The Saint Vaast Abbey was built in the eighteenth century to the orders of Abord Armand Gaston de Rohan; it is an architectural masterpiece and the largest neoclassical religious building in France.

An outstanding permanent exhibition

The Abbey is built on a grand architectural scale, and has been used since the Revolutionary period to house the Fine Arts Museum (Musée des Beaux Arts) and its collection of major works. Visitors are welcomed in the entrance by the Lion of Arras. On the ground floor visitors can discover the recumbent statue of Guillaume Lefranchois, with his innards exposed and eaten by worms (fifteenth century), alongside the bright-coloured mosaic tombstone of Bishop Frumauld (1183). On the first floor the Flemish and French schools of the seventeenth and eighteenth century complement each other in perfect harmony. Admire Bruegel the Younger’s “The Census of Bethlehem”, and Rubens' “Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata”.

Versailles lights up the Arras Fine Arts Museum

Since 2012 Arras Fine Arts Museum has worked in partnership with the Château de Versailles, staging exhibitions worthy of the Royal Court. This partnership is based on the historic links between Arras and the French crown, as evidenced by the works displayed in room after room. It was in the reign of Louis XIV that Arras and the Artois region became French. Charles X was Count of Artois, and a ball was held in the palatial setting of Saint-Vaast to mark his visit on 16 September 1827.

Versailles in 100 masterpieces

This exhibition immerses the visitor in the luxury of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, presenting the extraordinary skill of French workmanship. Outside Versailles there is of course no way of reconstituting the Great Apartment of the Sun King, with its 357 mirrors, ancient statues, plethora of trophies, exuberant furniture, and seemingly limitless proportions (being 73 metres long and 13 metres high). Unless of course one has a particular flair for staging, coupled with a natural propensity to tackle virtually insurmountable challenges - something the Arras Fine Arts Museum has in abundance.

From 27 September to 20 March 2016 the Museum is inviting visitors to come and explore artwork from the most prestigious château in France. As Béatrix Saule, head curator at the Château de Versailles observes:

"The staging of the exhibition has been careful to situate these masterpieces in context, evoking life at court and its many different atmospheres."

Inside and outside

The exhibition has been designed as a trompe-l’œil, divided into six distinct atmospheres in order to give the visitor the fullest possible appreciation of what Versailles was like in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The result is striking. On entering the first room visitors find themselves in the renowned Great Gallery, the epitome of Versailles’ luxury, and are welcomed by Jean Varin’s bust of Louis XIV, artfully placed on the Ambassadors' Staircase. They may also admire the tapestries from the Gobelins manufacture (in wool, silk, and gold thread) together with the porphyry, marble, and alabaster vases from the Hall of Mirrors. The second room presents the intimate atmosphere in the private apartments of the princes, a new sort of room with sculpted wood panelling indicative of changes in fashion. Quintessential pictures of the period are to be found here (Jean-Baptiste Charpentier the Elder's “Family of the Duke of Penthièvre”) together with little gems such as the Dauphin’s flat writing desk (in oak, amaranth, satinwood, violet wood, gilt bronze, and leather), and a perfume fountain (in brown ceramic and porcelain with celadon crackle glaze).

In room after room the visitor can explore the artistic riches of Versailles. “Latona and her Children” (by Gaspard and Balthazard Marsy), Pierre Mazeline’s polychrome lead Dragon, and the “Portrait of Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France” by Vigée-Lebrun. Other works on display include Claude-Louis Châtelet’s “Illumination of the Belvedere at the Petit Trianon”, a dazzling work on a par with the exhibition as a whole.

Practical information

Arras Fine Arts Museum, Saint-Vaast Abbey,  22, rue Paul Doumer, 62000 Arras

Tel.: +33 (0)3 21 71 26 43

Rates: €7.50 / €5.

Worth knowing

Arras Tourism Office is running guided visits on Saturdays at 2:30 PM and Sundays at 11 AM throughout the duration of the exhibition.

Rate: an additional €5 per person.

Information available on +33 (0)3 21 51 26 95