The Garden of the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon

A small miracle of peace in the heart of the city, and an intermediary space between the city and the museum, the garden of the palace of Saint-Pierre is a starting point for your discovery. Under the foliage of linden trees, birch trees and the great oak, the garden paths resound with the laughter of children and the conversations of the people strolling around. This former cloister bears witness to the site's history, while the central fountain, bronze sculptures, marble groups, and antique moldings evoke archaeology and art history.

The history of the garden
The history of the ancient abbey dates back to the 7th Century, and the place has changed a great deal since then. The garden was once a cloister reserved for the nuns of Lyon: until 1792 the Palais Saint-Pierre was a convent of Benedictine sisters. "A soldier cared for by a nun in a cloister," Claudius Jacquand, 1822.

Entrance to the cloister of the Palais Saint-Pierre. In 1802, soon after the French Revolution, the building was bought by the City, after the founding decree of the Lyon Museum.

Its purpose was to remind everyone of the city's prestigious Gallo-Roman past, and to create designs for the manufacture of silk. Beneath the arcades, there were many ancient remains.

In the center of the garden, a fountain welcomes you. The fountain is one of the elements that make up part of the legacy promoted by the museum from the very beginning.

The reservoir of the fountain is a sarcophagus from Lyon of Gallo-Roman antiquity. Massive and carved in marble, it has been pierced with three holes to allow the water to flow through.

Explore the garden of arts !

"L'Ombre" (The Shadow) by Auguste Rodin (1902)
Among the many works exhibited in the garden of the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon, you can admire "L'Ombre" by Auguste Rodin (1902). It represents Adam, one of the damned characters of "L'Enfer" (Hell), a poem written by Dante Alighieri in the 14th Century. Initially, this sculpture was designed on a smaller scale to be placed in triplicate at the entrance of a museum of decorative arts in Paris. The artist then decided to exhibit a larger-than-life plaster model. The city of Lyon acquired a bronze print of this in 1904. The artist deliberately created this sculpture without its right hand to emphasize the expression of impotence. This innovative incompleteness is characteristic of Rodin's work, which does not seek a realistic rendering of nature but emphasizes expressiveness.

The initial model of "L'Ombre" has no hands. The bronze version at the Museum of Fine Arts, executed by Eugene Rudier seems to be the only version faithful to the original model.

Rodin, fearing that this amputation would be misunderstood, questioned the President of the commission of the museums of Lyon on this subject.

The latter left him free to carry out the order with or without his hands, although this incompleteness was one of the objections raised by the museums' commission for acquisition.

It was probably after the purchase by Lyon in 1904 that Rodin had a Czech sculptor, Joseph Maratka, add hands to avoid questions from the public.

"Gilliatt and the octopus" by Émile Joseph Carlier (1880-1890) 
This work refers to the passage on "La pieuvre" (The octopus) in Victor Hugo's work "Les travailleurs de la mer" (The workers of the sea), written during his exile in the Anglo-Norman island of Guernsey and published in 1866. Gilliat is the main character of this novel

"Gilliatt was in water to his waist, feet clenched on the roundness of the slippery pebbles (...)"

"(...) his right arm hugged and secured by the flat windings of the straps of the octopus, and his torso almost disappearing under the folds and crosses of this horrible bandage. (...)"

"(...) Gilliatt had only one resource, his knife …"

"Chactas méditant sur le corps d'Atala" de Francisque Duret (1835)
This sculpture is inspired by Chateaubriand's romantic nove "Atala", or "Les Amours de deux sauvages dans le désert" (The Love of two savages in the desert), published in 1801.This work which represents a "savage" before his conversion to Catholicism is part of the iconographic lineage of figures of Melancholy shown through posture. Its composition is classical whilst its subject is exotic and romantic.The reasons for its purchase by the Ministry of the Interior and its rapid delivery to Lyon are unknown. Perhaps we can suppose that this moralistic statue was placed in Lyon to play a role of enlightenment, after the unrest caused by the canuts (silk workers) in the 1834 rebellion.

A young Indian, Chactas, sits on a rock.

He meditates on the tomb of his beloved Atala, whose name is inscribed on one of the two crosses at his feet.

The episode is the day after the funeral: "I sat on the recently disturbed earth. An elbow resting on my knees, and my head held in my hand, I remained buried in the most bitter daydream."

"Castalia" or "Source of poetry" by Eugène Guillaume (1883)
The artist wanted to symbolize the source of all poetry in this image of the daughter of the river god Achelous.

Castalia, pursued by the god Apollo, chose to throw herself into a fountain rather than give in to his advances.

Sitting on a prominent rock of Parnassus, the nymph holds a lyre.

The left arm is placed on the traditional urn from which the generous waters that give the gift of poetry and divination flow.

You can see a small winged genie in the process of quenching his thirst.

"Agar and Ismaël" by François Sicard (1897) 
This sculpture represents an episode of the "Book of Genesis."

Hagar and her son Ishmael, driven out by Abraham and Sarah, wander in the desert.

Having no more water or food, Hagar places her child under a bush and moves away from him so as not to witness his death.

An angel then comes to rescue them by pointing out a well.

