A place for the decorative arts?
The answer did not come until much later, when the Musée d'Orsay was opened in 1986. Devoted to the arts of the second half of the 19th century, and endowed with a program designed to enhance the links which developed between architecture, painting, sculpture and the decorative arts from the beginning of the Second Empire, the Musée d'Orsay was indeed destined to be a logical extension of the Louvre's Department of Objets d'Art which stops at the end of the reign of Louis Philippe.
And yet when it was decided to create the Musée d'Orsay in the 1970s, the collections of objets d'art in French national museums proved too small for this ambitious program to be brought to fruition. The works commissioned for the imperial palaces or the major government departments had mostly remained in situ, and many others had been destroyed during the fighting of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War or in the frequent fires during the Commune of 1871.
The Musée 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. Thus, when the museum opened, furniture, gold work, ceramics, enamels and glassware were able to find their place in the interdisciplinary ensemble offered to the public.
The Musée du Luxembourg, the Galerie du Jeu de Paume and the Musée National d'Art Moderne
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 manufactories, 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 1891 for the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and in 1895 for the Société des Artistes Français.
Despite some objections to exhibiting the "minor" arts in the Musée du Luxembourg, an objets d'art section was added to the collections of painting, sculpture and graphic arts from 1892. However the lack of a special acquisition fund and cramped premises prevented the desired extension of the section to include furniture.
Although it was enriched by gifts from contemporary artists (including a stoneware dish given by Jean-Charles Cazin in 1895, and two glass vases donated by Louis Comfort 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 Ms. Stern in 1914, the collection's scope was narrow. Many major artists were missing, such as Hector Guimard and Louis Majorelle, to mention only French designers. Apart from a few pieces of glass by Tiffany, no space was given to foreign craftsmen and decorators.
The long purgatory suffered by Art Nouveau from the early 1920s cut short any growth in the new section and the still embryonic collection was quickly broken up. In 1910, no doubt through lack of space, the Dalpayrat mantelpiece was sent on loan to Besançon. Other loans were later made, particularly after 1931, to provincial museums (Marseilles, Montpellier, Nantes) and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
Nevertheless, gifts by David David-Weill and Jean Schmit in 1938, then by Ambroise Vollard's brother in 1943, brought Gauguin's pottery and wood carvings into the national collections. In the early 1970s, some of these items found their way into the Musée de l'Impressionnisme, which had been housed in the Jeu de Paume since 1947.
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 Musée 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 Histoire de l'eau [The Story of Water] by Henry Cros, which returned from Narbonne.
1977-1986: The Birth of a Collection
The creation of the Musée d'Orsay was a unique opportunity to bring together works scattered through various museums and government departments (the Mobilier National, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, the Musées-châteaux de Fontainebleau, Compiègne and Malmaison, the Louvre and the Musée de Cluny, etc.) where they were often not in public view.
This redeployment work, which involved more than a hundred works, made it possible to enrich the period between 1850 and 1880 with masterpieces of cabinetmaking, such as the medal cabinet by Charles Guillaume Diehl, and furniture bronzes such as the candelabras by Charles Crozatier from the Palais des Tuileries.
For the Art Nouveau period the most important contribution was an outstanding large piece of woodwork made by Jean Dampt for the Countess of Béarn about 1900-1906, brought out of the store rooms of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, along with the stained-glass window by Albert Besnard and Henri Carot.
An active acquisitions policy designed to complete the existing collections was implemented as soon as plans for the Musée d'Orsay were finalized in 1977. Between 1877 and 1986, nearly 800 works were added to the collections, although that included two large groups of more documentary interest: about a hundred molds for gold work and plaster models by Carlo Bugatti, and over a hundred objects from the Eiffel collection given by the Granet family.
The most spectacular acquisitions were the creations of the interior designers (architects, decorators, sculptors or craftsmen) who spread the Art Nouveau style throughout Europe in the 1890s. The first example of a lucky series of purchases was a rare complete set of woodwork by Alexandre Charpentier which was pre-empted at a public auction in December 1977.
As the years went by, other remarkable sets of furniture came to fill in the worst gaps: works by Hector Guimard (1979), furniture from the Hôtel Aubecq mansion by Victor Horta, works of the Nancy School with Louis Majorelle (1980,), Emile Gallé and André Vallin (1982), strange furniture by François-Rupert Carabin or for foreign artists, works by Adolf Loos (1983, Turnowsky apartment), Gustave Serrurier-Bovy (1984), Frank Lloyd Wright (1985), Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann and Henry 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 Emile Gallé, stained glass by Jacques Gruber, stoneware by Jean Carriès , silver by Paul Follot, etc. Foreign artists are represented by a vase by Otto Eckmann, chairs by Carlo Bugatti, a cabinet by Ernest Gimson, hangings by Charles Voysey, gold work by Josef Hoffmann, glasswork by Koloman Moser, and many more.
