The Musée Fabre's collections of 15th- to 19th-century painting and sculpture fall into three major stylistic and chronological groups. The itinerary begins with Flemish and Dutch painting in the 17th century, followed by European painting from the 14th century to the mid-18th century, and ends with the Neoclassical period (late 18th – early 19th century). The displays include selections from the museum's collection of works on paper; other galleries pay tribute to the museum's great 19th-century donors, Fabre and Valedau.
Our popular vision of the artist as an inspired, solitary, creative genius was born with the Romantic era – the starting-point for the Musée Fabre's collections of modern art, which are housed in the northern wing of the Collège des Jésuites. Romanticism, Orientalism, Ingrism, Realism, Impressionism, and Fauvism are all represented, together with the rise of abstraction, which dominates the latter part of the collection, and the current re-emergence of painting as a contemporary creative force.
The decorative arts collection at the Musée Fabre was properly initiated in 1967 with the bequest from Madame Frédéric Sabatier d’Espeyran of her private house and the collections it housed. She was fulfilling the wish of her husband, a diplomat and great bibliophile, to contribute to the enrichment of the heritage of their native city.
On two floors, this house has a great many fine pieces, with Napoleon III furniture and interiors – evidence of the luxurious life of a Montpellier family in the second half of the 19th century – and the collections of 18th century furniture and objets d’art from the Paris apartment owned by these great connoisseurs. The collection includes a number of remarkable items of furniture stamped with the names of celebrated cabinetmakers (Béfort, Pillot, Delorme, Sené, Bury, Fromageau), important sculptures (Pajou, Bosio...) and some paintings characteristic of their taste (Lebourg, Trouillebert, Stevens...).
Closed temporarily during the refurbishment of the Musée Fabre, the Hôtel Sabatier d’Espeyran will be reopening soon with an exhibition of the ceramic collections from the old museum. The display covers the art of faïence pottery and porcelain in Europe from the 16th to the 19th centuries with some major pieces of Italian majolica (Urbino, fabrique Fontana, the Abduction of Helen…), examples from Montpellier (Favier and Ollivier factories) and the main south-eastern centres (Marseille, Moustiers…), pieces from Strasbourg (Hannong, from the Bazille gift), Sèvres, Delft and Meissen.
Rightly considered the most important, both in number and in quality, the French collection contains a remarkable ensemble of drawings from the 17th and 18th centuries, with examples by Poussin, Le Brun, Boucher, Fragonard, Greuze and David. Thanks to François-Xavier Fabre, the museum also has his studio collection and an exemplary series of neoclassical drawings by his contemporaries (Gauffier, Hackert...). The 19th century collections were the gift of Alfred Bruyas, with examples by Millet, Barye and Delacroix.
The fine Italian collection, which owes its origins to Fabre, with some exceptional works by Raphael in particular, has recently been carefully restored.
The print collection, with 1000 items, was augmented in 1996 with some 300 contemporary pieces from the former Artothèque (including some framed large format works) which provide an interesting panorama of the second half of the 20th century (Asse, Cueco, Jaccard, Alechinski, Boisrond, Di Rosa, Kuroda…).
Several special rooms have been located around the museum to hold themed displays of prints and drawings. These are rolling exhibitions, as these very fragile items can only be displayed for a maximum of three months. All the works on paper held in the reserves are accessible to researchers by appointment.