Architecture on Display
When it was decided to convert the Orsay railway station into a new museum encompassing various forms of art produced from 1848 to 1914, architecture was naturally included in the project as if it had always been a museum piece and could easily be displayed, when in fact it was, and still is, seldom represented in existing museums.
The museum's originality comes from the inclusion of the architectural section in a circuit presenting other forms of art which are appreciated in a very different way. An attempt was made to find parallels, correspondences and interaction between them by drawing up a program which acknowledges all the diversity and similarities of an outstanding period.
The museum building, itself an emanation of 19th-century aesthetics and techniques, lends itself to an evocation of the construction work demanded by modern life, the diversity of the materials used and industry's contribution to the development of new building programs.
Architecture was allocated permanent exhibition areas in the museum. It was impossible to illustrate the great changes wrought by Napoleon III and the prefect Haussmann which turned Paris into a modern capital. The emphasis was therefore put on one of the emblematic buildings of the Second Empire which was finished during the Third Republic: the new Paris Opera house, designed by Charles Garnier and built from 1863 to 1875. A whole generation of artists, painters, sculptors, decorators and ornamentists worked on the opera house, which had a lasting influence on western architecture.
Located at the end of the museum's central aisle in a space designed by Richard Peduzzi, the opera gallery presents all aspects of the monument, town planning, architecture and decoration, through a polychrome plaster cross-section of the building as it was at the time of its inauguration on January 5, 1875, as well as a 1/100 scale model of the surrounding district as it was in 1914.
Many works in the museum refer to the opera house: Carpeaux's sketches for Dance as well as the original stone group, models of sculptures and decorative elements on long-term loan from the opera's architectural agency, a sketch of the ceiling of the auditorium by J.E. Lenepveu, a model of the stage made for the Universal Exhibition in 1900.
The Collection of Architectural and Decorative Arts Drawings
The diversity of techniques, materials and buildings and the link with the decorative arts are evident in the collection of architectural drawings. The Musée d'Orsay's collection of some eighteen thousand items began with the transfer of the prestigious acquisitions of the Drawing Department of the Louvre Museum (now the Graphic Arts Department). This core collection contained about seventy drawings of some of the greatest names in the 19th century, such as Victor Baltard, Félix Duban, Charles Garnier, Henri Labrouste, Jean-Baptiste Lassus, Hector Lefuel, Léon Vaudoyer, and Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc.
These very beautiful and sometimes picturesque sheets do not always reflect the activity of these artists, because the Louvre did not seem to be the appropriate place for an architectural collection. Only a very few architects’ families bequeathed a drawing or two and even then they often chose landscape design rather than buildings, no doubt feeling that they were more in keeping with the spirit of the museum.
However in the 1890s, the idea of opening a “gallery of architectural drawings” grew out of the need to preserve paintings and drawings. A few gifts supported this project (Mrs. Lambert Lassus, Henri Lefuel, Ginain, Arnould-Baltard) and a ministerial decree allocated to the Louvre "twelve drawings by Viollet-le-Duc belonging to a collection of the museum of comparative sculpture at the Trocadero," and others from the Ministry of Public Works. But the gallery was not built and gifts of models or relief maps, such as the model of the Cathedral of Marseilles offered by Alfred Vaudoyer in memory of his father Léon, met with a horrified refusal!
From its inception, the Musée d’Orsay continued the policy of acquiring fine single sheets, but broadened it to include complete collections, which also contain rough sketches, plans, notes, correspondence and sometimes models leading up to the finished project and recording its development. It benefited from the long period of Purgatory into which 19th-century architecture had been plunged: many descendants of these scorned artists very generously donated entire sets, sometimes already sorted and sometimes the last surviving drawing.
These included the collections of Eiffel, donated in 1981 by the Granet family, Victor Ruprich-Robert donated by his descendants in 1981, Varcollier, donated by Mses. Laure and Marguerite Varcollier in 1980, Maurice Boille donated in 1982 by his sons Jacques and Pierre, the Monduit firm collection, donated by Mrs. G. Pasquier-Monduit in 1983, illustrating the desire of a creative and artistic foundry to collaborate with eminent architects and sculptors, to combine their work with that of the company, and the Marcel Guilleminault collection, director of Van de Velde’s Paris workshop, donated by Mrs. Simone Guilleminault in 1982.
