Death of Françoise Cachin


7/2/11 – Obituary – Françoise Cachin, who passed away on 4 February 2011, was a major figure in the French museum world. Born in 1936, she was the granddaughter of Marcel Cachin and of Paul Signac, the latter no doubt influential in determining her passion for art, particularly French painting in the second half of the 19th century.

A student of André Chastel, she first did an internship as a curator at the Louvre in 1967. After a short period at the Jeu de Paume, she became a curator at the Musée national d’Art Moderne in 1969 where she stayed until 1978. She then worked with Michel Laclotte on the project for the creation of the Musée d’Orsay, which she directed from its opening in 1986 until 1994, when she was named head of the Musées de France until her retirement in 2001.

She was the curator for an impressive number of retrospectives on the greatest Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, notably Pissaro in 1981, Manet in 1983, Van Gogh à Paris in 1987, Gauguin in 1988, Seurat in 1991 and Cézanne in 1995. She also organized thematic exhibitions such as Futurism in 1973 at the Musée d’Art Moderne, 1893 l’Europe des peintres or Méditerranée, de Courbet à Matisse in 2001 at the Musée d’Orsay.
Among her many publications, besides books on Gauguin, Manet and Seurat, she also wrote the catalogue raisonné on her grandfather, Paul Signac (Gallimard, 2000) and was considered the most eminent specialist of his work.

A simple anecdote about Françoise Cachin illustrates how she exemplified not only erudition but intellectual curiosity as well. On seeing Gérôme’s large painting Golgotha at the recent retrospective she was so struck by it that she immediately recommended it be purchased for what was at the time a very reasonable price, in no way prejudiced by the fact that Gérôme was openly hostile to Impressionism, her specialized field of art history.
She defended museums with great passion and we are of course very moved by her death. Lest we forget, she was responsible for the text signed along with Jean Clair and Roland Recht, published in Le Monde, “Les musées ne sont pas à vendre”, which spoke out clearly against the trend of using museum collections for business and profit-making purposes notably the Louvre in Atlanta and Abu Dhabi and which resulted in the petition we launched here on this site. The pettiness of the minister at the time, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, and the museum management became openly manifest through the boycott and ostracism imposed on her as a result of her stand, the fact that she dared to express her opinion. She was asked to leave the Commission des acquisitions des musées nationaux (see news item, in French, of 22/3/07) then was demoted – in fact in contradiction with the association’s statutes – from her position as president of FRAME, the association of Musées franco-américains which she had created (see news item, in French, of 28/4/07). This last act had shocked her profoundly.

She remained very active even after retiring from the Musées de France and was recently in charge of an exhibition which just closed in Essen, Germany, Images d’une capital. Les Impressionistes à Paris, which we covered in an article here. She was also preparing, among other things, along with Marina Bocquillon Ferretti and Georges Liébert the publication of Paul Signac’s Journal, a project which will be completed and published by Gallimard.


Didier Rykner, lundi 7 février 2011



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