The abandoned Great Gallery.
© Center Pompidou - MnamCci - Kandinsky Library / Photo Marc Vaux
Publication date: March 2014
The protection of museum collections during the war
In September 1939, the photographer Marc Vaux (1895-1971) produced a report at the Louvre and photographed the rooms emptied of their collections and the removal of the Victory of Samothrace, the museum's flagship work. During the Second World War, the stages of the evacuation of the works from the Louvre, with the packaging and transport in trucks, the empty rooms, the return after the war and the reopening of the museum were the subject of numerous photographs. , due to amateurs and professional photographers including Pierre Jahan, Laure Albin-Guillot, Noël Le Boyer, Marc Vaux. The latter, whose studio was located in Montparnasse, was known for his photographs of works of art and contemporary art exhibitions.
The collections of many French museums, in particular those of the Louvre, had already been partially evacuated during the First World War, often in emergency. The transfer of the collections from the Parisian museums lasted from August 28 to December 28, 1939. At the Louvre museum, if a certain number of sculptures and antiques were protected on site, almost the entire collection of paintings was evacuated, including large canvases which remained in the Louvre in 1914.
The Grande Galerie du Louvre emptied of its collections
This photograph of the Grande Galerie du Louvre was taken by Marc Vaux after the removal of the paintings on display there. In the background appear a few paintings still hanging on the walls. But it was undoubtedly the bare walls and the foreground frames that particularly caught the photographer's attention. All that remained of the paintings were the inscriptions made in chalk on the walls (artist's name and title of the work) and the empty frames, placed upside down on the floor and along the walls. The gallery was also empty of any human presence: the museum was then closed to the public, and a large part of the staff, curators and custodians, had accompanied the works to the deposits.
The Grande Galerie has, within the palace, a strong symbolic value, since it is this space that was the first dedicated to the museum opened during the revolution in 1793, and it has been the subject of numerous representations. Marc Vaux also photographed other rooms of the museum emptied of their collections, where only the frames and the bases of the statues, symbols of the evacuated collections are visible.
A museum in times of war and occupation
Many articles appeared in the press (Le Figaro, The cross, Morning, Paris-Evening...) between September and December 1939 on the evacuation of museums. Le Figaro
. It was illustrated with four photographs, two showing sandbags used as protections, and two representing the painting rooms of the Louvre emptied of their contents: one of them was the photograph by Marc Vaux, cropped and captioned "La Grande Naked gallery ”.
While praising the important work accomplished by the administration, journalists often spoke of the feeling of abandonment, loneliness and melancholy that emanated from the place. The frames, written by Raymond Lécuyer, were "widowers of their canvases". The works were described as being in exile or in exodus: this term will be taken up by the deputy curator of paintings Germain Bazin in his Memories. "The immense palace is more internally nothing but a bare hall cluttered with scaffolding and debris," wrote Roger Baschet in The Illustration September 16. The views of the Louvre, without collection or visitors, were also a symbol of the war that had just broken out.
At the request of the Occupant, who wanted to show the return to a normal situation, the Louvre reopened to the public on 1er October 1940 with limited hours and very partially: only sculpture and antique rooms were accessible. On display were works of lesser importance that had not been evacuated and casts of masterpieces such as the Venus of Milo.
The collections survived the war without damage, despite the changes in the repository imposed by the development of the conflict. They began to return after the armistice. As early as July 1945, a selection of prestigious works from the museum and an exhibition entitled Museum activity during the war, made up of documentary panels illustrated with photographs. One of these panels took up the theme of the private museum of its collections, under the title “The deserted Louvre”: “The gaping frames, the solitary plinths remain the only vestiges of what was the largest museum in the world”, we could. read. The Louvre then reopened in stages: the Department of Oriental Antiquities was inaugurated on June 27, 1947 in the presence of the President of the Republic. The Grande Galerie, which had been renovated and whose museography had been revised, reopened to the public on October 7, 1947.
- War of 39-45
Germain BAZIN, Memories of the exodus from the Louvre, 1940-1945, Paris, Somogy, 1992.
Guillaume FONKENELL (dir.), The Louvre during the war, photographic views, 1938-1947, exhibition, Musée du Louvre, Paris, Musée du Louvre-Éditions Le passage, 2009.
· Exhibition catalog Hostages of war, Chambord 1939-1945, Domaine national de Chambord, October 9, 2009 - May 10, 2010, Versailles-Chambord, Art + Museum and Monuments-Domaine national de Chambord, 2009.
Michel RAYSSAC, The Exodus from Museums, History of Works of Art under the Occupation, Paris, Payot, 2007.
Rose VALLAND, The Art Front : defense of French collections, 1939-1945, Paris, R.M.N., 1961, new. ed. 2014.
To cite this article
Catherine GRANGER, "The Great Abandoned Gallery"