Musée d'Orsay: Restoration Policy of the Public Establishment of the Musée d'Orsay and Musée de l'Orangerie

Restoration Policy of the Public Establishment of the Musée d'Orsay and Musée de l'Orangerie

The preventative conservation policy of the Musée d'Orsay and the Musée de l'Orangerie, drawn up in 2009, aims to coordinate the teams of restorers from the initial examination of the works to the restoration itself, with a proactive policy of protecting the surface of the paintings so as to prolong the benefits of the restoration and protect the artworks from mechanical failure.
It also includes a programme of in-depth restorations and scientific examinations.

This heritage strategy consists of several areas of operation:


Preventative conservation

Condition report of a work before hanging© Musée d'Orsay / DR
Condition reports
Condition reports enable the team to evaluate how much restoration is necessary on the support and paint layer to ensure the conservation of the artworks.
These are drawn up for works in the gallery displays, works in storage, works returning from storage, new acquisitions, loans for temporary exhibitions and international exhibitions organised by the Musée d'Orsay.

Condition reports are also produced on works lent to the Musée d'Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie when temporary exhibitions are being installed and taken down.

Fixing the polycarbonate back in place© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Crépy
Examinations undertaken following an incident in a gallery (a visitor falling or other incident) show the importance of protecting the painted surface of the artworks.

Protecting the image surface of the artworks
Between 2009 and 2015, 766 paintings were protected in self-buffering or microclimate display cases. This policy continues today.
The choice of works to be protected is made in relation to agreements with other museums or institutions, works displayed in the museum or as part of extramural exhibitions organised by the Musée d'Orsay.

The Walter-Guillaume Collection at the Musée de l'Orangerie was also the subject of a campaign in 2015 to improve the hanging arrangements in order to achieve a coherent hanging system for all the paintings in the collection.


Routine restorations

The programme for restorations is established in relation to loans, deposits, acquisitions, and presentations in the museum galleries, and recommendations mentioned in the condition reports.
For paintings, there are two different types of restoration: routine restorations and in-depth restorations, which follow a specific protocol.

Routine restorations (sprucing up and partial restoration) are carried out in the restoration area of the Musée d'Orsay following a programme that is decided every month.
These can involve the support (that is, the canvas on which the work is painted) and/or the paint layer.

Sessions for the removal of dust from paintings and frames, sculptures and objects (furniture, vases, etc.) are carried out in the galleries every Monday.

Removal of dust from Monet’s Water Lilies at the Musée de l'Orangerie© DR
The removal of dust is a particular challenge for the Musée de l'Orangerie because of the nature of the ground in the Jardin des Tuileries. In addition to the regular removal of dust from the artworks, the areas around the museum were also equipped with carpets in 2015 to remove some of the dust from visitors’ shoes.
This led to a noticeable reduction of dust within the building, but work is ongoing to find adequate and suitable solutions to eliminate this phenomenon.

The problem is even more acute due to the technique Monet used for his Water Lilies. According to the painter’s wishes, the large Water Lily paintings are not varnished. This unusual feature provided the particular finish the artist wanted, but makes the paint layer particularly sensitive to dust.
It is therefore necessary to remove dust regularly from these fragile works. The last operation of this type was carried out in 2015.

In-depth restorations

Restoration at the C2RMF of one of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral paintings© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Crépy
In-depth restorations (intervention under the varnish layer) are carried out in the workshops of the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France (C2RMF) at the Pavillon de Flore at the Louvre or Versailles, depending on the size of the painting and its status (deposits are usually restored at Versailles).
These operations are jointly directed and monitored with the C2RMF to create scientific imaging files, organise laboratory analyses and carry out the in-depth restoration.

As part of its policy to restore paintings in public, initiated in 2014, the Musée d'Orsay restored the paint layer of Courbet’s The Artist’s Studio after eighteen months of preliminary studies and analyses. It then continued with interventions on Baader’s Remorse and Women of Gaul by Glaize.
Restoration of Schreyer’s Charge of Artillery of Imperial Guard in public is also scheduled.

These restorations, financed through exceptional sponsorship, will highlight emblematic works from the Musée d'Orsay’s collections of Academic paintings.


Scientific examinations

Detail of an x-ray of Courbet’s The Artist’s Studio© C2RMF
The C2RMF laboratory usually produces a scientific imaging file prior to any in-depth restorations.
This involves a complete series of scientific analyses: infrared reflectographs, x-rays, samples and analyses of varnish, etc.

The results help to establish the restoration protocol to be applied to works that have been analysed, but may equally provide valuable information to increase our knowledge and understanding of these paintings: the removal of overpainting for example may reveal the position of underlying original compositions or preparatory drawings, etc.

Restoring gilded wooden frames

As well as protecting and restoring the artworks, it is vital to ensure the good conservation and aesthetic quality of the frames.
For this process, the restoration of original frames in gilded wood is outsourced.