Augustins Convent Museum
The Augustinian Convent, built in the heart of Toulouse in the early 14th century, is now a beautiful block-size brick building complex fronting on Rue de Metz. The convent transformed from its religious purpose, and became Toulouse Museum of Art in 1795. The ground floor has a large, beautiful cloister and garden, surrounded by Romanesque galleries. The upper floor houses a Museum of Fine Art in a magnificent line of galleries along the west side.
Augustins Convent History
The convent began in 1269, outside the city walls to the northeast by the ancient Porte Matabiau (by the current Gare de Toulouse-Matabiau, beside the Canal du Midi). The convent was established for a community of Hermits of Saint Augustine. By 1310, they had outgrown that location, and got permission from Pope Clement V to sell out and move to the site near the center.
The great fire of Toulouse in May 1463 burnt down most of the town, and seriously damaged the building and roofs. Reconstruction took four decades, and the convent was rededicated in 1504.
The Augustins Convent flourished through the 14th and 15th centuries, and then steadily declined for the next century or two. In November 1789, the convent was nationalized. The Toulouse Museum of Art was installed there in August 1795.
The museum entry is on Rue de Metz, in the southeast corner of the building. Passing through the small reception area and down a few steps, you come in to the large cloister. All four sides of the cloister are intact, with long rows of lovely double-column pillars.
Along the southern section of the cloister you can have a close-up look at the ancient gargoyles that are usually located high up on the roof edges of cathedrals. These gargoyles, standing in a long line and looking up instead of out, were recovered from the 13th/14th-century Cordelier's monastery.
The ground-floor galleries, on the east side and west side of the cloisters, contain Romanesque and Gothic sculptures fromthe 12th, 14th and 15th centuries, as well as some period religious paintings.
The central room of the eastern gallery has, along with many more sculptures, tall slender columns and beautifully arched ceilings.
The western gallery (Romanesque sculptures) was closed during our visit in 2017.
Stairway to Art
After thoroughly exploring the cloisters level, head into the Escalier Darcy (Darcy Staircase) leading to the upper level. This beautiful, monumental staircase looks just a bit like an Escher drawing, although this one actually goes somewhere. The staircase area houses some very fine 19th-century marble statues by some famous sculptors.
Entering the first of the Painting Galleries on the upper floor was for us breathtaking. This long room, with dark red walls and naturally lit by bright skylight windows, is lined with magnificent 17th-century (and on) paintings. We spent a lot of time here, as much to absorb the beauty of the "red" room as to enjoy the paintings.
The Paintings Galleries stretch along the top floor of the entire west wing of the convent building, with the domed skylight windows along the full length. The second gallery is more of the same: fabulous 17th to 20th paintings in a beautiful setting, but with calmer, pale beige walls.
There is a third, blue-walled gallery at the north end. It's not tiny, but after the two long, high-ceiling rooms, it seems intimate by comparison.
Lower Level North End
As well as the monumental Escalier Darcy at the south end of the Painting Galleries, a stairway at the north end leads back to the lower level, to a Small Cloister at the northwest corner of the main cloister. Beside this small cloister, a temporary exhibition hall stretches across the entire northern end of convent.
This is another lovely, large room in the convent, street-level windows high along the north side, walls and arch-supported ceiling in red brick, and a polished tile floor.