An official decree issued by Emperor Napoleon founded the Calvet Museum on 2 April 1811, in keeping with the wishes of Esprit Calvet (1728 - 1810).
The museum was first established in the former Saint Martial Benedictine abbey, then transferred in 1835 to the magnificent city mansion built for the Villeneuve¬Martignan family between 1741 and 1754 by architects Jean¬Baptiste and François Franque.
The Calvet museum owes its name to the Avignon physician, Esprit Calvet, who left his cabinet to the city of Avignon with instructions to create a foundation to conserve his collections. Esprit Calvet had indeed acquired properties and over 5000 works including ancient Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Gallo-Roman objects.
His cabinet included several thousand ancient coins and a very important piece of ivory sculpted from an elephant’s tusk from West Africa.
From the very start and up until 1983 the name “Museum Calvet” covered a library, a collection of medals, and a museum, which was primarily an archaeological museum at first. Among other gifts, in 1846 Horace Vernet gave the museum Death of Bara, a masterpiece by David painted in 1794. For the museum, 1851, then 1872, 1933 and 1953 were important years for acquisitions.
Over time, Fine Arts, in particular painting, gained precedence. Painter Carle Vernet and his son Horace Vernet, both descendents of the great landscape painter Joseph Vernet (1714-1789), were a major source of the painting gallery. [source]