Currently the Musée des Beaux-Arts has 10'000 works of art.
Its collections have been built up by means of purchases, donations and long-term deposits by cantonal and national organisations, including the Société Vaudoise des Beaux-Arts, Fondation Gottfried-Keller, and the Confederation.
The creation of the museum in 1841 was the result of a private initiative, as are the regular contributions to its funds and the opening of the collections to international art through important bequests and donations.
One section of the museum's collections offers an appreciation of the history of art since the time of ancient Egypt. The museum's main focus ranges from the second half of the eighteenth century to Post-Impressionism, with particular emphasis on Cubism and Vaudois abstractionism. A link with the art of today is maintained through regular acquisitions which, in addition to highlighting Swiss art, keep the museum in touch with the trends of international art. The purchases made by the Commission cantonale des activités culturelles (CCAC) are one contribution to the creation of a Vaudois collection of contemporary art.
The museum's national and international reputation rests on five large collections, those of Abraham-Louis-Rodolphe Ducros (1748-1810), Charles Gleyre (1806-1874), Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923), Félix Vallotton (1865-1925), Louis Soutter (1871-1942).
Charles Gleyre, "Minerve et les Grâces" (detail), 1866. Oil on canvas, 227 x 139 cm. Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne. Acquisition with the participation of Marius Chessex, of the Société vaudoise des beaux-arts and of a public subscription, 1907
Ancient and modern art
Although boasting examples of Egyptian and Chinese art and a fine set of medieval sculptures, the museum's collection is founded on the painting of the 18th and 19th centuries.
As continuations of the modern art collections, the collections of contemporary art endeavour to create a dialogue between Swiss and international art, established artists and newly emerging practices.