Imperiled museums (1) : Auxerre


This article inaugurates a series which, alas, threatens to be a long one : that of closed museums, either partially or totally, those abandoned by cities in a state of vegetation and with no funding to the point of endangering the works they hold.

1. Abbaye Saint-Germain
Auxerre
Photo : Didier Rykner

2. Abbaye Saint-Germain
Wing where the Fine Arts collections of the
Musée d’Art et d’Histoire d’Auxerre
Should have been installed
Photo : Didier Rykner


The Abbaye Saint-Germain, housing the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire d’Auxerre, is made up of a group of buildings centered around an 18th century cloister (ill. 1). In the 20th century, the site was occupied by a hospital which moved in 1962, except for the geriatric ward which remained there until 1984. Other institutions, a local radio station, a cultural center, a music school took turns settling in before leaving to go elsewhere. The idea of exhibiting the museum collections, in storage crates since 1971, progressively won over and first took shape in 1984, along with important archeological excavations carried out between 1989 and 1999. Storage facilities were then set up, after which the Gallo-Roman collections were installed in 1988, pre-history in 1992 and the Middle Ages in 2004 [1].

3. Niccolo Frangipanne (1555-1600)
A pâtre
Auxerre, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
(Painting not exposed)
Photo : All rights reserved

At that time, the mayor, Jean-Pierre Soissons, was interested in the museum. The Fine Arts collections were supposed to follow and be installed in the North and West wings (ill. 2), on three levels, but the convention with the government was never signed by the new administration which took over city hall in 2001, led by the Socialist Guy Ferrez. For the last several years, the museum has been deprived of funding, except for a restoration budget.
As of December 1st, the museum will no longer have a curator. Micheline Durand [2], who directed it for twenty-five years, was suddenly removed from her post. No doubt she was not quite flexible enough in responding to the mayor’s demands. Michel Morineau, Cultural assistant, kindly accepted to answer our questions. He confirmed the fact that expanding the museum was no longer an option. “There will be a museum inside the Abbey, but we cannot transform the Abbey into a museum.” Why isn’t it possible ? Because he [Michel Morineau] is “the representative of universal suffrage” ! As if this were justification enough. When we asked him if the project for the Abbaye Saint-German had been submitted to voters, Michel Morineau replied that the case had been debated at the beginning of the term. So this would mean after the elections took place. It would seem that the mayor’s administration in Auxerre feels it is right simply because it was elected, even on matters which were not openly discussed beforehand, a strange conception of how a democracy works. To be honest, the project for the Abbaye Saint-Germain (“on the horizon of 2030” – sic) is so vague that it would be difficult to have an opinion on it. The assistant to the mayor had promised to e-mail it to us along with a copy of the budget allocations over the last three years. We still have not received anything [3].

Michel Morineau confirmed to us that “the curator did not agree to the project”, something we can easily understand as for the moment it consists in limiting the museum to a bare minimum [4]. “Her removal was not to sanction her, she has six months left before retiring” the mayoral assistant added. Given the fact that the project will not see the light for another twenty years, it is difficult to understand why they could not wait six months to fire her…
Thus Auxerre will be acting illegally starting December 1st as a Musée de France is obliged to have a curator present. Michel Morineau reassured us by saying that a new curator will be recruited without saying when. “We will take our time. There is no problem, if possible it will be someone young, skilled in new technology.” We can only wish him good luck given the inspiring project which consists in rearranging the museum in its present space, obviously not big enough to exhibit the Fine Arts collections. Michel Morineau does not consider this a drawback. “We have enough paintings to rotate the collections. Not everything can be displayed permanently. This, by nature, makes museums more dynamic.”

4. Charles Le Brun (1619-1690)
The King Arms on Earth and
on Sea

Auxerre, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
(painting not exposed)
Photo : All rights reserved

5. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre (1714-1789)
The Schoolmarm
Oil on canvas
Auxerre, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
(painting not exposed)
Photo : All rights reserved


On 18 November, L’Yonne Républicaine had published an article entitled “A fiery text sets teeth on edge” pointing out the internet posting of a pamphlet titledLa Dame d’Auxerre ou les Muses déménagent. Signed by a certain Jacques Adams, it presented the situation of the museum in a humorous and satirical way. The article in the Yonne Républicaine explained that “the mayor admits that there was some “friction” between [the curator], Michel Morineau and Juliette Didierjean [in charge of cultural services for the city], “there was a debate and everything has been settled”, he insisted […]” “No one has been put on the spot” the mayor reassured, not even the current curator at the Auxerre museum. This certainly explains then why she was asked to step aside.

