The Musée de l’Histoire de France will be housed at the Archives Nationales

1. Hôtel de Soubise
Archives Nationales
Cour of honour
Photo : Didier Rykner

The questions concerning the location of the Musée de l’Histoire de France [1] will cease definitely next Sunday. The President of the Republic, during a trip to Lascaux, is supposed to announce that it will be installed in the buildings belonging to the Archives Nationales (ill. 1), located between the rue des Francs-Bourgeois, the rue des Archives, the rue des Quatre Fils and the rue Vieille du Temple.

We will let Nicolas Sarkozy reveal the program in detail.
Nonetheless, we can provide a general idea based on what we know about the future of the Archives. These will be divided among three sites : archives before 1789 will remain in Paris, those after this date will take up residence at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine in a building which is still going up, except for contemporary records which will stay in Fontainebleau. This major project will thus free up large amounts of storage space, notably on the ground floor of the big storage Napoleon III facility which runs along the streets of Quatre Fils and Archives (ill. 2), as well as in other buildings. Besides the above, there will also be the Hôtel de Soubise (ill. 1), which is already the headquarters of a Musée d’Histoire de France with many fine decors, as well as the Hôtel de Rohan-Strasbourg (ill. 3), for the moment entirely closed to the public.

2. Storage Napoleon III
Archives Nationales
Facade on the street des Archives
Photo : Didier Rykner

3. Hôtel de Rohan-Starsbourg
Archives Nationales
Facade on the agrdens
Photo : Didier Rykner

4. Hôtel de Rohan-Starsbourg
Archives Nationales
Facade on the courtyard
Photo : Didier Rykner

The exhibition rooms will probably be installed in all of these newly available spaces. It is already known that the permanent collections will recount the main outlines of French history and that temporary exhibitions will also be organized.

In our opinion, this decision presents many advantages. Over the years, this historical ensemble had become less and less accessible to the public. It is currently impossible to see the gardens inside, as well as the courtyard of the Hôtel Rohan-Strasbourg (ill. 4) or the one displaying the Sun Horses (ill. 5), this masterpiece of French sculpture by Robert Le Lorrain which is located in an adjacent courtyard. As far as we can remember, we have never had access to the Guise courtyard which is located between the Hôtel de Soubise and the 19th century buildings. We hope – the opposite would be incomprehensible – that the public will soon be able to enjoy the premises freely.

5. Robert Le Lorrain
Sun Horses
Courtyard of the stables and of the storage of the
Hôtel de Rohan-Strasbourg
Archives nationales
Photo : Alexandra Ellwood

6. Hotels bordering the rue des Francs-Bourgeois
and belonging to the Archives Nationales
From left to right : Hôtel d’Assy, Hôtel de Breteuil,
Hôtel de Fontenay and Hôtel de Jaucourt
Photo : Didier Rykner

Another likely consequence : four 18th century private residences bordering the rue des Francs-Bourgeois [2] (ill. 6) pinpointed by Bercy (Ministry of Finance) for a possible sale appear – or at least we hope so – to have been spared.
Finally, this project will no doubt result in the installation of the decors from the former Chancellerie d’Orleans, waiting in storage cases for almost a century [3], on the ground floor of the Hôtel de Rohan-Strasbourg.

The idea of installing this Musée de l’Histoire de France at the Hôtel de la Marine can thus be interred. In fact, that solution may not have been good idea as it would have meant deforming the building in some way since it presents practical restrictions which would be more difficult to work around for this type of project than in the case of the Archives Nationales. Fontainebleau, which had also been a possibility, was probably too far from the capital, the Hôtel des Invalides did not have enough space and Vincennes would have been a very bad solution as that would have implied the construction of a new building, resulting in higher costs and distorting the appearance of this historical monument. The construction of the museum on the Ile Seguin, which had also been suggested, would have been much too expensive and presented no ties to French History.
We thus widely applaud, with absolutely no reservations, this decision which will reduce costs to a minimum while attributing at the same time an enduring mission to an outstanding historical ensemble [4]. Two bits of good news for our heritage in as many days, we refer to the Museum plan revealed on 9th September by Frédéric Mitterand (see article) : in these troubled times for cultural issues, indeed a remarkable event.

Didier Rykner, jeudi 16 septembre 2010


[1] Also known as “Maison de l’Histoire de France”.

[2] From left to right when looking at the entrance of the Cour d’Honneur on the rue des Francs-Bourgeois, these are the Hôtel d’Assy, the Hôtel de Breteuil, the Hôtel de Fontenay and the Hôtel de Jaucourt, some of which still have their decors.

[3] Let us remember that the Hôtel de la Chancellerie d’Orléans, an architectural and decorative masterpiece of the 18th century, was destroyed in 1923 by the Bibliothèque nationale which had promised to rebuild it, but never did. The painted and sculpted decors have been kept in storage cases in a warehouse in Asnières since then (some of the sculptures are on deposit at the Louvre). Their installation at the Hôtel de Rohan-Soubise, with the same identical layout and orientation as the Chancellerie d’Orléans has received strong support from the World Monument Fund Europe.

[4] There is, however, one sour note and perhaps a source of concern : the works in storage of French museums and collections from unclaimed inheritances provide enough pieces to put together a permanent hang without having to take important works from other museums. This should be an opportunity to display works which are no longer shown to the public.

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