The first Museum of natural history is inaugurated in 1822
The first museum of natural history is inaugurated in 1822 in the premises of the Hôtel de Ville (the City Hall) of Lille. It will be moved to its current location in 1902.
THE ORIGIN OF THE MUSEUM
Even before its inauguration in 1822, natural sciences have found their way to Lille through the Société des Amateurs des Sciences et des Arts (the Society of Sciences and Arts Hobbyists) founded in 1802. It starts, for example, purchasing a collection of insects as well as a body of a "very beautiful royal tiger". These collections, made up of zoological specimens and a few curiosities, such as the museum’s mummies, are presented to the public in the former City Hall, Place Rihour. ‘Tour guides’ of the time are already praising the beautiful collections of birds preserved by the museum.
In 1854, the Faculty of Sciences is created and settled in the Old Town (Vieux-Lille). The Society of Sciences and the City decide, at the time, to entrust the management of the collections preserved in the City Hall to the Faculty, so that the students can benefit from it. Besides, the post of the museum’s curator is filled by the Professor holding the chair of natural history at the faculty.
Alongside the zoology collections of the Natural History Museum, Jules Gosselet (Professor of geology at the Faculty) creates, in 1877, a Museum of Geology and Mineralogy "to satisfy the needs of research and teaching as well as the curiosity of the public".
THE INSTALLATION RUE DE BRUXELLES
The current building of the museum is built by the City of Lille to receive laboratories of the University founded in 1887, after the blending of the Sciences Faculty of Lille and the University of Literature and Law of Douai. The construction is over in 1894: besides the research laboratories, the building has several areas dedicated to the collections, particularly a large room located on the first floor, which opens to the visitors in 1902 to present Jules Gosselet’s Museum of Geology. This area is currently used as a storeroom for the geology collections.
In 1907, the right part of the ground floor becomes the Coal Museum. The large fresco of the Carboniferous landscape adorning the back wall is painted at that time. In 1908, the zoology collections, then preserved (waiting for a relocation) in the former premises of the faculty, are finally moved to the left part as you enter. At the time, both museums are separated by partitions. The zoology department, lacking space, has the passageway built upstairs. It is not until 1932 that the part dedicated to zoology was extended into the geology section.
FROM THE WAR TO NOWADAYS
The museum will suffer some ordeals during the First World War: shells falling on it, damage caused by the explosion of the ammunition depot called ‘18 Ponts’, etc., and it will remain closed until 1925. In 1942, the Museum is occupied by the Germans: stuffed felids and birds will even be used in performances of Wagner’s operas. From the post-war period to the ’70s, the museum did not really hit the headlines. The ’80s witness the museum’s renewal: temporary exhibitions will be displayed to the visitors. The great popular success of one in particular, ‘The most beautiful insects in the world’, will lead to the setting up of a specific temporary programme. Finally, in 1990, the ‘Human Sciences’ component combines with the museum’s collections in addition with an ethnography collection and an industrial history collection.
Since then, the Museum has continued to develop and diversify its activities: temporary exhibitions, teaching methods; itineration (loan of works to other museums); special evenings: Halloween thematic, ‘Night of Museums’ (visiting at night), etc.; expansion of the collections; and today, opening up to new technologies. The Museum has found its dynamics and intends to make all the public, from Lille and elsewhere, benefit from it!