Ingres Bourdelle: a new life for a unique museum

Attention: there’s a jewel to explore at the heart of Occitanie! The Ingres Bourdelle museum in Montauban, the world’s only museum dedicated to Ingres, reopened on 14 December 2019 following a three-year renovation. Extended, modernised and digitalised, the new setting is commensurate with the art: an exceptional collection of drawings and paintings by Ingres and sculptures by Bourdelle, the other child of the country, to whom the museum is also dedicated.

The Episcopal Palace of Montauban has not experienced such excitement since the time of its construction in the 17th century! Curators, restorers, transporters, lighting designers, scenographers and even mediators all united a few weeks before the reopening to put the finishing touches to the décor of the 2,700-square-metre space.

1,000 works on display

Larger and more modern, the museum has been completely redesigned to highlight its exceptional collection, including the world’s largest collection of drawings by Ingres and the second-largest collection of his paintings, after that of the Louvre.

Around 1,000 works are permanently exhibited here, including 500 carefully restored between 2016 and 2019. Among them, the famous Violin by Ingres, passed down to posterity: we owe him for the expression ‘to have an Ingres violin’, indicating a passion for music alongside his artistic profession.

As soon as you enter the courtyard, the glass pavilions streamline the visitor routes and mark the entry into the 21st century of the building, classified as a monument historique, whose facades, bays and roofs have been completely renovated.

A palace transformed

From innovative presentations using digital and multimedia, to films on the genesis of a work or the history of the building and expertly crafted lighting, the digitisation of the space – which has added an extra 700m² – highlights the works and emphasises the magnificence of their setting.

Another transformation for the palace reveals painted joists with scalloped arches of ochre bricks, and fine gilding exhumed from the plaster.

Upon entering, it’s tempting to head straight for the rooms on the first floor dedicated to Ingres, the highlight of the museum. Large formats recall the influence of Raphael and antiquity, many of them works from his youth, or famous portraits such as that of Madame Gonse.

In the old chapel, the windows having been cleaned to let in the light, works by Ingres and his students take up home under the 10-metre-high ceiling. To admire their imposing dimensions, you can only imagine the dexterity involved in moving, hanging and lighting them.

A unique collection in the world

The more intimate second floor was restored during the renovation, designed as a graphic arts cabinet to show off a unique collection: 4,507 drawings by Ingres, who considered drawing ‘the integrity of art’. Everything is displayed cleverly: furniture with horizontal drawers and large transparent, bespoke vitrines, and screens giving access to all of the digitised graphic works.

To dive into the world of Bourdelle, the other French artist to whom this museum pays tribute, you must head to the first basement gallery. Around the monumental Héraklès archer, his most famous sculpture, marbles, bronzes, plasters and models are displayed: 68 sculptures and 100 graphic pieces retrace all the periods of work by Rodin’s former pupil.

Still thirsty for paintings? On the second floor, you can wander between Italian and northern schools from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, French and foreign schools from the 17th century, and 18th-century art from Boucher to David.

The vaulted room with a tormented past

To go back to the origins of the palace, we come down again. In the second basement gallery, in the sumptuous vaulted room of the ‘Black Prince’ in reference to Edouard Plantagenêt, archaeological pieces and objects linked to local history bear witness to the region’s tormented past: the episcopal palace was built on the foundations of a first 12th-century county castle, then of a 14th-century English castle which remained unfinished during the Hundred Years War.

For a really thorough visit, it’s best to leave plenty of time – especially as there are also temporary exhibitions on the ground floor between the café and bookshop.

The four temporary exhibitions are about the history of the building, the ‘Ingres Bourdelle constellation’ with 33 works from national collections, generative and interactive virtual reality around Ingres’ paintings by Miguel Chevalier, and a look inside Ingres’ drawing studio. Together they shed new light on the creative processes between 19th-century and contemporary art.

A customisable experience

Everything has been thought of to ensure visitors get the most from their visit. Getting around is easy thanks to a downloadable mobile app (also available on digital tablets), with guided tours and thematic or personalised routes. You can browse the works freely while thinking of the incredible destiny of this unique museum: in 1940, following the German offensive on Paris, it served as a refuge for works from Parisian museums, including La Joconde.

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