Archeological find freezes Monet museum
PARIS, Nov 28 (AFP) - France's art world is in a flap. The discovery of a massive 16th century wall buried under the Tuileries gardens flanking the Louvre, has halted a vast and costly scheme to revamp the old Orangerie museum in order to give Claude Monet's legendary "Water Lilies" a better home.
The Orangerie, set in an obscure corner of the Tuileries gardens by the Seine, was closed in 2000 and due to reopen late next year after a EUR 25 million facelift aimed at putting Monet’s mammoth works back in the limelight – precisely by giving them new light.
The museum, originally a 19th century hothouse for oranges, was to be given a newly refurbished glass roof and galleries for the “Water Lilies” as well as freshly-dug underground exhibition space for its other prestigious collections.
But workmen scraping away to clear room for the new underground space last August hit a major obstacle – two metres (six feet) sticking out of the ground of a fortified outer wall almost three metres (nine feet) thick that is 59 metres (yards) long and a total seven metres (21 feet) high.
“L’horreur!” (Horror!) reportedly exclaimed museum curator Pierre Georgel, who was forced to suspend the works the following month pending a decision by the authorities – expected by year’s end – on whether to maintain or to raze the wall.
Worse still, architects, archeologists and historians say the presence of the wall is known to all and is noted on a host of old maps. The authorities should have organised a sounding before giving the go-ahead on the works, they say.
“If we opt for conservation of the wall the entire scheme will have to be radically redrawn,” the director of all French museums, Francine Mariani-Ducray, told AFP.
The wall, which runs at an oblique angle under the Orangerie, is situated under a planned stairwell set right at the centre of the redesigned museum.Mariani-Ducray said that the archeologists meeting to decide the future of the old wall would have to consider “the demands of the four historical ‘monuments’ involved: the wall itself, the terrace of the Tuileries gardens designed by Le Nôtre, the Orangerie and Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’”.
Jean-Claude Dumont, who heads the public works board in charge of cultural establishments, told AFP that if the project were totally redefined, its completion would be delayed at least two years.
Monet was over 80 and losing his sight when he put the finishing touches to the eight giant panels making up the “Water Lilies” in the early 1920s, works inspired by his water garden at Giverny, outside Paris.
Hailed by critics as the culmination of his life’s work, he donated them to the French state to celebrate the victory of World War I.
The government in turn offered Monet a special museum to house them – the Orangerie – placing the panels in two spacious oval galleries opening onto the gardens, with natural light pouring through the glass dome overhead.
But in the 1960s, the Orangerie was given one of the most fabulous private collections in existence – the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume collection comprising 144 works by Cezanne, Renoir, Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso, Derain, Utrillo, Modigliani, Soutine and others.
The donation however was made on condition it be exhibited permanently and in its entirety at the Orangerie. So a concrete floor was put in above the “Water Lilies”, shutting out their sun but providing an extra floor of space for the new treasures.
Visitors from 1965 thus had to go upstairs first to see the Walter-Guillaume collection before descending to see the former centre-piece of the museum, the Monet panels, deprived of natural light and airy exit-ways, relegated to a kind of backstairs second-best position.
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Subject: French news