Reims Wishes to Acquire Henry Vasnier’s Dining Room by Emile Gallé

1. A View of Henry Vasnier’s Dining Room by Emile Gallé
at the Current Exhibition at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Reims
in the Foreground, the Table aux Herbes Potagères
in the Background, the Dressoir Chemins d’Automne
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts de Reims

7/1/13 - Fundraising drive - Reims, Musée des Beaux-Arts - The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Reims has just set out in a race against time in order to acquire the Art Nouveau style dining room by Emile Gallé, considered one of his masterpieces, before the auction being held on 16 February 2013 [1]. This furniture ensemble (a sideboard known as Chemins d’Automne or Saveurs d’Automne, a console Soir d’avril au vignoble, a table aux Herbes Potagères and fourteen [2] chairs [3]), some of which is currently on loan to an exhibition (ill. 1) organized by the museum (Les Arts de l’effervescence. Champagne !), has close historical ties to the city. The dining room was commissioned from the artist by Henry Vasnier, the director of Pommery champagne, for his private residence located Boulevard Lundy in Reims (ill. 2). Vasnier was also a great collector and one of the museum’s most generous donors, contributing over six hundred works. Among these, there are paintings by some of the greatest 19th century artists : Corot, Delacroix, Géricault, Millet, Courbet, Monet, Pisarro, Pierre Puvis De Chavanne and many others...

2. Henry Vasnier’s Dining Room by Emile Gallé,
Boulevard Lundy in Reims
Photo : Archives Philippe Pommery

The ensemble in question was supposed to be part of the objects left to the museum, but the family considered the dining room as furniture and not as art objects. The matter went to trial in 1911 but the city lost [4]. The furniture disappeared for several decades before resurfacing at the Hôtel Drouot in 1964, then passed successively through two private collections and was later acquired by two Japanese museums : The Louis C. Tiffany Garden Museum in Matsue and Hida Takayama Museum of Art in Takayama. Except for the mirror, which belongs to the second one, the rest of the furniture was ceded by the Tiffany Garden Museum (a private establishment) to an American collector who quickly decided to sell it in Paris [5] (ill. 3, 4 and 5). It was therefore impossible to have it listed as a National Treasure but the pieces were, however, declared to be works of major heritage interest by a commission last 19 December, thus allowing businesses wishing to step forward as patrons to deduct 90% of the contribution from their tax payment.

3. Émile Gallé (1846-1904)
Table for Dining Room Herbes potagères, c. 1891-1892
Walnut, Fruit Tree, Mother of Pearl - 76.2 x 243.8 x 120 cm
Sotheby’s Paris Auction 16/2/13
Photo : Sotheby’s

4. Émile Gallé (1846-1904)
Chairs for Dining Room Herbes potagères, c. 1889-1892
Elm, Fruit Tree - 96 x 45 x 46 cm
Sotheby’s Paris Auction 16/2/13
Photo : Sotheby’s

5. Émile Gallé (1846-1904)
Buffet Les Chemins d’Automne, c. 1891-1892
Elm, Fruit Tree - 310 x 213 x 65 cm
Sotheby’s Paris Auction 16/2/13
Photo : Sotheby’s

This acquisition would not only be a remarkable addition to national heritage, but would also be a tribute to Henry Vasnier as he had originally intended the ensemble to go to the Musée des Beaux-Arts.
The operation will nevertheless call for some delicate handling, especially due to the very short time remaining before the auction takes place. Guillaume Cerutti, the president of Sotheby’s France, told us he was expecting an offer from the public authorities in order to pass it on to the owner, but without knowing if he would of course accept it. Mr. Cerutti reminded us of a precedent when the Musée Lorrain in Nancy acquired, just before the auction, the treasure of Pouilly-sur-Meuse (see news item of 5/11/09). We are talking about a total of somewhere between one million and one and a half million euros, which seems to correspond to the importance of the furniture. We hope that the champagne companies, patrons of the museum, will join forces to support such a major figure as Henry Vasnier and find the needed money, no doubt rounded out by the Fonds du patrimoine and the Fonds régional d’acquisition des musées. This type of operation proves once again the dangerous consequences of the French Ministry of Culture’s decision to cut the budget (contrary to the promises made by the President of the Republic) of museums and heritage, affecting particularly acquisitions, with disastrous results for French heritage. This is a unique, and unexpected, opportunity to return an essential element of Reims’ history to the city. David Liot, the chief curator at the museum, has already made plans for a space in the new Beaux-Arts museum (see news item of 21/3/12) devoted to the collector Henry Vasnier where Gallé’s furniture would fit in perfectly.

We have already said on other occasions that it would be wise for the French Ministry of Culture to set up an operating fund allowing for rapid acquisitions when needed (as is the case here for an auction), then completing the rest of the financing.
In this case, there is little doubt that enough patrons will be found to raise the balance needed. However, to do it in so short a time is less sure. It might be better to simply let the bidding take place, pre-empt the work, then take the time to raise the corresponding amount.

Version française

Didier Rykner, mercredi 9 janvier 2013


[1] To our knowledge, L’Union was the first newspaper to talk about this affair. We would like to thank David Liot, chief curator at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Reims who alerted us at the same time and sent us much of the information here. We are also grateful to Sotheby’s for answering our questions so promptly.

[2] And not eight as we had previously stated.

[3] One piece is missing, the mirror Pêche de vigne, residing at the Hida Takayama Museum of Art.

[4] We had originally written, based on an article which appeared in Le Pays Lorrain (François Le Racon and Nadine Soret, "La salle à manger d’Emile Gallé pour Henry Vasnier", Le Pays Lorrain n°1, March 2011) that the reason was no doubt that "the city of Reims [was not] convinced of the artistic interest of the furniture", which was not true. Our thanks to Catherine Delot, from the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Reims, for pointing this out to us.

[5] According to the article quoted above, the whereabouts of the console were unknown. Yet it had been reunited with the rest of the ensemble by the previous owners and will indeed come up for auction on 16 February.

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