New Eighteenth-Century Decorative Arts Galleries
Collections without equal in the world and an “epoch of perfection” in French art.
On the first floor of the north wing and in a portion of the west wing of the Cour Carrée, an exceptional renovation project is entering its final phase: the complete redesign and reinstallation of the galleries dedicated to decorative art objects from the reign of Louis XIV and the eighteenth century. This project is the last part of the Department of Decorative Arts’ renovation work under the Grand Louvre plan.The Louvre’s extraordinarily large and comprehensive collection of eighteenth-century decorative arts is without equal in any other museum, illustrating the exceptional talents of France’s eighteenth- century artisans and artists in this field, whose work is admired around the world. In order to give this outstanding collection a presentation better allowing the public to appreciate its treasures, the galleries are undergoing a spectacular transformation. The new exhibition spaces are due to open to the public on June 6, 2014.
A unique collection
The eighteenth-century collections of the Department of Decorative Arts offer a broad perspective on interior decoration, featuring works, mainly of French origin, produced by leading manufactures or independent artisans along with others handled by fine art merchants, spanning the period from the reign of Louis XIV until the French Revolution. They include wooden paneling and painted wall decorations, tapestries and rugs, joinery and cabinetry, gilt-bronze mounts and objects, marble and hardstone sculptures and carvings, silver and gold pieces, jewelry, scientific instruments, European ceramics, and imported objects in lacquer and porcelain. The fact that the large majority of these pieces were originally commissioned for royal or princely residences makes them particularly remarkable, in comparison with those on view in other museums dedicated to decorative arts, in Europe and the United States.
It was only a good number of years after the Louvre’s founding that luxury arts and crafts under the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI became a focus of its collections, through two key events. The first of these was in 1870, when historic furnishings and objects were rescued in the nick of time from the Tuileries Palace and the Château de Saint- Cloud, saving them from being engulfed by flames. The second occurred in 1901, when the Mobilier National, the French government agency whose duties include the conservation of heritage furnishings, made a permanent loan to the museum of a large number of masterpieces made by Parisian cabinet-makers and tapestry workshops that had originally graced the rooms of royal and imperial residences.
In the twentieth century, numerous riches were added to the collection through the generosity of leading connoisseurs and collectors, such as Isaac de Camondo and Basile de Schlichting, both of whom made major bequests to the museum, received in 1911 and 1914, respectively. During this same period, the museum also acquired a number of remarkable pieces from stately homes either torn down or altered in the nineteenth century.
A new exhibition design
The galleries on the first floor of the Cour Carrée’s north wing, whose existing installation had dated for the most part from the early 1960s, were closed in 2005 in order to be brought in compliance with current fire and safety regulations. Among other works, this involved the creation of staircases on either side of the Pavillon Marengo. In addition, the exhibition design in place until 2004 was still, save for a few more recent alterations, the one created by Pierre Verlet between 1962 and 1966.
Renovation work begin in the fall of 2011, after preliminary studies conducted by Daniel Alcouffe, the head of the department at the time. The architectural concept for the new galleries is the work of Michel Goutal, following an exhibition design by Jacques Garcia, in collaboration with curators in the Department of Decorative Arts under the direction of Marc Bascou, and with technical assistance provided by the Louvre’s Department of Project Planning and Management.
Visitors will thus discover a new 2,183 sq.m exhibition space, consisting of 35 galleries, with more than 2,000 pieces on display. The galleries are grouped into three main chronological and stylistic sequences:
- 1660–1725: personal reign of Louis XIV and the Regency
- 1725–1755: height of the Rococo style
- 1755–1790: return to classicism and the reign of Louis XVI
Exemplary Grand Siècle pieces will be presented in the historic Council of State chambers, while the north wing of the Cour Carrée will be given over to a suite of period rooms, allowing visitors to view objects in context, paired with galleries featuring themed display cases, presenting the department’s collections of ceramics, jewelry, and works in silver and gold, while also allowing visitors to fully appreciate some of the era’s greatest masterpieces.
