An Update on the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Reims

1. Flemish Anonymous
Life and Passion of Christ, XVIth century
Oil on panel - 221 x 253 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-arts
Photo : Christian Devleeschauwer

21/3/12 - Acquisitions, restorations - Reims, Musée des Beaux-Arts - Located in a section of the former abbatial palace of Saint Denis since 1913, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Reims is known for its collections of old masters, from Cranach to David, as well as its rich 19th century holdings, including notably twenty-seven Corots, due partly to the generosity of Henry Vasnier ; this discerning collector and head of the Pommery champagne firm bequeathed most of his collection in 1907, about 600 works and art objects...
The museum continues to be a dynamic establishment now thanks to its director, David Liot and its chief curator, Catherine Delot, who accompanied us on our visit. An interesting Flemish polyptych from 1520, rediscovered in storage was restored (ill. 1) ; since the order of the panels, painted also on the back, has not been determined they offer a rather unorthodox aspect. Also, the famous series of distemper-paintings between the mid-15th and mid-16th centuries, mostly scenes illustrating the life of Christ, which had undergone several unfortunate restoration attempts ten or so years ago has now been put in the care of a group of restorers, along with the C2RMF, and they seem to have finally found the right solution.

Recently, the museum has turned to the 20th and 21st centuries, as reflected in its acquisitions and of course, the project for a new building which will rise next to the Halles du Boulingrin, with an inauguration planned for 2017. The architects still in the running so far following a design contest are : Dominique Perrault, David Chipperfield, Kengo Kuma and X-TU with a final decision due by May. The transfer of the collections to the future space should allow a reorganization, creating new sections enhancing 1920’s art, Reims Surrealism as seen in the Grand Jeu (1927-1932), as well as 1960’s Abstraction. The rooms devoted to stained-glass, decorative arts and furniture will receive additions thanks to a very active deposits policy, with an annual museum budget of around 150,000 to 180,000 euros. Thus, the Mobilier national, the Arts décoratifs, the Centre Pompidou and the Fonds national d’Art contemporain have accepted to entrust their works to Reims, based on renewable, five-year agreements. The Mobilier national, for example, deposited a chair with a tapestry model by Adrien Karbowsky. Another creation by this painter, decorator and architect was purchased in 2010 : a brocatelle fabric which decorated the music salon of the Marquis de Polignac in Reims, produced by Tassinari and Chanel.

2. Jacques Gruber (1870-1936)
Monkeys, 1925
Stained-Glass Window - 201.5 x 54.2 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-arts
Photo : Christian Devleeschauwe
©ADAGP, Paris 2012

3. George Desvallières (1861–1950) (cartoon)
Jean Hébert-Stevens (realisation)
Virgin of Consolation and Saint Michael
Stained-Glass Window - 81 x 99 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-arts
Photo : Christian Devleeschauwer
©ADAGP, Paris 2012
pour George Desvallières
©Fonds atelier Hébert-Stevens-Bony pour Jean Hébert-Stevens

David Liot explains this interest in the 20th century because of Reims’ history which, after its destruction during WWI, underwent a renewal of its artistic heritage in the 1920’s. The Exposition internationale des Arts décoratifs et industriels modernes, which took place in Paris in 1925, greatly influenced production during this period. In fact, the museum collections hold a certain number of works exhibited at the event, such as the many-colored and monkey-filled stained-glass window by Jacques Gruber (ill. 2), made up of seven panels, which decorated the Pavillon du Tisserand ; this multi-faceted artist was recently highlighted in an exhibition at the Musée in Nancy (see article in French).

4. Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
The Flight into Egypt
Study for Joseph’s Litanies Surrounding the Holy Family
Chapel of the Transept of Saint-Nicaise
Oil on Cardboard - 67 x 52 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-arts
Photo : Christian Devleeschauwer
©ADAGP, Paris 2012

5. Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
The Source of Life (detail)
For the baptistry of Saint-Nicaise
Gouache on Tracing Paper
175 x 200 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-arts
Photo :Christian Devleeschauwer
©ADAGP, Paris 2012

The 1925 Exposition reflects the revival of religious art asserted notably in the church of the Village français and in the Pavillon du vitrail where stained-glass painters of the group created by Maurice Denis and Georges Desvallières in 1919, Ateliers d’art sacré, displayed their work. Desvallières designed a Virgin of Consolation, executed in glass by Hébert-Stevens (ill. 3), purchased by the museum in 2009 for 16,000 euros. After being trained at the Ateliers d’art sacré, Jean Hébert-Stevens and Pauline Peigniez opened a studio for glass masters in 1924.

