Museums Cultural exchange USA

Louvre and San Francisco museums sign five-year deal

Paris museum’s first long-term collaboration on the West Coast

A "preview" of what's to come from France: bust of Marie-Antoinette, commissioned by Prince Alexandre Kourakine, 1782, on loan from the Louvre to San Francisco's Legion of Honor (Photo: Peter Harholdt)

The Musée du Louvre and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which includes the De Young and Legion of Honor museums, are due to announce a five-year collaboration tomorrow, 16 November. The museums will work together to organise exhibitions, publications, art conservation and educational programming. While the Louvre has teamed up with American museums before, including the High Museum in Atlanta from 2006-2009 and currently with the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas, this is its first long-term collaboration with a West Coast museum.

The accord is being announced while Henri Loyrette, the director of the Louvre, is in San Francisco to attend the opening of the “Royal Treasures from the Louvre: Louis XIV to Marie-Antoinette” (17 November 2012-17 March 2013), an exhibition of decorative arts at the Legion of Honor. “This month is a kind of prologue,” he says during a telephone interview, “a very special exhibition which we organised for San Francisco only.”

Since becoming the Louvre's director in 2001, Loyrette has been transforming the venerable institution into a “more modern” one, he says, and that process includes courting outside funding and reaching out to museums abroad.

The Crystal Bridges Museum exchange, which started at the beginning of this year, also involves the Terra Foundation in Chicago, “but that’s only for American art,” he points out. The collaboration with the San Francisco museums will potentially include all areas of their collections, from prints and drawings, paintings and sculpture, to antiquities and textiles. The museums may even work together on contemporary art projects, Loyrette says. The Louvre previously invited the American artists Cy Twombly and Mike Kelley to create works for the museum.

“This accord give us an opportunity to bring some great works to San Francisco and show off some of our finest art in Paris,’’ says Richard Benefield, the deputy director of the San Francisco insitutions. “Exchanges like these take years to work out but they’re worth every effort.’’

Loyrette says that there is no fee connected to the deal. “We share the costs, we pay for what we have to pay.” (Whereas the Louvre received $6.4m for its partnership with the High Museum, a three-year plan that provided seven exhibitions.)

“Today I went through the collection of the Legion of Honor,” says Loyrette. “It’s amazing how many works could be connected to works at the Louvre”, such as paintings by the Le Nain brothers and Jean-Antoine Houdon. Details of exhibitions that will result from the agreement are still being worked out, but the first is modest enough. It is an exhibition bringing together two large paintings by the English artist John Martin (1789-1854), The Assuaging of the Waters (1840) from the San Francisco museums and The Pandemonium (1841) from the Louvre, with some attention paid to the framing. These will displayed together at the Louvre at the end of 2013 and later at the Legion of Honor.

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