Destination Musée

The ‘Destination Musée’ quality label was created in 2015 upon the closure of the Dunkirk Fine Arts Museum.
This label is attributed to exhibitions that allow the Fine Arts Museum to continue to share and disseminate its collections both at home and abroad, in partnership with leading cultural institutions.
The ‘Destination Musée’ quality label was created in 2015 upon the closure of the Dunkirk Fine Arts Museum.
This label is attributed to exhibitions and events that allow the Fine Arts Museum to continue to share and disseminate its collections both at home and abroad, in partnership with leading cultural institutions.

Previous and on-going ‘Destination Musée’ exhibitions: Lumières ! at the Galerie Robespierre in Grande-Synthe, Masterpieces in Dialogue at the Hôtel Sandelin Museum in Saint-Omer, L’hôtel de ville nous raconte at the Dunkirk Town Hall, La famille Malo, une ambition pour le territoire at the Malo-les-Bains Town Hall, La figure ou le reflet de l’âme at the Departmental Museum of Flanders in Cassel, Eaux plurielles, emblematic works of the Dunkirk and Saint-Tropez museums, at the Musée de L’Annonciade in Saint-Tropez, Tête d'étude at the Musée Girodet in Montargis, and The Gilded Mummy of Antinopolis, loaned by Dunkirk to the Château-Musée de Boulogne-sur-Mer*.

*currently being prepared

 

The Dunkirk Fine Arts Museum Collection

The wonderfully eclectic collection of the Dunkirk Fine Arts Museum comprises over 24,000 remarkable artworks and objects:

  • An extensive collection of Flemish, Dutch, French and Italian paintings dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
  • A natural history collection of over 10,000 specimens, evoking the early scientific study of the natural world.
  • Numerous decorative artworks and archaeological objects, including a rare Egyptian mummy covered in gold leaf.
  • Paintings, precious-metal pieces, ceramics, shells and other invaluable collections retracing the history of the city and the surrounding region.
  • Over 3,000 objects from all four corners of the world: Oceania, Africa, the Americas and Asia.

  

The history of Dunkirk’s Fine Arts Museum

In the wake of the scientific voyages and Enlightenment philosophy of the 18th century, Revolutionary France witnessed the emergence of educational, encyclopaedic museums welcoming all visitors.

In 1829, the municipality of Dunkirk solicited the ‘generosity of amateurs, naturalists and others’ to begin amassing an initial collection comprising mounted animals and miscellanea. In 1838, a ‘municipal museum’ was created on the initiative of Benjamin Morel, as well as a committee in charge of ‘recording donations’. The subprefecture contributed works seized during the French Revolution: over one hundred, for the most part Flemish canvasses. Also in 1838, the Mayor of Dunkirk, François Gourdin, called upon far-sailing captains to bring ‘exotic objects’ back from distant, foreign colonies. Sailors, merchants, scholars and simple citizens, as well as soldiers and colonial administrators started sending objects to the museum from Africa, Asia and the Americas. 

On 27 June 1841, the new museum was inaugurated within a portion of the municipal courthouse. Its exceptional collection of not only paintings but also Oceanian pieces, ancient archaeological objects, currencies and natural history specimens made the museum a veritable cabinet of curiosities.  The museum set about acquiring – through purchases and donations – Northern European paintings, works from the Saint-Eloi Church, coins and medals, yet more natural history specimens, model boats, navigational instruments and tools, etc.

In 1860, upon the death of Benjamin Morel, the city acquired his property, there building in 1877 its ‘museum-library’. The collections would be further enriched by the generous donations of the merchants Théodore and Alphonse Bray (1850-1882), as well as by the Coffyn (1887) and Joffroy (1898) legacies. Supporting the museum from the outset, the French state would regularly send it consignments up until the 1970s, most notably the gilded Egyptian mummy of Antinopolis in 1906 and Le Port de Dunkerque by Eugène Isabey in 1933. In 1911, the museum underwent renovation work and received what would prove to be its last significant legacy up until the 1980s: a collection of Asian objects donated by Sophie Angellier-Beck, the daughter of a Dunkirk shipowner. 

During both World Wars, the collections were largely evacuated. Bombed in May of 1940, the museum building was destroyed, along with certain collections transferred to the town hall. In 1955, a temporary exhibition space was set up in the municipal library. On 15 October 1973, the brand-new museum was inaugurated upon the old Morel site.

Since 2004, Dunkirk’s Fine Arts Museum and LAAC are both overseen by a single team.

In 2015, the City of Dunkirk set about considering how best to enhance and revitalize its cultural offer, notably establishing new avenues of exploration for its museums. Dunkirk has continued to showcase and disseminate the collection of its Fine Arts Museum thanks to ‘Destination Musée’ exhibitions organized in partnership with leading cultural institutions, both in France and abroad. Today, a new ambitious project is in the process of being planned.