The remarkable Eiffel collection is a good illustration of the diversity of material related to architecture and industrial structures. It includes paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, engravings, manuscripts, books, objects, films, and rolls that only an establishment like the Musée d'Orsay can accept and preserve intact.
Less systematic purchases have brought the Museum some remarkable drawings by French or foreign artists: The Industrial Pavilion by Berthelin (1979), New Opera House by Crépinet (1983), Monument to the Glory of the French Revolution by Lheureux (1981), a project for the Irving House by Niedecken, an architect who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, (1985), along with complete files of considerable documentary interest such as Gosset’s work on the Basilica of Sainte-Clotilde in Reims and Reims Theater (1985) or Alfred Vaudoyer’s projects for the rue des Nations at the Universal Exhibition of 1878 (1986).
Thanks to donations and purchases the museum's architectural collections have continued to grow since the institution opened in 1986, giving a glimpse of the varied career led by an architect in the 19th century. Surveys and restitutions of antique monuments, sometimes the work of the residents at the Villa Medicis, are also invaluable testimonies to the great archaeological excavations carried out by the architects of the Historic Monuments Department.
Albert Ballu won renown for his work at Tebessa and Timgad in Algeria, and his splendid large watercolours were given to the museum in 1991 and 1992.
The study of medieval and Renaissance buildings, which were enhanced by major restorations, was one of the sources of the eclecticism characteristic of the period.
The number of architectural contests and public and private commissions rocketed in response to rapid urban and social change. The building fever which gripped the period is evident in the profusion of projects for theatres and opera houses (La Gaîté by Alphonse Cusin, Model for the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin, Alphonse-Nicolas Crépinet's project for the New Opera House, Ernest Lheureux and Henri Schmit’s project for the Comic Opera House), railway stations, markets (Plan for a Cattle Market by Charles Garnier), churches (drawings by Jean-Baptiste Lassus, Léon Ginain, Alphonse Gosset), places of learning (schools and universities; Reconstruction of the Sorbonne by Alphonse Defrasse), memorials (Jean-Camille Formigé, Henri Nénot collections), libraries, department stores, and factories.
The middle-class commissioned stately homes from architects such as Hector Lefuel (Château de Neudeck in Silesia), Stephen Sauvestre ("Tourne-Bride" Villa at Lamorlaye) or Guillaume Tronchet (Domaine de la Chapelle-en-Serval).
Functioning like architectural laboratories, the Universal Exhibitions set the pace for the great nations. The first was held in London in 1851 and Paris hosted an exhibition almost every eleven years after 1855. They gave architects an opportunity to demonstrate their technical and decorative skills. The sky was the limit!
To Max Berthelin's drawings for the Industrial Pavilion in 1855, now in the Eiffel collection, were joined in 1991 and in 1992 by Jean-Camille Formigé's admirable sketches of the Pavilion of the Arts erected on the Champ de Mars in 1889 and his projects for the exhibition of 1900. There are also drawings connected with his work on Paris City Hall and others revealing his interest in funerary architecture – he built France's first crematorium, in Père-Lachaise cemetery.
Large sets of documents give an overview of the activity and career of well-known figures, such as Juste Lisch, a pupil of Labrouste and Viollet-le-Duc. Lisch kept albums of photographs of the Saint-Lazare railway station and made inventive use of iron and polychrome bricks, particularly in the Champ de Mars station for the Universal Exhibition of 1878.
With Charles Le Coeur, a privileged link between rationalism and Art Nouveau is affirmed. The documents donated by Claude Le Coeur in 1995 give us a better idea of the work of his grandfather, one of Renoir's early patrons and collectors; he also specialized in school buildings (including the Louis-le-Grand high school in Paris). His most famous works are perhaps the thermal baths at Bourbon-L'Archambault and at Vichy, where he also built the theatre and the casino.
The drawings of Victor Laloux's pupil, Raoul Brandon, bought in 2002, figure among the most beautiful architectural drawings of the early 20th century and illustrate the international career of an architect who built in Egypt and Algeria as easily as in Paris (1 and 2 rue Huysmans, 1913-1919).
