Next week marks the reemergence of the 18th century at the Louvre. In the north wing of the museum’s Cour Carrée, resides its exceptional collection of 18th century decorative arts. The collection, which hasn’t been on view for almost ten years, includes an incomparable array of masterpieces, from rugs and tapestries to royal furniture, jewelry and porcelain. But next Friday, the newly renovated 35 galleries, spanning over 23,000 square feet, will open to the public.
© 2014 Musée du Louvre, sit. RMN-GP/Olivier Ouadah
Thanks to the American Friends of the Louvre (AFL), continuing its long tradition of American support of French art and culture, an impressive $4 million was raised to help renovate two of the key period rooms. One of the most anticipated spaces, the l’Hôtel Dangé-Villemaré drawing room, above, has never been seen in its entirety since the museum acquired it in the 1800’s. Built in 1709 and re-decorated in 1750, it is one of the most spectacular examples of the opulent craftsmanship and design excellence of the Parisian workshops under the reign of Louis XV. The decorative paneling in particular has undergone extensive conservation to reveal its original vivid color and various tones of gilding. Many don’t realize the period popularity of bold and bright hues. In addition, the AFL funds contributed to the restoration and first ever viewing of a magnificent trompe l’oeil cupola by Antoine François Callet, for the Prince de Condé, which has been in storage since 1846.
The decorative arts galleries hadn’t been updated since 1966, so when the Louvre closed them to comply with current safety regulations, the museum decided to rethink how to present these collections. “We wanted to achieve a happy medium between period rooms and exhibition galleries,” said Jannic Durand, Director of the Department of Decorative Arts. “Each object benefits from being in relationship with other objects. In some cases, this means creating a period room so our visitors can understand how people lived with these objects or so they can appreciate holistically the elegance and refinement of the 18th century.” Jacques Garcia, deeply familiar with the decorative arts collections of the 18th century at the Louvre, was brought in to head the design efforts. His sketch for the Bas de Montargis room (wealthy financier Claude Le Bas de Montargis was the keeper of the royal treasure) above shows his elegant concept for the final restoration below.
In overseeing the renovation, Garcia worked closely with long time colleagues Pierre Frey, using both existing historic fabrics from the collections (I believe that is a Le Manach fabric in the top photo) and commissioning the fabric house to reproduce period patterns. One fabric, below, was not even allowed to leave the museum. It took months of meticulous documentation and back and forth visits to authentically recreate the original.
Organized in three main chronological and stylistic eras, from the end of Louis XIV’s reign to the French Revolution, the galleries will reveal the evolution, innovation and beauty of French taste and architecture, feature France’s major artisans and artists of the period, the most celebrated of whom were given free housing in the Louvre next to their workshops and highlight renowned collectors and patrons of the decorative arts. Like the rooms at Versailles, the revitalization will allow visitors to immerse themselves in the lives of the 18th-century aristocracy and bourgeoisie. Additional multimedia materials will offer insight into the the aesthetic, production and cultural aspects of the objects and life at the time. If you are heading to Paris anytime soon, this is a stop not to be missed.