Inspired by the aesthetic principles developed by Rodin's sculpture from the end of the 1890s, …

... François Sicard leaves the marble unfinished here. To some extent, this had become part of the conventional language of the time.

"Giotto as a child drawing a ram's head" by Jean-François Legendre-Héral (1842)
This work is part of a renewed interest in the legend of Cimabue and his pupil Giotto, who was trained in Florence. It is recounted by Vasari in the "Lives of the Best Painters, Sculptors and Architects"; the first compilation on the history of art, published in 1550 in Florence.

While the young Giotto watched his father's goats, "he spent his time drawing on the stones, on the ground, or in the sand, what he could see in front of him or what his imagination inspired."

"One day Cimabue—who was going to Vespignano on business from Florence—came across Giotto, who was drawing a life-like ewe on a flat stone while shepherding sheep."

"Cimabue stopped in amazement and asked if he wanted to come with him. After his father agreed, Giotto accepted.

The sculptor used his son Charles as a model, to represent the young Giotto.

"Carpeaux at work" by Antoine Bourdelle (1827-1875)
This very moving portrait of Carpeaux—a great sculptor of the French Second Empire, who produced La Danse for the façade of the Opéra Garnier—evokes the sculptor's act of creation.

Standing, dressed in a loose smock, …

he holds a ball of clay in one hand,...

a first draft of his work in the other…

and a mallet rests at his feet.

Bourdelle pays homage to the artist and his work.

"Drunken Faun" by Louis Cugnot (1863)
 Louis-Léon Cugnot (Paris 1835, Paris 1894) won the Prix ​​de Rome in 1859, jointly with Alexandre Falguière. He was resident of the Villa Medici in Rome from 1860 to 1863. This "Young Drunken Faun" is his last dispatch from Rome. The work was exhibited at the Salons of 1864 and of 1870, then acquired by the city of Lyon that same year.

The work depicts a young faun staggering as he returns from the feast of Bacchus (the Roman god of wine and drunkenness), …

... accompanied by a panther.

The youth and casualness of the character have often been criticized.

"Democritus meditating on the seat of the soul" by Léon-Alexandre Delhomme (1868) 
Democritus of Abdera (460 BC-370 BC) is a Greek philosopher who is considered to be part of the materialist tradition because of his belief in a universe of atoms and void. He rejected all characteristics of things that we can perceive with our senses (appearance, color, smell, etc.) in favor of subjectivity. There is little information on the life of this philosopher, the vast majority of whose work has disappeared. Delhomme won a gold medal for this bronze statue at the Universal Exhibition in Lyon in 1872.

This work refers to an episode in La Fontaine's fable, "Democritus and the Abderites".

The inhabitants of Abdera, the birthplace of Democritus, were worried about his solitary and melancholic attitude when he was studying the causes of madness.
They had appealed to Hippocrates to try to bring him back to reason.

Democritus is here represented lost in his thoughts, head in his hand, ...

... desperately contemplating a human skull, as if waiting for an answer.

"Discobolus at rest" also called "Discophoros"
In 1844, 16 statues "made of artificial stone" (called mastic of Dyle) molded onto the older rock were bought to break the monotony of the cloister's facades. Today, 10 castings from famous antique sculptures adorn the alcoves. Among them is the "discobolus at rest" (or "Discus athlete"), which is a reproduction of a bronze original, now lost, created by the Greek sculptor Naucydes at the beginning of the 4th Century BC.


The work bears witness to an idealized aesthetic of the sportsman at rest.


The athlete is captured in the moment before the disc is thrown.

The concentration of his gaze…


... and the clenching of his toes betray his tension.

"Artemis" called "Diana of Gabii"
Among the castings from famous antique sculptures that adorn the alcoves of the cloister, "Artemis" called "Diana of Gabies" is a casting of a Roman sculpture (14-37 AD) in marble, discovered during excavations carried out by G. Hamilton in 1792 in Gabii (Italy). The original work is preserved in the Louvre.

The short tunic and the sandals make it possible to identify Artemis, the goddess of the hunt.

She ties her coat over the right shoulder with a fibula.

This statue became very popular in the 19th Century: a marble replica joins the other copies of classical works that adorn the Louvre's Cour Carrée.

Art lovers can also buy small-scale replicas made of terracotta or porcelain.

"Capitoline Venus"
"The Capitoline Venus" is a type of statue from Antiquity (Hellenistic period) depicting the goddess Venus, one of the best examples of which is preserved at the Capitoline Museums in Rome, hence its name.

These statues, of which there are many copies, represent the goddess Aphrodite hiding her nudity.

They generally differ in the choice of the support against which the goddess is leaning.

In the Capitoline, it is a vase with a cloth placed upon it. Elsewhere, it could be a dolphin, an Eros (a small, winged figure), or a tree trunk.

The decorative richness of the hairstyle, and the sensual treatment of the flesh, allude to the 2nd or 3rd century BC.

Opening Hours
The Lyon Museum of Fine Art's garden is free to access. Its opening hours are the same as the museum's: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. except on Fridays when it opens from 10:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. It is closed on Tuesdays and public holidays.
Credits: Story

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
Réalisation : Mathilde Hospital - service communication.
Photos: © MBA Lyon - Alain Basset, Stéphane Degroisse, Mathilde Hospital

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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