For the earlier period, 1850-1880, the museum bought a series of masterpieces presented at the Universal Exhibitions. One of the most prestigious examples is the sumptuous silver dressing table given as a wedding gift to the Duchess of Parma and completed in 1851 by the goldsmith François-Désiré Froment-Meurice (OAO 530 to 535). There was also a small group of English works, painted woodwork, furniture, hangings, ceramics, and silverware that recall the role played by Augustus and Edward Pugin (examples OAO 979, OAO 981), William Morris (example OAO 451), and their followers in promoting an aesthetic better suited to modern life.
Among these acquisitions, donations of nearly 190 works have pride of place: the friends of the Musée d’Orsay, the heirs of patrons who commissioned the works, collectors, antique dealers, and art galleries have made a powerful contribution to the rapid growth of the collections. Three prestigious donations brought the museum an exceptional stained-glass window by Louis Comfort Tiffany after Toulouse-Lautrec (gift of Henry Dauberville and his children Béatrice and Guy-Patrice, 1979), about fifty cast iron ornaments by Guimard (gift of Mrs de Menil, 1981) and a rare set of white furniture by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (gift of Michel David-Weill, 1985).
Lastly a special tribute is due to the descendants of artists who have agreed to part with works kept in their families: the Auscher, Boule, Bourgogne, Dufresne de Saint-Léon, Guilleminault, Haguenauer and Humblot, Hirtz, Lomon-Hawkins, Ruprich-Robert and Saint Saulieu donations.
Since 1986: Further Development and New Conquests
When the museum opened in December 1986, the inventory of decorative arts at the Musée d'Orsay listed over a thousand pieces, complemented by a little under a hundred works loaned by other institutions. An ongoing 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 "dation" scheme, the French equivalent of the British Acceptance in Lieu system, which allows for payment of estate duties through the donation of works of art. This system has brought the museum some exceptional pieces such as the Eaux dormantes [Stagnant Waters] urn by Gallé (1995) or the Nénuphar [Water Lily] lamp by Majorelle and the Daum brothers (1996).
Since the 1990s, purchases have focused on the production of countries that are still poorly represented in the collections, such as Germany, Scandinavia or Central Europe, in an attempt to give a glimpse of the whole gamut of design in the period covered by the museum.
This policy of enriching the collections enables the Musée d'Orsay to offer an almost complete panorama of the production of the Art Nouveau movement in Europe and the United States. Since 2011, these "foreign schools" have been presented in the Amont Pavilion, alongside the rooms on the Seine median, which are devoted to the French and Belgian schools.
Since the mid-2000s, the museum has sought to complete this unique presentation within the same institution. Works representative of Dutch Art Nouveau by Joan C. Altorf and the Rozenburg manufactory have recently been added to the collections, as well as several works that complement the schools already well represented, such as English tapestry The Adoration of the Magi by Morris after Edward Burne-Jones, donated by Mr P. Bergé or very recently, thanks to the generosity of the SAMO, the stained glass window representing the prophet Enoch , again by the Morris workshops on a design by Edward Burne-Jones. Similarly, the Scandinavian field has been strengthened by the acquisition of works by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Eliel Saarinen, and Lars Kinsarvik.
At the same time, currents and artists historically presented at the Musée d'Orsay have not been neglected. Concerning the period from the 1850s to the late 1880s, acquisitions were numerous and aimed above all at offering a broader panorama of French decorative arts, as they experienced a revival of interest among art historians and the public. Thus, works by major houses such as Christofle & Cie (OAO 1360 1-3, RF MO OAO 2017 5) and Barbedienne (OAO 1308, RF MO OAO 2019 7), which embodied the much-sought-after marriage of art and industry during this period, continue to be an important focus of the collections, alongside works such as the enameled jardinière (flower box) designed by the painter James Tissot (RF MO OAO 2017 3), which reflect radically different production conditions and distribution networks.
Two reference collections of iconic Art Nouveau artists have also been completed, such as the purchase at public auction of the astonishing heraldic dragon (2019) or the snowdrop lamp (2018) by Emile Gallé and the purchase from the artist's descendants of a set of furniture by Serrurier-Bovy, including two pieces from the “Silex" series (2019).
