The Arras Museum of Fine Arts is at the epicentre of a cultural network that extends far beyond its territory. Less than an hour away from Arras, enjoy the very the best of culture of all kinds: the Great War in Bullecourt, international masterpieces at the Louvre-Lens, the astonishing history of mining in Lewarde, the great masters in Douai, portrait art in Cambrai and the creative genius of Henri Matisse in Cateau-Cambrésis.

1. The Arras Museum of Fine Arts

Established in the former Saint-Vaast Abbey, the Arras Museum of Fine Arts boasts works by some prestigious pupils from the Flemish schools (Brueghel, Rubens, van den Eeckhout), the Italian schools (Bassano, Baglione) and the French schools (Champaigne, Le Brun, Corot).

A relatively rare fact worthy of mention: the site also reflects the history of the city. This is illustrated by the collection of Arras porcelains, Medieval sculptures and the presence of a unique example of high-warp tapestry (Arrazi). Unique is also the appropriate term for the collection of large-format French religious paintings, including seven “Mays” from Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

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2. The museum Jean & Denise Letaille, Bullecourt 1917

This astonishing museum installed within a former agricultural hangar displays a collection of more than 2,000 authentic military objects from the Great War. Shells, rifles, watches, tobacco tins, even a tank turret!

During their lifetimes, Jean and Denise Letaille unearthed innumerable personal effects from their fields, most having belonged to Australian and British soldiers. The very same soldiers who took part in the famous Battle of Bullecourt in the spring of 1917. Hence this museum’s unusual name. Absolutely not to be missed.

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3. The Louvre-Lens Museum

Inaugurated in 2012, the region’s biggest museum houses 200 masterpieces behind the glass walls of the Galerie du Temps (the Gallery of Time). Here, art fuses periods, territories and civilisations. From the birth of writing (3500 BC) through to the mid-nineteenth century. Mosaics, paintings, vases, sculptures, everyday objects and even a sarcophagus. 

The Louvre-Lens is a distillation of the history of mankind, regularly enhanced by gems on loan for a season by the Louvre in Paris. These include the memorable Liberty leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, Botticelli’s Virgin and Child and Landscape with Orpheus and Eurydice by Nicolas Poussin.

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4. The Lewarde Mining History Centre

The biggest mining museum in France is an immersive experience. The descent deep into the former Delloye pit is the high point, while the guided visits – initially led by former miners who transferred their knowledge to mediators – provide a rich and emotionally charged experience.

Here, real “gueules noires”, as the miners with their coal-stained faces were known, recount their experiences: the locker room, the deafening noise of the machinery, the function of the former stores. A true-to-life visit supplemented by exhibitions that tell us a great deal about life in the mining village, the origin of coal and the time of the miners’ uprising.

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5. Musée de la Chartreuse in Douai

A listed Historical Monument, the Musée de la Chartreuse is installed in a former Carthusian monastery. This architectural complex, which blends Renaissance style with Classical architecture, holds a vast collection of canvases (Bellegambre, Le Brun, Pissaro, Renoir, Rubens, Véronèse), sculptures (Bra, Carpeaux, Rodin) and an authentic seventeenth-century relief map showing the former fortified enclosure, only two elements of which have survived: the Porte de Valenciennes and the Porte d’Arras. Since 2006, in sacred silence the cloister has held Daniel Buren’s Cabane Rouge au Miroir

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6. Cambrai Museum of Fine Arts

Installed in the prestigious Hôtel de Francqueville (1720), the Cambrai Museum of Fine Arts covers a wide period from prehistoric times right up to the present day. Although the regional heritage, sixteenth and seventeenth century Dutch painting (including Rombouts, Momper and van der Helst) and nineteenth century portrait art (Claudel, Rodin, Bourdelle among others) all vie for prestige, the archaeology department more than merits our attention too.

In particular the impressive collection of Gallo-Roman and Merovingian jewellery, ornaments, weapons and ceramics from surrounding archaeological excavation sites.   

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7. Henri Matisse Museum, Cateau-Cambrésis

It was Henri Matisse himself who organised his works here for posterity, within the former Archbishop’s Palace in Cambrai (eighteenth century). A native of Cateau-Cambrésis, Matisse left a collection of paintings, sculptures, etchings and drawings, all illustrations of his creative genius. 170 wide-ranging works tracing his artistic career.

Among them are Marguerite in a Leather Hat (oil on canvas, 1914), Oceania, the Sky (gouache-painted paper, 1946) and Nudes, The Back Series (plaster originals, 1909-1930). If only one section had to be chosen, it would be the drawings section which contains a remarkable collection of the artist’s work, including a Self-Portrait (charcoal, 1900).

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