Architects usually handled the entire interior decoration of a building as well as its structure. Charles Lameire's designs, midway between architecture and painting, give a glimpse of the little-known world of monumental decoration, from the Trocadero palace to the basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière, through a set of five hundred items given to the museum by the artist's grandson, Gilles Lameire, in 1987.
The work of the draughtsman and decorator François-Antoine Zoegger is well represented thanks to the generosity of his granddaughter Mrs. Geneviève Barrez. Zoegger worked with Viollet-le-Duc at Pierrefonds, on the Sainte-Chapelle and the cathedral of Clermont-Ferrand before setting up a studio in Vienna when he was asked to decorate and furnish Nathaniel de Rothschild's palace.
Some artists reacted against the materialistic world and administrative framework of architectural projects and worked on imaginary, esoteric projects infused with mystery, exaltation or terror.
A good illustration is provided by the fantastic compositions of Gaston Redon, the brother of the painter Odilon Redon, who won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1883 and later became the architect of the Louvre and the Tuileries. He barred the white paper with great strokes of his pen conjuring up steep rocky landscapes, twisting paths winding up inaccessible mountains, monumental skulls, immense temples looming out of the mist, spheres and stars shining in the darkest firmaments, stark, gnarled trees (Fantastic landscape: towers and spires in the clouds)...
François Garas sought to translate ideas, sensations and musical rhythm into architectural structures. This curious, mysterious architect presented utopian projects at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, from 1894 to 1914: Artists' Interiors, Temples for Future Religions dedicated to Beethoven, Wagner, Life, Death and Thought.
Cultivating a veritable cult of Beauty, Art and the Absolute he kept deliberately on the fringe of architectural practice and lost his way in the infinity of his creations, retiring completely in 1914. The museum has been able to buy a set of one hundred and thirty-two drawings, several pastels, one painting, engravings and documents, as well as astonishing projects for industrial palaces, one of which is dedicated to the first airplanes.
The Art Nouveau movement appeared in the last third of the century as a gust of liberating, unprecedented ideas, which sought to break with “the malady of the past.” Its major achievements spanned the period from 1895 to about 1905.
From the 1890s France was a hothouse of brilliant, original creation, with Emile Gallé and Hector Guimard, who are superbly represented in the museum thanks to two outstanding gifts. In May 1986, Emile Gallé's grandson Jean Bourgogne and his wife gave the museum a set of drawings, photographs and manuscripts (over one thousand five hundred documents, mostly unpublished).
Then, in 1995, the museum received over two thousand documents from Hector Guimard's office. They had been found in 1968, in a garden shed in the Park of Saint Cloud, by two architectural students, Alain Blondel and Yves Plantin, who were both keenly interested in Guimard's work, although much of it had been destroyed.
Plans, elevations, prints, drawings, tracings, sketches and working drawings illustrate the whole gamut of the artist's activities in architecture, furniture and interior design recording the gestation of major works such as Castel Béranger, Castel Henriette, the Humbert de Romans Concert Hall, the metro stations, Hôtel Nozal.
In 1997, the museum was given a rare opportunity to acquire an outstanding set of drawings by three great Viennese architects, followers of Otto Wagner, one of the founders of the Viennese Secession. The forty-two plates by Otto Schönthal, Emil Hoppe and Marcel Kammerer include their work as student in Wagner's studio, their entries in competitions and complete files on major buildings such as Villa Vojcsik and the Grand Hôtel Wiesler in Graz.
This rich set of documents provides an impressive architectural counterpoint to the furniture designed by Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos and the creations of the Wiener Werkstätte, definitively establishing the importance of the museum's Viennese collection.
But the adventure continues and the museum's collections grow larger every year. Purchases made in recent years include an elevation of The Electricity Pavilion, 1900 Universal Exhibition by Hénard and Paulin, two drawings by Duban: Composition of Antiquities (Etruscan tomb), and Architectural Fantasy in the Style of Pompeii.
It is vital for the museum to keep adding to these collections, to give a fair representation of the variety and wealth of architecture in the second half of the 19th century.