6. Georges Rouault (1871-1958)
Paul Bony (realisation)
Saint Veronica, 1949
Stained-Glass Window, 55 x 40 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-Arts
©ADAGP pour Georges Rouault
©Fonds atelier Hébert-Stevens-Bony pour Paul Bony

7. Henri Rousseau called le Douanier Rousseau (1844-1910)
Head of a Lion
Oil on Canvas - 26.5 x 35 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-arts
Photo : Christian Devleeschauwer

The church of Saint Nicaise in Reims corresponds to another famous manifestation of artistic production in those same years. Built in 1923 by Jean-Marcel Aubertin, it welcomed stained-glass windows by Jacques Simon and René Lalique, sculptures by Emma Thiollier and Roger de Villiers ; Maurice Denis was commissioned to decorate the baptistry along with two side chapels, one devoted to the Virgin, the other to Saint Joseph and the Holy Family. In 2011, the museum received a donation of a series of preparatory drawings for this decoration (ill. 4 and 5). Many of these studies, produced in oil on cardboard, chalk and charcoal on paper or gouache ink on tracing paper are large formats and require great care in restoring. The collections already held some thanks to the former curator Paul Jamot (1927 to 1939).

8. Jean Goulden (1878-1946)
Autumn, 1924
Champleve Enamel on Copper - 23.2 x 54.2 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-arts
Photo : Christian Devleeschauwer
©ADAGP, Paris 2012

Another Christian artist, Georges Roualt contributed alongside Marc Chagall, Jean Bazaine, Père Couturier and Adeline Hébert-Stevens to the decor of Notre-Dame-de-Toute-Grâce, built between 1938 and 1946 on the Assy plateau in Passy. The Musée des Beaux-Arts has just received the stained-glass window of Saint Veronica (ill. 6), a replica of the original work, donated by the Bony family [1] in 2012, marking the occasion of the stained-glass exhibition, Couleurs et lumières, which took place from 15 October 2011 to 26 February 2012. The collections also hold another stained-glass window purchased from the Hébert-Stevens-Bony descendants, Peasant with Fagot, produced by Marcel Gromaire in 1939 for the exhibition Vitraux et tapisseries modernes organized by Jean Hébert-Stevens at the Petit Palais in 1939. The MAMAC in Liège now holds the project for this work.

9. Emile Decoeur (1876-1953)
Big Cup, c.1922
Turned and Glazed Earthenware - 51 x 24 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-arts
Photo : Christian Devleeschauwer
©All rights reserved

Among the paintings, in 2011 the museum bought a Head of a Lion an oil on canvas by the Douanier Rousseau (ill. 7), while another, similar head, but painted on a panel was sold at Christie’s for £361,250 on 8 February 2012 in London. The lion in Reims comes from the collection of the Japanese artist Foujita, fondly remembered by the city where he now rests after designing a chapel to proclaim his conversion to Christianity. Several of his works are in fact visible in the galleries at the museum.

Jean Goulden also died here and holds a significant place in the collections at the Musée des Beaux-Arts which was able to purchase the ensemble of his preparatory drawings assembled in a repertory/book. Moreover, a surprising landscape joined the museum in 2009 : this is Autumn (ill. 8), executed in enamel on copper, which was auctioned at Tajan’s on 24 September 2009, at the same time as Summer (each estimated at 15,000 to 20,000 euros). The preparatory study for this almost abstract painting, done in gouache and Indian ink with gold and silver highlights, had been sold at Tajan’s on 28 May 2002 in Paris. A native of the Meuse region, Goulden was first a doctor ; he then discovered Byzantine enamels at Mount Athos and became fascinated with the technique. He collaborated with Jean Dunand and the museum holds a masterpiece of their joint production in a piece from 1936-1939, The Crows ; two other artists, Jouve and Schmied, joined them to form a small group who exhibited regularly at the Galerie Petit between 1921 and 1932. Another master, Emile Decoeur, one of his bowls was purchased in 2010, produced objects in sandstone, faience and porcelain which stand out for their sobriety (ill. 9).

