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Louvre reopens newly restored and reinstalled 18th-Century Decorative Arts Galleries
Room from L'Hotel Le Bas de Montargis. ©2014 Musee du Louvre, dist. RMN-GP/Olivier-Oudah.

PARIS.- The Louvre has announced the June 6, 2014 reopening of its newly restored and reinstalled 18th-Century Decorative Arts Galleries. One of the most comprehensive collections of 18th-century French decorative arts in world, this is the first time since 2005 that the collection is on view to the public. The 35 galleries—which span 23,000 square feet—display over 2,000 pieces in object-focused galleries and period-room settings. The new installation traces the evolution of French taste and the decorative arts, emphasize the major artisans and artists of the period, and highlight the renowned collectors and patrons of the era.

The exhibition design was conceived collaboratively by interior designer and French decorative-arts connoisseur Jacques Garcia and the curators in the Department of Decorative Arts under the direction of Marc Bascou. The architectural project management for the new galleries was entrusted to Michel Goutal, the Louvre’s senior historical monument architect, with technical assistance provided by the Louvre’s Department of Project Planning and Management.

American Friends of the Louvre (AFL) has played a vital role in the renovation by raising $4 million in support of the project and one of its key period rooms—the restoration of l’Hôtel Dangé-Villemaré drawing room which has not been exhibited in its entirety since its 19th-century acquisition by the Louvre. In addition, AFL also raised funds for the restoration and first ever public presentation of a magnificent cupola painted by Antoine François Callet which will be installed in the galleries and for the English-language edition of the book of the Louvre’s decorative arts collection whose publication will celebrate the opening.

L’Hôtel Dangé-Villemaré’s drawing room, built in 1709 and redecorated in 1750, is one of the most important surviving examples of an interior by a Louis XV-era Parisian workshop. The room’s decorative paneling, for which it is noteworthy, has undergone extensive conservation to reveal its original color and various tones of gilding. The alternating wide and narrow panels are also notable for their elegant motifs, which include symbols of the arts, sciences, and commerce. Medallions at the tops and the bases of the panels feature delightfully painted images of children at play. The drawing room will also feature Versailles parquet floors, sumptuous furniture pieces, and bronze furnishings.

“The 18th-Century Decorative Arts Galleries have always been a particular favorite of American visitors, who appreciate the opulence and craftsmanship of this work,” said Executive Director of AFL Sue Devine. “AFL’s support of the renovation of l’Hôtel Dangé-Villemaré’s drawing room seemed like a natural progression in the United States’ long tradition of support for and appreciation of French art and culture. We are proud to be a part of this major moment in the Louvre’s history.”

When the Louvre closed the decorative arts galleries on the first floor of the Cour Carrée’s north wing, to bring them in compliance with current safety regulations, the museum seized the opportunity to revisit the installation of the galleries, which had not been appreciably updated since 1966.

Under the direction of Marc Bascou and Jannic Durand, former and current Directors of the Department of Decorative Arts respectively, and in collaboration with the curators in the Department of Decorative Arts, the Louvre has reinterpreted its collections and reinstalled them as a series of period rooms and themed galleries, which allows closer examination of the museum’s collection. The galleries are grouped into three main chronological and stylistic moments: 

• 1660-1725: the reign of Louis XIV and the Regency
• 1725-1755: the height of the Rococo style 
• 1755-1790: return to classicism and the reign of Louis XVI

“We wanted to achieve a happy medium between period rooms and exhibition galleries,” said Jannic Durand, Director of the Department of Decorative Arts. “Each object benefits from being in relationship with other objects. In some cases, this means creating a period room so our visitors can understand how people lived with these objects or so they can appreciate holistically the elegance and refinement of the 18th century. In other instances, it means curating display cases devoted entirely to porcelain, silverware, and even some pieces of furniture to underscore the history of techniques and styles.”

When possible, the Louvre has reconstructed documented decorative groupings, accompanied by period furniture, such as the drawing room and library of l’Hôtel Dangé-Villemaré, the Grand Salon of the Château d’Abondant, and the ceremonial bedchamber at the Hôtel de Chevreuse. Other rooms bring together “recollections of interiors,” in Jacques Garcia’s words, which are stylistically coherent groupings of furniture and objects within a recreated decorative setting.

“The Louvre’s new decorative arts galleries will embody the constant evolution of taste, flowing in a coherent movement from the ascension of a new style during Louis XIV’s reign to the time of Marie- Antoinette at the end of the Ancien Régime,” said Jacques Garcia. “The galleries will display a multitude of atmospheres, but will always remain true to the sense of the innovation and beauty that characterizes the Grand Siècle of decorative arts which, in France, was the 18th century.”

Using objects and furnishings, the reinstallation also introduces visitors to members of the royal family, including: Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI, the Prince de Condé, the Comte d’Artois, Mesdames de France (the king’s daughters), and Marie-Antoinette, as well as Louis XV’s mistresses Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry, nobles of the royal court such as the duc de Chevreuse and the marquis de Sourches, and wealthy financiers such as the keeper of the royal treasure Claude Le Bas de Montargis, and the tax collector François-Balthazar Dangé.

Particular emphasis has been given to artisans with royal patronage—the most celebrated of whom were granted free lodgings in the Galerie du Louvre alongside their workshops. Such examples include André- Charles Boulle and Thomas Germain, whose workshops served not only French kings and courtiers, but also Europe’s elite, contributing to the dissemination of French culture and setting fashions throughout the continent. The installation also highlights the period’s master craftsmen, including: cabinet-makers André-Charles Boulle, Charles Cressent, Bernard II van Risemburgh, Jean-François Oeben, Martin Carlin, and Jean-Henri Riesener; the silver- and goldsmiths Thomas and François-Thomas Germain, Nicolas Besnier, Jacques Roëttiers and son, and Robert-Joseph Auguste; and the painters and decorators Charles Le Brun, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, and Charles-Antoine Coypel.

The visitor experience in the galleries is further enriched through multimedia aids and new interpretative materials that contextualize the works on view and give insight into the evolution of taste, methods of production, the patronage system, and how the objects were used.

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