Talking Point with Élodie Lefort (manager of the Fondation’s Art Collection): En route for 2021

Author(s) : LEFORT Élodie
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As Pierre Branda announced a few weeks ago,  2021 year of the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death is fast approaching, and will be punctuated by numerous exhibitions.

Talking Point with Élodie Lefort (manager of the Fondation’s Art Collection): En route for 2021
© Fondation Napoléon/Rebecca Young

Thirteen institutions have already contacted the Fondation Napoléon and its extensive collection of napoleonic art and historic objets in preparation for the exhibitions they are preparing for next year. Although the majority of these exhibitions are concentrated in the Paris region (about three-quarters of them), others are scheduled in some of the beautiful regions of France (in Ajaccio, Sens…), but also abroad (Liège, or New York). Maybe with a little organisation, you will have time to see everything! Sensibly, the museums have spaced out the events throughout the year. Many establishments, nine to be precise, have chosen to time the opening dates of their exhibitions with the anniversary of Napoleon’s death (5 May) and will therefore start in the spring. However, in order to make the pleasure last, some will be opening later on (autumn-winter 2021) and so will give ample opportunity to prolong our journeys of discovery in the footsteps of the Emperor. Two institutions have decided to extend the dates of their exhibitions over a large period of time, starting in April and continuing until after the International Heritage Days, i.e., in the second half of September 2021, a total of six months. One of these, “Napoleon is no more”, co-produced by the Musée de l’Armée [French Army Museum] and the Fondation Napoléon, will retrace the final chapter of the Emperor’s last moments on St Helena until the arrival of his mortal remains beneath the Dome of Les Invalides.

It is appropriate to note that two institutions particularly dear to Napoleon’s heart will be central to this commemorative year 2021.

The first exhibition to open the ball is organised by the French National Archives (at the Hôtel de Soubise site), “Drawing for Napoleon. Masterpieces of the Imperial State Secretariat”, in which will be revealed to the public for the first time the drawings, plans, files and sketches which were received by the Emperor’s cabinet to help him in his decision-making. Previously unseen, these documents (some true artworks in their own right) have been restored thanks to an appeal launched by the Fondation Napoléon in 2017.

The Napoleon Year will close with an exhibition by the Mobilier National [French National Furniture depository] which will be held in the superb “Galerie des Gobelins” between September 2021 and January 2022. Entitled “The Lost Palaces of Napoleon: Saint-Cloud, Tuileries, Meudon“, its aim is to resuscitate the splendour of the imperial courts, mainly with pieces of furniture which decorated the interiors of these monuments.

While each of these thirteen exhibitions will be an opportunity to discover or rediscover artworks, and collections but also buildings which had meaning for the Emperor, allow me to mention one exhibition where the central character will not be Napoleon himself, but his passionate relationship with Josephine, namely “Josephine and Napoleon: An (extra)ordinary love story“, organised by the Chaumet jewellery house and the Fondation Napoléon. It will take place in spring 2021 in the historic salons of the Chaumet premises on Place Vendôme in Paris. The passion that animated Josephine and Napoleon and their incredible destiny will be sublimated through the exceptional jewels designed by Marie-Étienne Nitot, creator of the Chaumet House.

With a collection of nearly 2,000 works, some of which belonged to the Emperor himself, the Fondation Napoléon is committed to participating in these exhibitions, facilitating and granting as many loans as possible to all these events.

People often ask me where it is possible to see the collection of the Fondation Napoléon. Next year you will have the opportunity to see some of its masterpieces in most of the exhibitions. In all, nearly 200 works will be presented to the public in 2021. In anticipation of the start of the festivities, much work is underway in the shadows to prepare these artworks for display. First of all, it is essential to check the condition of each work that will be presented. A careful examination is carried out on each object: this is known as a “condition report”. All deteriorations, weaknesses and limitations are described in great detail. This step allows us to determine whether certain works require special “pampering”. In this way, about ten works will pass through the expert hands of restorers.

Among them, the inkwell of Napoleon (a gift from Queen Hortense) will be restored by a conservator-restorer specialising in the treatment of metals, during two full days. All the metal elements, the work of the master goldsmith Biennais, have to be cleaned in order to remove any trace of oxidation and thus restore their original appearance and lustre. The eagle-shaped feet which have become loose must be refixed. The main difficulty of this intervention lies in the consolidation of all the tiny bees which decorate the inkwell, especially their legs and antennae. These delicate conservation procedures will help to restore the original splendour of this inkwell, ready to be exhibited in the spring at Chaumet.

We are also preparing the catalogues and booklets which will accompany your visits. For this purpose, more than thirty artworks will pass in front of the photographer’s lens (especially after restoration), in order to best illustrate these works.

At the same time, preparatory meetings are being held with the various people involved in the exhibitions to discuss the presentation of the works, in order to display them to their best advantage and to highlight the purpose of the exhibition. Each specialist has their own role to play. The curators define the subject and concept of the exhibition and choose the works. The scenographer will decide the decor and work on the atmosphere in relation to the subject. They also determine the physical layout, position and appearance of the display cases. The stage managers take care of the technical and administrative management of the works. When the exhibition is installed, they are the ones who will look after the objects according to the plans decided upon collectively. Finally, the displaycase builders are responsible for creating the installations that will enable the works to be displayed intelligently rather than simply being placed in a glass case. They are sometimes joined by other specialists such as lighting designers, or graphic designers, etc. Preparing an exhibition takes time,  in order to present the public with an innovative, even original approach, in an atmosphere that allows the works not just to illustrate a statement or bear witness to an event, but to tell their own story. After all, when we visit an exhibition, it is principally the objects that we have come to admire.

So, take heart! Only a few more months to wait before (we hope!) you find yourself in the museums to (re)discover our collection. We look forward to seeing many of you there. In the meantime, do not hesitate to take a look at the website dedicated to our collection. It will give you an overview of the works of which we are proud to be the guardians for future generations.

Élodie Lefort
October 2020
Élodie Lefort is in charge of the art collection of the Fondation Napoléon

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