10. Emile Gallé (1846-1904)
Pervenche Desk, c.1895
Marquetry and Mirror - 138 x 79 x 50.5 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-arts
Photo : Christian Devleeschauwer

11. Henri Rapin (1873-1939)
Fireplace, 1925/1930
Wood, Metal and Painting in Silverplate - 350 x 200 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-arts
Photo : Christian Devleeschauwer

12. Marcel Coard (1889-1974)
Desk, 1928
Speckled Mahogany and Parchment - 92.4 x 84.9 x 60.5 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-arts
Photo : Christian Devleeschauwer
©All rights reserved at the request of the family

Some beautiful furniture pieces also joined the collections here recently : a friend of Vasnier, Emile Gallé is featured with a Pervenche(Periwinkle) desk, acquired for 15,000 euros in 2009 by the Cercle des mécènes (ill. 10) while the museum itself bought a glass case and the bedroom furniture from the artist’s descendants (an armoire, a bed and a nightstand). Another purchase was a very understated wooden fireplace by Henri Rapin, with a backdrop illustrating an Arcadian landscape done in silverplate, acquired in 2010 from the Gérard Grandidier gallery at the Biron market in Saint Ouen, the Paris "fleamarket" (ill. 11). First a student of Gérôme, Rapin turned to decorative arts and was influenced by Art nouveau before working in the Art déco style between 1910-1915.
Finally, a real gem in the museum collection, a desk by Marcel Coard from 1928, in speckled mahogany and parchment blotter, was purchased in 2011 through the Marcilhac gallery ; it bears the artist’s name, followed by his trademark : the parrot motif (ill. 12). The artist also produced, among others, the decoration and the furniture for the château of Paul Cocteau, Jean’s brother, in Champgault near Tours.

13. Carlo Sarrabezolles (1888-1971)
Hope, c.1932
Plaster - 215 x 43 x 35 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-arts
Photo :Christian Devleeschauwer
©ADAGP, Paris 2012

14. Carlo Sarrabezolles (1888-1971)
The Soul of France, c.1921
Stone - 331 x 92 x 76 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-arts
Photo : Christian Devleeschauwer
©ADAGP, Paris 2012

15. René de Saint-Marceaux (1845-1915)
Reclining figure of the Abbé Miroy, 1873
Bronze - 200 x 91 x 38 cm
Reims, Musée des Beaux-arts
Photo : Christian Devleeschauwer
Ville de Reims

Some sculptures have also joined the collections : in 2010, Carlo Sarrabezolles’ daughter donated a series of preparatory works by her father, most of them in Plastiline, while the museum itself purchased Hope (ill. 13), of which there is a bronze version in a Parisian square named in his honor. It joins The Soul of France, incarnated by a helmeted woman with her arms raised in a V for victory ; this was the first monumental work to establish Sarrabezolles as an artist (ill. 14) and is here on deposit from the Centre Pompidou, after having been in Poitiers previously. An exhibition featured this artist three years ago (see article in French).
Besides enriching its collections, the mission of a museum is to save endangered art works which is why David Liot has welcomed the famous Reclining figure of the Abbé Miroy, which was in the northern cemetery in Reims in very poor conditions (ill. 15). We hope the city will also work to preserve the former abbatial palace and find a suitable use for it once the museum leaves the premises.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, jeudi 22 mars 2012


[1] The two brothers, Paul and Jacques Bony, worked in Hébert-Stevens’ studio, starting respectively in 1937 and 1944, then Adeline Hébert-Stevens married Paul Bony, while her sister, Geneviève Hébert-Stevens, married Jacques Bony.

imprimer Print this article

Previous article in News Items : Boston Purchases a Masterpiece by Frans Francken II

Next article in News Items : A Drawing by Emile Bernard for Quimper