An update on inventory checks of art works on deposit in France

Domenico Zampieri called Domenichino (1581-1641)
The Virgin and Child with Saint Francis of Assissi
Oil on copper - 43 x 35.8 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : All Rights Reserved

2/2/09 – France, Museums – Inventory check – The press conference held at the French Ministry of Culture last Thursday, 29 January 2009, confirmed once more statements already made on several occasions since the creation in 1996 of the mission to check inventories directed by Jean-Pierre Bady. Although the location of a rather large number of works placed on deposit by national institutions cannot be determined today, these losses are relatively modest given the context [1] First of all, one has to take into account the events of two world wars, secondly the period of time in question here is very long, and finally, because in the immense majority of the cases the objects are not very important.

Although, make no mistake, our intention is not to give a stamp of approval to those in charge, we must admit that in the last few years, French public authorities, who are to be criticised on many other points concerning museums and national heritage, are doing their best to clarify the situation and avoid future losses. As soon as a work disappears, the law now requires that a formal complaint be filed and, along with increased sentences for theft (see news item of 6/8/08), this new measure is now starting to produce results. Over the last few years many works have resurfaced, the most important being The Virgin and Child with Saint Francis of Assissi by Domenichino (ill. ; see news item in French of 1/7/04). In 2007, an Assumption of the Virgin by Alexandre Evariste Fragonard, which had supposedly disappeared, was found by the museum in Vannes. If one takes into account 2007 alone, that is the list of recovered works and that of the complaints filed (corresponding to disappearances in collection inventories that year), it is obvious that they concern essentially objects of minor importance.

The Minister of Culture answered a question we made clearly : “museums can only deposit works in other museums”. The report specifically details (p. 12) the requirements : national museums can only deposit in musems, in “parks and gardens of national domains” and in “historical monuments open to the public”. Any deposit placed in another location would be, in the minister’s terms, “an anomaly”. The answer is in no way ambiguous and perfectly satisfying. Alas, there are many anomalies. We will soon illustrate them in a future article.

Version française

Didier Rykner, lundi 2 février 2009


[1] We refer our readers to the report itself (in French) for further information. At the end of 2007, 72% of works on deposit had been verified, 13% were lost, thus corresponding to the same figures for the last five years. .

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