Rouen is no stranger to the creative world. It was frequented by notable artists (Marcel Duchamp, Claude Monet and Camille Corot just to name a few) and was the birthplace of celebrated French writer Gustave Flaubert. Add to this the tale of a warrior woman, archaeological discoveries, plus a mastery in ironwork and ceramics, and the result is a cultural hub of museums that can hold its own among the best in the world.
The Musée des beaux-arts de Rouen (Fine Arts Museum of Rouen) is the proud keeper of the second largest collection of Impressionist works in France (after the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, of course). This makes sense considering so many of the movement’s artists were enamoured by Rouen’s charm. However, Impressionist paintings aren’t the only artwork on display here. The museum features works from a variety of different periods, including the Renaissance, Baroque Europe and Romanticism. It also boasts a good collection of sculptures, many of which are showcased in the museum’s dreamy courtyard called Sculpture Garden.
Housed in a former Gothic church, The Musée Le Secq des Tournelles contains peculiar, though interesting and incredibly ornate, pieces of wrought ironwork. Everyday mundane items such as hinges, tools, signs, locks and cutlery are transformed into Surrealist-like works of art: morphed into faces, animals and intricate swirling patterns. The museum is a work of art in itself – eerily beautiful in the way the weaving wrought ironworks hang from the vaulted ceilings and are highlighted thanks to the sunlight flooding in through the large windows. In addition to their permanent collection (an added bonus is that entrance to this collection is free), temporary exhibitions take place here as well.
The Musée de Rouen, also known as the Museum of Natural History of Rouen, originally served as a post-secondary institution to further advancements in the fields of botany, pharmacy and zoology. Today it contains approximately 800,000 objects relating to natural and scientific history. The museum prides itself in being a sustainable and responsible museum; it aims to maintain integrity by questioning the ethics of (and refuting) certain practices such as displaying human remains or objects belonging to Indigenous cultures. In the same building is the Museum of Antiquities, which features art and archaeological objects primarily excavated from the Roman theatre in the nearby town of Lillebonne.
Le musée de la Céramique (Ceramic Museum) features beautifully decorated ceramics from around the world. Potteries from some of the most celebrated regions in ceramic making – such as Delft and Sèvres – live here. Rouen is also considered an important player, specifically for faience (tin-glazed pottery) and soft-pace porcelain, the same material used for bone China. Pieces on display from the Poterat family dating back to the 12th century showcase this style.
The most emblematic (and arguably most beautiful) monument of the city, the Gros-Horloge, doubles as a museum where visitors can get a look at the inner workings of this clock that dates back to the 14th century. The mechanism that runs the clock, housed in the belfry tower, is one of the oldest in Europe and told time from its inception up until 1928. The view from the museum inside the clock offers a bird’s eye view of the city.
The Historial Jeanne d’Arc is not your typical museum. Rather than present its visitors with a walk-through exhibit that retells the story of Saint Joan of Arc, it provides an interactive visit that allows guests to experience the history through various multimedia. The technologically savvy museum immerses guests from their entry with a presentation that surrounds them with projected images and films accompanied by sound on the building’s stone walls. The concept is to not only serve as a history museum, but to also highlight the storytelling and myth that surround Joan of Arc’s story. Its engaging presentation is a sure hit for families with children and it’s a fun experience for adults as well.
A literary figure and author of French classics such as Madame Bovary and Salomé, Gustave Flaubert, was born in Rouen in 1821. His birthplace, which was also his home for 25 years and where his surgeon father did his practice, is now a museum where visitors can discover the life of the Flaubert family along with medical practices from the time. There are 11 rooms accessible to guests that display in a delightfully bizarre combination everything from fine art to pharmaceutical bottles to hospital beds. The visit extends to the back of the house, where a small garden grows medicinal plants.