History of the Museum

  • Wood carving room in the old museum (1909-1918) © Gatelet
  • Raising of the Enrôlement des volontaires de 1792 by Thomas Couture © Service photographique des Archives de l'Oise
  • © Service photographique des Archives de l’Oise
  • © J.-G. Paquet
  • © J.-G. Paquet

A museum created in the 19th century

Registered as a national asset in 1791, the former episcopal palace housed the offices of the newly appointed departmental administration. Prefect Jacques Cambry (1749-1807) immediately settled in. He was the first to think of a museum that would pay homage to the department's riches.

I am having a room prepared in Beauvais where I must display the tapestries that will show visitors the degree of perfection art has reached in this city, (…) the painted canvases of Beauvais, the pottery of Savignies, all types of antiquities will be displayed so as to give a complete idea of all the objects that can be of use in the arts, in history, and in the department entrusted to my care.
Letter from Cambry to all the prefects of France, dated 16 Germinal of Year 8 (6 April 1800)

In 1841, historian Louis Graves and the Société académique de l'Oise established a museum “in order that curious and interesting objects regarding the art and history of this area may be saved from destruction and preserved for science”.
Initially stored in several city locations, the growing collections soon required new spaces to be developed. In 1908, having been unable to move the works to a better-suited site, the City of Beauvais and the Société académique de l'Oise offered the entire collection to the departmental council of the Oise. In 1909, the department acquired an enormous building located north of the cathedral to use as the museum. Having just been installed, the museum was evacuated in 1918. In 1939 the most valuable pieces were paced in a shelter, but the bombardments of June 1940 destroyed most of the works.

A Palace turned into a Museum

It was not until 1960 that the collections returned to the loft of the former episcopal palace which was then occupied by the judicial administration. In 1973, the Palace of Justice moved. Refurbishment work was undertaken in 1974, and the new, considerably enhanced museum opened its doors to the public in 1981. Success came quickly, and many visitors discovered the museum.  Not having been designed to accommodate such crowds, the framework showed structural problems, making the decision to close the palace in 1997 inevitable.  
To keep the museum alive, a policy of presenting temporary exhibits was adopted. These exhibits were installed in other spaces in the museum (towers, rooms in the Saint Pierre wing). At the same time, a huge architectural and museological renovation was undertaken by the Departmental Council of the Oise in concert with the Ministry of Culture.  The work began in 2013 and was implemented in several phases. The completely renovated museum reopened its doors to the public in January 2015.