And yet when it was decided to create the Musee d'Orsay in the 1970s, the collections of objets d'art in French national museums proved too small for this ambitious programme to be brought to fruition. The works commissioned for the imperial palaces or major government departments had usually stayed in situ and many others had been destroyed during the fighting in 1870 or in the fires, frequent during the Commune of 1871. The Musee d'Orsay's collections of decorative arts were therefore built up around an initial core which came from the former Musée du Luxembourg and its descendants, augmented by a few pieces from the Louvre. Even before the museum was opened to the public, ten years of work were required to draw up an inventory of other available works belonging to the state, bring them together and carry out a major acquisition campaign.
In 1818, Louis XVIII decided to create a museum for the work of living artists in the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. Apart from presenting porcelain from Sèvres and tapestries from the Gobelins and Beauvais, between 1874 and 1882, the Musée du Luxembourg was long closed to the decorative arts. The institution's administrative status largely accounts for this: the Musée du Luxembourg depended on the Department of Fine Arts and not on the administration of the National Museums. State purchases for the Musée du Luxembourg were made at the annual Salons so nothing changed until the decorative arts were admitted to the salons. This happened in 1892 for the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and
Although it was enriched by gifts from contemporary artists (a stoneware dish given by Jean-Charles Cazin in 1895, and two glass vases donated by Tiffany in 1919) and a few gifts by art lovers (a series of painted enamel by Charles Hayem in 1898 or a hanging by Blanche Ory-Robin, given by Mrs Stern in 1914) the collection's scope was narrow. Many major artists were missing, such as Guimard, Majorelle, Gaillard, De Feure and Colonna, to mention only French designers. Apart from a few pieces of glass by Tiffany, no space was given to foreign craftsmen and decorators.
When the Musée National d'Art Moderne, the heir to the former Musée du Luxembourg, opened its doors in the Palais de Tokyo in 1937 it had no decorative arts section whatsoever. A huge shipment of ceramics was made to the museums of Sèvres and Limoges, leaving a little over 300 items, mainly dating from 1890-1914, which were later allocated to the Musee d'Orsay. To these were added loans of several tens of pieces made by artists born after 1870, and items retrieved from loans to provincial institutions. Most of them also came from the former collections of the Musée du Luxembourg, particularly The Story of Water by Cros, which returned from Narbonne.
As the years went by, other remarkable sets of furniture came to fill in the worst gaps: works by Guimard (1979), Horta and Majorelle (1980), Gallé and Vallin (1982), Gallé, Carabin and Adolphe Loos (1983), Serrurier-Bovy (1984), Mackintosh and Frank Lloyd Wright (1985), Otto Wagner, Hoffmann and Van de Velde (1986). Other more occasional purchases of furniture or objects complete this panorama of Art Nouveau and testify to its rapid spread in France: faïence and glasswork by Gallé, stained glass by Gruber, stoneware by Carriès and Hoentschel, silver by Follot, etc. Foreign artists are represented by a vase by Otto Eckmann, chairs by Carlo Bugatti, a cabinet by Gimson, hangings by Voysey, gold work by Hoffmann, glasswork by Kolo Moser, and many more.
For the earlier period, 1850-1880, the museum bought a series of masterpieces presented at the Universal Exhibitions by the great factories or craftsmen who refused to use any kind of machinery. An outstanding example is the sumptuous dressing table made for the Duchess of Parma by the goldsmiths Froment-Meurice, finished in 1851 and sent to the Crystal Palace in London. There was also a small group of English works, painted woodwork, furniture, hangings, pottery and silver which recall the role played by Pugin, William Morris and their followers in promoting an aesthetic better suited to modern life.
When the museum opened in December 1986, the inventory of decorative arts at the Musee d'Orsay listed over a thousand pieces, complemented by a little under a hundred works loaned by other institutions. An on-going acquisitions policy gives the public an increasingly complete panorama of the decorative arts in the second half of the 19th century. The collections have benefited from the system of acquisition in lieu of payment of estate duties through the donation of works of art. This system has brought the museum some exceptional pieces such as the Stagnant Waters urn by Gallé (1995) or the Water Lily lamp by Majorelle and the Daum brothers (1996).