The museum also wished to open its collections to the decorative arts of the 1910s, a very particular period that followed the decline of the Art Nouveau movement and prefigured the international style of the interwar period and Art Deco. The second level of the Amont Pavilion is devoted to this period, where the decorative arts collections dialogue with paintings and sculptures. Works by Maurice Dufrêne and furniture by Paul Follot, acquired in particular at the time of the public auction of the contents of his Parisian mansion in 2011, such as the prestigious gilded wood cabinet or the pair of chairs with a fruit basket, have entered the collections. The museum also acquired, in the same vein, a wing chair by Adrien Karbowsky for Jacques Doucet (2008) and another wing chair, an early work by Emile Ruhlmann (2014).
Lastly, without a steady flow of private donations, a number of prestigious works would not be in the museum’s collections today; Among them are: La main aux algues et aux coquillages [Hand with Seaweed and Shells] (1990), the bottle Raisins mystérieux [Mysterious Grapes] (1998), and more recently two other vases on the themes of the vine and the sea (2018), donated by the descendants of Emile Gallé, whose renewed generosity has helped to consolidate the place of this exceptional artist in the collections, as well as Carabin’s Fontaine-lavabo [Fountain and Bowl](2003), given by the Société des Amis du Musée d'Orsay, and the 250 Art Nouveau objects in the incredible Rispal donation (2005) (link to exhibition catalog?).Henry Van de Velde's masterful writing desk exhibited at the Munich Secession was acquired at public auction in 1990 thanks to a sponsorship from the Crédit Lyonnais, while the lady's writing desk by the same artist joined the museum's galleries thanks to a donation from the Japanese newspaper Mainichi in 1995.Most recently, in early 2020, the museum received a significant bequest of works by the ceramist Taxile Doat.
This unique collection is widely presented to the public: for the beginning of the period, new exhibition spaces will open in early 2022 to showcase each of these complex and virtuosic works. Masterpieces of the Universal Exhibitions, models of Japanese and Oriental inspiration or of the apogee of the neo-styles, they will take their place in this new showcase located within the historical spaces of the Hôtel d'Orsay. The Belgian, Parisian and Nancy Art Nouveau collections are displayed in the Amont section of the Seine median, as well as the series devoted to Catalan Modernism and Italian Liberty style. Since 2011, the Amont Pavilion has been grouping together the schools of Northern and Eastern Europe as well as the French decorative arts of the 1910s.
Finally, since the creation of the Musée d'Orsay, the Graphic Arts Department has housed a collection of drawings relating to the decorative arts and architecture. Initially, about seventy architectural and decorative arts drawings (architectural drawings by Viollet-le-Duc, Victor Baltard and Charles Garnier, for example) were transferred to Orsay. This collection has benefited from a policy of continuous enrichment. In the specific field of decorative arts, acquisitions have focused on the late period and the Art Nouveau movement. As for artwork from France, two major artists, Hector Guimard and Emile Gallé, are particularly present in the collection thanks to two exceptional donations. In May 1986, Emile Gallé's grandson, Jean Bourgogne, and his wife gave the museum all the drawings, photographs, and manuscripts that had remained in their possession: more than 1,500 documents, most of them unpublished.
Then, in 1995, came more than two thousand documents from Hector Guimard's agency. These were discovered in 1968 in a gardener's shed on the Saint-Cloud estate by two architecture students at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Alain Blondel and Yves Plantin. The two were passionate about the work of the architect, whose works had already been widely destroyed. Plans, elevations, prints, drawings, tracings, sketches and execution sketches illustrate all of the artist's activities in the fields of architecture, furniture and all elements of interior design, allowing us to follow the entire creative process of major works such as the Castel Béranger, the Castel Henriette, the Humbert de Romans room, the Metropolitan, and the Nozal mansion.
In 1997, the museum had the rare opportunity to acquire an exceptional set of drawings illustrating the careers of three great Viennese architects, emulators of Otto Wagner, one of the creators of the Secession. The forty-two plates by Otto Schönthal, Emil Hoppe, and Marcel Kammerer include school projects from Wagner's studio, their participation in competitions, and complete files on important buildings such as the Villa Vojcsik and the Grand Hotel Wiesler in Graz, Austria. This rich collection provides an impressive architectural counterpoint to the furniture of Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos and the creations of the Wiener Werkstätte.