6. François Gérard (1770-1837)
Portrait of Simon Chenard
Oil on canvas - 64.7 x 54.5 cm
Auxerre, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
(painting not exposed)
Photo : RMN

7. Jacques Hupin
Still-life with Metalwork
Oil on canvas
Auxerre, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire (painting not exposed)
Photo : All rights reserved


The museum in Auxerre deserves better. Its Fine Arts collections are commendable. They include, among other things, a large Alessandro Allori,Venus and Love, of which there is another version in Montpellier ; a Niccolo Frangipane (ill. 3), two studies by Charles Le Brun (ill. 4) for the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, three paintings by Henri de Favanne, three canvases by Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre (ill. 5), a Woman Cleaning a Fish by Todeschini, several 18th century French portraits (Marianne Loire, Jean-Baptiste Deshays, François Gérard–ill. 6), French still-lifes including a pair by Jacques Hupin (ill. 7), some beautiful anonymous works (ill. 8), large 19th century formats rolled up (Léon Iesener, François-Edouard Picot…), academic paintings from the second half of the 19th century (Emile Bin, Joseph-Noël Sylvestre,…), a group of works related to Maréchal Davout donated by his daughter (ill. 9).

8. France, beginning of the XVIII century
Louis XIII and His Governor
the Marquis de Souvré

Oil on canvas
Auxerre, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
Painting exposed at the Musée Leblanc-Duvernoy
Photo : All rights reserved

9. Pierre Gautherot (1769-1825)
Portrait of the Marechal Davout
Oil on canvas
Auxerre, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
(Painting not exposed)
Photo : All rights reserved


Some rare paintings from the collection are exhibited at the small Leblanc-Duvernoy museum (ill. 8), located in a private residence dating from the 18th century bequeathed in 1929. This museum, which also holds an extensive ceramics collection, is suffering from the same neglect on the part of city hall. As it is understaffed, visitors often find it closed on weekends (ill. 10). Opening hours will probably be even more limited in the future, as is the case for the Abbaye Saint-Germain, during off-season when there are few tourists, as confirmed to us by the mayoral assistant.

Without a curator, lacking funds, reduced to a bare minimum with the Fine Arts collections totally relegated to storage, the future of the Musée d’Auxerre seems bleak indeed. “This type of situation continues to multiply in a worrisome way” says Christophe Vital, president of the Association générale des conservateurs des collections publiques de France. The management at the Direction des Musées de France is aware of the situation [5]. Unfortunately, despite its good intentions, the DMF does not really have any influence or power any more over local authorities and curators find themselves along when dealing with a mayor. Here we have another subject to add to the list we would like to discuss with the Minister of Culture were he to accept an interview as requested (see here in French).

10. Sign on the door of the Musée Leblanc-Duvernoy
Photo : Didier Rykner



Version française


Didier Rykner, jeudi 3 décembre 2009


Notes

[1] We would like to thank the cultural association, Les trois p (plumes, papiers, pinceau) for some of the information contained in this article.

[2] We contacted the curator, Madame Micheline Durand, who stood behind the rule of “devoir de reserve” [obligation to silence] saying also that she was no longer part of the museum staff anyway, as of December 1st, and that she had been entrusted with a six-month mission to study the building’s history. Madame Juliette Didierjean, director of the city’s cultural affairs, and whom we wished to interview, replied very abruptly that Micheline Durand should not even have said that ! This remark is extremely shocking and reveals the working environment in a city where a municipal employee is not allowed to tell a reporter that she is no longer head of a department and that he should speak with the mayor. This is a very curious interpretation of the “devoir de reserve”, in fact only abuses it. To know more about the “devoir de reserve”, readers can look up this excellent article on the site of Maître Eolas.

[3] We had in fact accepted to delay the publication of this article by one day to give him the time to gather the information.

[4] Last 29 August, the city had placed a job offer in Télérama for a “directeur du pole Art et Patrimoine” [Director of the Pole Art and Heritage]. The applicant was supposed to, besides many other duties, manage the site of the Abbaye Saint-Germain (and head a team of 25 people). The job offer was for a person “holding the level of territorial attaché for conservation or heritage or who had passed the exam for architectural and heritage host [animateur]”. The description did not specify that the curator would answer to the “directeur”, but by disassociating the museum from the building in which it is housed, clearly the city’s goal, its organization is clearly thrown off and marginalized. The recruitment process is still going on.

[5] The DMF informed us that : “We are currently treatinging the case of the Musée d’ Auxerre. The DRAC and the director of the Musées de France will soon meet with the Mayor to determine a line of action for the Musée-Abbaye Saint-Germain, recruit a new curator, appoint the current curator to another post in the city or in the region and find a way to enhance the collections of the Musées de France notably by rounding out the museum visit with the Fine Arts collections.”



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