, Cy Twombley, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andres Serranno are among his collection, many of their pieces acquired at early stages in their careers.

This is one of the biggest holdings of modern art in France, and one of the boldest.

Originally on long-term loan, it has been enhanced by a further major permanent donation to the city from Lambert in 2012 and the museum building has been substantially enlarged to house it. Read our full guide to the Collection Lambert.

Where: Collection Lambert, 5 rue Violette, 84000 Avignon. Tel: (+33) 4 90 16 56 20. Website for the Collection Lambert

The Musée Angladon

The Musée Angladon (Angladon Museum) is a small but exquisite collection of 19th and 20th century art including the only work by Vincent van Gogh still on permanent view in Provence, Wagons de Chemin de Fer (Railway Carriages), painted shortly after the artist arrived in Arles in February 1888. The museum also holds temporary exhibitions. Read our full guide to the Musée Angladon.

Where: Musée Angladon, 5 rue Laboureur, 84000 Avignon. Tel: (+33) 4 90 82 29 03.

The Musée du Petit Palais

The Musee du Petit PalaisPart of the mighty complex of buildings that also embraces the Cathedral and the Palais des Papes, the Musée du Petit Palais (Petit Palais Museum) is found in the former Archbishops' Palace (pictured on a beautiful November day).

It focusses on Italian - and, to a lesser extent, provençal - paintings, stone carvings and sculptures from the Middle Ages and Renaissance and lays claim to be one of the greatest collection of Italian primitive painting anywhere in the world outside of Italy.

The core of the museum's holdings is the Campana Collection, being over 300 works of art assembled by Gian Pietro Campana, a wealthy investor, augmented by works on loan from the Musée Calvet. Sandro Botticelli's Virgin and Child and Vittore Carpaccio's Holy Conversation are two of the prize exhibits.

This magnificent array of works is beautifully displayed, though the Musée du Petit Palais is of greatest interest to those keenly interested in religious art.

A charming tea-room, Autour d'un Thé, un Voyage, is tucked away in the chapel at the back of the museum, and you can visit it without entering the Musée du Petit Palais itself.

Where: Musée du Petit Palais, place du Palais, 84000 Avignon. Tel: (+33) 4 90 86 44 58. Website for the Musée du Petit Palais Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Musée Requien

Next door to the Musée Calvet, the Musée Requien (Requien Museum) chronicles five billion years of geology and ecology in the local area and houses one of the most important natural history libraries in France.

Bonelli's EagleThe bad news is that all the signage is in French only and there is no audio guide. The good news is that entrance is free and that some of the striking visual displays should be highly attractive to children.

As you go in, there is a diorama of stuffed animals and birds from the region including a rare Bonelli''s Eagle (a live one is pictured), a wild boar and even a bear. A gigantic Tyrannosaurus Rex skull, discovered in nearby Mormoiron, is also impressive.

Don't miss the herbarium, which contains some 200,000 specimens from around the world gathered by botanists, including Esprit Requien (1758-1851), the natural scientist who donated the museum's core collection and after whom it is named.

The museum also features the work of the leading entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre (1823-1915), who lived in Avignon (his house can be seen in the nearby rue des Teinturiers) and was one of the museum's curators.

Where: Musée Requien, 67 rue Joseph Vernet, 84000 Avignon. Tel : (+33) 4 90 82 43 51. Website for the Musée Requien Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Palais du Roure

This museum of provençal culture is located in the Baroncelli-Javon mansion, built in 1469 by the banker Pierre Baroncelli.

It was renamed the Palais du Roure by Frédéric Mistral, one of the founders of the Félibrige movement, an association to promote the provençal language and traditions, of which this building became a centre. Roure means "oak" in provençal, and the name refers to the oak branches sculpted on its façade.

The collection includes everything provençal: manuscripts and icons, furniture, santons and Christmas cribs, tools, bells and traditional costumes.

There's a fine painted ceiling dating back to the 15th century and a few surprises too, like some mementos of John Stuart Mill, the British economist who died in Avignon in 1873.

The Palais de Roure also organises a lively cultural programme, with lectures, festivals and other special events.

Where: Palais du Roure, 3 rue College du Roure, 84000 Avignon. Tel: (+33) 4 90 80 80 88.

The Musée du Mont de Piété

A mont de piété is a pawn shop and, dating back to 1610, this is the oldest in France. Probably Avignon's most oddball museum, it houses the municipal archives and chronicles the history of pawnbroking and silk production in the region.

Where: Musée du Mont de Piété, 6 rue Saluces, 84000 Avignon. Tel.: (+ 33) 4 90 86 53 12.

The Maison Jean Vilar

Poster Avignon Festival 1949The actor-director Jean Vilar launched the Festival d'Avignon in 1947 with performances of Shakespeare's Richard II, Paul Claudel's Tobie et Sara (Tobie and Sara), and Maurice Clavel's second play, La Terrasse de Midi (The Midday Terrace) in the Palais des Papes.

Since then the event has become one of France's major festivals of dramatic art. Website for the Festival d'Avignon

Housed in the 14th century Hôtel de Crochans, the Maison Vilar celebrates the career of this radical and enormously influential force in French theatre.

It includes scripts, press clippings, photographs, posters, programmes, sound recordings and thousands of costumes and costume designs by painters who worked with Vilar, notably Léon Gischia, Mario Prassinos and Edouard Pignon.

There's also a section on the history of the Festival d'Avignon itself (pictured: the poster from the 1949 festival).

Where: Maison Jean Vilar, 8 rue de Mons, Montée Paul Puaux, 84000 Avignon. Tel : (+33) 4 90 86 59 64. Website for the Maison Jean Vilar

 

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