The Medal in 19th and 20th century France. In the Palm of the Hand.
In France in the 19th century, interest in the art of the medal continued to grow within artistic circles. The annual Salon accorded this art form a section of its own, and in the early 1890s the Musée du Luxembourg, then a museum devoted to living artists, and the "forebear" of the Musée d'Orsay, started a collection of medal. It was the museum's curator, Léonce Bénédite, who instigated this initiative, and it is part of this collection, now containing over two thousand medals, that is on display here. Roger Marx, a collector and critic, created the medal society called the Société des amis de la médaille française in 1899. Medal cabinets were created in many parts of France. But in the 20th century, the consequences of a long period of disenchantment that affected 19th century art meant that, with a few exceptions, medals, like sculpture, disappeared from the art scene. And yet, far from being confined to commemorative pieces and religious artefacts or ordinary coinage, plaques and medals offered an extraordinarily rich and varied vision of French society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They recorded all aspects of private and public life, from minor local events to major historical events: portraits, personal anniversaries, scientific inventions, international politics, etc. From prisons to hospitals, from agricultural activities to new tyre moulds, from the Alpine Club of France to airships, these medals, often refined and inventive, presented a vivid kaleidoscope of a world in transition.