Having become the central depository of arts for the Seine-et-Oise département in 1792, the Château became the Central Museum of Arts which was replaced by the Special Museum of the French School, a complement of the Louvre.
On 19 October 1792, a Commission of Arts of the Seine-et-Oise département was set up. It was intended to collect for the Nation all the objets d’art and scientific objects from the national properties of the département (former royal residences, religious buildings, private dwellings). The Château was made the central depository for these objects. Then it was decided to turn it into a Museum, following the example of the Louvre museum, which opened in 1793.
For Versailles it was a question of survival. The people of Versailles were distressed to see the estate stripped of the works that had made its reputation, all for the benefit of the Louvre. They sent petition after petition to the Convention for the setting up of a secondary museum: the Louvre should not be the only institution receiving the masterpieces of the Republic! The early history of the first museum in Versailles is dominated by this rivalry followed by reconciliation with Paris.
The project took shape when, in May 1794, the Convention decided to preserve the Château for the enjoyment of the French people. To avoid congestion, a sale of the royal furniture was organised. In 1795, its first curator was appointed: Hugues Lagarde. He spent 3 months designing the sections of the future museum. He installed a library in the south wing with a Prints section as in the Louvre. A Scientific section was created in the north wing. He organised the hanging of paintings in the royal apartments. He transferred statues indoors from the park, including Marly’s to protect it from revolutionary vandalism. On 18 April 1796, the Central Museum of Arts of Versailles opened to the public for 2 out of every 10 days.
But in 1797 everything changed. The Directorate decided in January to make the Louvre the museum of Foreign Schools and Versailles the museum of the French School. This led to a lot of comings and goings of works between the two museums. The royal apartments received the masterpieces of Poussin, Champaigne, Lesueur and other great French masters. Statues were also exhibited. But the museum was gradually stripped of its best works to the benefit of other institutions and imperial residences and closed its doors definitively in 1806, and Napoléon then turned his attention to Versailles. The idea of a museum was not raised again until 1833.