Museums Conservation France

The 18th century to get its lustre back at the Louvre

Closed since 2005, the museum’s period rooms reopen in June after a €26m renovation

Panelling and furniture from the Grand Salon of the Château d'Adondant. Photo: Daniel Arnaudet

The Louvre is preparing to reopen its 18th-century galleries on 6 June, after nearly a decade of renovation work. The old rooms did not meet with security standards and the installation, “stylish in the 1960s, was out-dated”, says Jannic Durand, the head of the museum’s decorative arts department.

The galleries closed in 2005 and renovation work began in late 2011 with a €26m budget, funded entirely by private groups including the Louvre Atlanta project, a collaboration with the High Museum of Art, and individual donors. The museum created the “Cercle Cressent” (named after Charles Cressent, an 18th-century master cabinetmaker), specifically for the project, bringing together collectors and patrons, led by Maryvonne Pinault, the wife of the collector François.

Comprising 35 rooms that display more than 2,000 objects from the collection, the galleries are laid out on the first floor of the north wing of the Louvre’s Cour carrée (square courtyard). The rooms are divided into three main chronological periods—the Regency style of Louis XIV’s reign (1660-1725), the height of the Rococo style (1725-55) and the return to Classicism under Louis XVI (1755-90). The display “will explore the evolution of style and taste”, says Jacques Garcia, the interior decorator and French decorative arts expert who helped organise the installation.

Visitors enter through a reconstruction of the petit salon from the hôtel Le Bas de Montargis, built in Paris by a wealthy financier in the early 18th century. All of the surviving wall panels have been re-assembled to the proportions of the original sitting room, with existing elements restored and those that were missing reconstructed. The fireplace’s wooden mantelpiece had been in the Louvre’s storage since 1898, when the building was sold by the state.

Three rooms from the hôtel Dangé-Villemaré have also been rebuilt, including a small salon whose original blue accents were discovered during the restoration, funded by the American Friends of the Louvre. The group’s €3m gift to the project also sponsored the restoration of a trompe l’oeil cupola painted by Antoine François Callet for the Prince de Condé, which had been stored in pieces since 1846. Meanwhile, the Société des amis du Louvre, the museum’s home-grown friends group, which until now has only helped with acquisitions, gave €3m for the decoration of the Duke of Chevreuse’s ceremonial bedchamber from the hôtel de Luynes.

The Louvre’s other departments will loan objects to the period rooms, such as painted panels by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, portraits of the Royal family and even ancient Greek artefacts to evoke the late 18th-century taste for antiquity. This allows visitors to “understand how people lived with these objects”, Durand says and “to appreciate holistically the elegance and refinement of the 18th century”.

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