The new structure of the galleries, following a chronological organization for the most part, aims to underscore both the history of techniques and the history of styles. The presentation also highlights the period’s most celebrated palatial residences as well as the leading figures of the time, including artisans, artists and their patrons. Through royal or princely abodes either not having survived or now serving different purposes (Saint-Cloud, Bellevue, Tuileries, Palais-Bourbon, etc.), Parisian “hôtels particuliers” (private mansions built by the aristocracy, such as Le Bas de Montargis, Dangé and de Chevreuse), not to mention the elite’s country homes (Voré, d’Abondant), visitors are invited to explore a wide panoply of places and atmospheres that contributed to the blossoming of French decorative arts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, thus creating a fitting historical backdrop for the presentation.
Visitors will thus encounter members of the royal family (Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI, the prince de Condé, the comte d’Artois, Mesdames de France (the king’s daughters), Marie-Antoinette), but also the king’s mistresses (Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry), nobles of the royal court such as the duc de Chevreuse and the marquis de Sourches, and wealthy financiers such as Claude Le Bas de Montargis, the keeper of the royal treasure, and the tax collector François-Balthazar Dangé.
The collection naturally includes pieces by the period’s greatest creative geniuses in the decorative arts, some of whom enjoyed prestige across Europe during their lifetime to an extent difficult to appreciate today: the cabinet- makers André-Charles Boulle, Charles Cressent, Bernard II van Risemburgh, Jean-François Oeben, Martin Carlin and Jean-Henri Riesener; the silver- and goldsmiths Thomas and François-Thomas Germain, Jacques Roëttiers and others of his family, and Robert-Joseph Auguste; and the painters and decorators Charles Lebrun, Jean-Baptiste Oudry and Charles-Antoine Coypel. The most celebrated of these were granted the royal privilege of free lodgings in the Galerie du Louvre alongside their workshops and became the first in a long line of renowned masters in the decorative arts, such as André-Charles Boulle or Tomas Germain. Truly laboratories of invention, their workshops served not only French kings and courtiers, but also their counterparts outside France, thus contributing to the dissemination of French culture and setting fashions for the other courts of Europe.
The visitor experience is also enriched through multi media equipment and information panels contextualizing the pieces on display, with historical and sociological references elucidating aspects such as the development of taste and the world of production, the universe of intermediaries and merchants, as well as the changing shape of commissions and uses.
Period rooms: Exploration of a French art of living
Within each sequence of galleries, particular attention is paid to the design of period rooms, making every effort to reinstall the decoration and furnishings in their original configuration. Other rooms bring together “recollections of interiors,” stylistically coherent groupings of furniture and objects within a recreated decorative setting.
This museological concept of period rooms, adopted from the nineteenth century by certain historical or decorative arts museums, meets the expectations of a broad audience, making this luxurious art of living immediately perceptible and easier to apprehend, in all its unequaled elegance and refinement, and restores the most magnificent inventions of decorators and master artisans to their natural environment.
The period rooms thus created provide the opportunity to reconstruct documented decorative groupings, accompanied by period furniture, such as the drawing rooms and library of the Hôtel de Villemaré, the Grand Salon of the Château d’Abondant and the ceremonial bedchamber at the Hôtel de Chevreuse.
In collaboration with other departments at the museum, the galleries will also feature ancient or modern paintings and sculptures, pastels and engravings, either on a permanent basis or in the form of a rotating presentation. For instance, the famed portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud will be displayed in one of the Council of State chambers, where one of the world’s most beautiful groupings of Boulle furniture pieces will also be on view.
In addition, the new exhibition design allows for the installation of major painted decorations, such as the panels by d'Oudry from the Château de Voré or the ceiling frescos from the Palazzo Pisani in Venice, attributed to Giovanni Scajario (1726–179 ). The Pavillon Marengo will house an extraordinary cupola painted by Antoine-François Callet (1 741–1823) for the Hôtel de Bourbon-Condé.
A project funded entirely through the museum’s own resources
This renovation project, with a budget of €26 million, is entirely funded through the museum’s own resources as part of the Louvre Atlanta project and is made possible by the generous support of its main sponsors: Montres Breguet; the members of the Cercle Cressent chaired by Mrs. François Pinault; the American Friends of the Louvre and their Cressent Circle; the Société des Amis du Louvre; MGM China, Pansy Ho, Yan Pei-Ming and a number of Hong Kong patrons; the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and their major patrons Cynthia Fry Gunn and John A. Gunn; and with additional support provided by Kinoshita Group.
Jacques Garcia has graciously shared his skills and expertise by contributing the exhibition design for the new galleries.