After eighteen years in office, the baron Gourgaud has decided to stand down as president of the Fondation Napoléon, although he will continue to serve as a trustee. As a result of his decision, he presented his resignation to the Board of Trustees on 13 December, 2005.
The Board of Trustees has elected Victor-André Masséna, Prince d'Essling, Duc de Rivoli, as president of the Fondation. The Prince became a trustee in 2002 and was elected Vice President in January 2005.
During the same meeting the Baron Gourgaud was appointed President of Honour of the Fondation Napoléon. Bernard Chevallier, chief curator of of the Musée de Malmaison et Bois-Préau was elected Vice Président.
In concert with Prince Masséna, the board of trustees thanked the Baron Gourgaud for all that he had done leading the Fondation Napoléon since 1987. Founder of the institution after the devolution of the Lapeyre bequest, he tirelessly worked to make the Fondation a place for the widest possible public, recognised for its historical competence and its activities in the preservation of Napoleonic heritage.
The Baron Gourgaud’s hugely successful presidency
In the aftermath of the bequest made by Martial Lapeyre (d. 1984), the Baron Gourgaud, then president of the Souvenir Napoléonien, negotiated with the French state for the creation of a foundation which could become the heir to their famous benefactor. After three years' work, the Fondation Napoléon was born and was recognised as “d'utilité publique” (registered charity) by a decree of 12 November, 1987. All this happened eighteen years ago.
Quite naturally the Baron Gourgaud was appointed the first president of the Fondation and was re-elected each time thereafter. During his presidency, the Fondation Napoléon developed enormously. At the beginning of the 90s, the institution turned its attention decidedly towards the two principal aims spelled out in Martial Lapeyre's will, namely: the development of Napoleonic history and the preservation of Napoleonic heritage. There has not been a single event of any significant nature since which has not benefitted from the partnership of the Fondation Napoléon, whether financially or intellectually.
Furthermore, the Baron Gourgaud oversaw the development of specifically Fondation-related services. The website napoleon.org was founded in 1995 at a time when the internet in France was very much in its infancy: this is today the principle Napoleonic site on the web, with more than 2.5 million sessions annually and more than 6,000 recipients of the weekly news bulletin. The Bibliothèque Martial Lapeyre library was set up on its own site in 2000, serving more than 1,000 readers every year. A specialist web site, napoleonica.org, was similarly launched in 2000, proposing free access to tens of thousands of fully-searchable archival documents. After the death of Martial Lapeyre's usufructuaries, the Fondation's collection of works of art and historical memorabilia was shown in France and Brazil, and it is soon to be exhibited in Mexico.
On the historical front, of the dozens of projects led by the Baron, the Correspondence project particularly stands out. This project to publish the fullest ever correspondence of Napoleon (entitled Correspondance générale de Napoléon I) will finally produce 12 volumes, containing about 35,000 letters, the final volume planned for 2009.
Thanks to its broad spread of competences, the Fondation Napoléon has become the benchmark Napoleonic institution for enthusiasts, researchers, journalists and university centres the world over.
Victor-André Masséna, active and inquisitive traveller
Born on 29 April, 1950, Victor-André Masséna qualified as a lawyer and worked at the Paris bar from 1973 to 1978. After an MBA from INSEAD, he worked initially in the export arm of Aérospatiale before moving on to other companies. Becoming manager of the DREE and commercial and economic adviser to the French embassy in Bosnia-Herzegovina, he worked to set up French aid operations during the war, notably with reference to the assistance brought to the inhabitants of Sarajevo. After the Dayton/Paris peace accords in December 1995, he was appointed deputy Chief Representative for the UN in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in charge of development and reconstruction (1996), then becoming deputy to Carl Bildt, special representative for the UN Secretary General for the Balkans (1999). Victor-André Masséna is today a consultant.
A descendant of one of Napoleon's marshals, he has always had a great interest in history in general, and in military history in particular, as is shown by his impressive book collection. He is Vice Président of the board of trustees of the Musée de l'Armée.
Victor-André Masséna is the Prince d'Essling and Duc de Rivoli.
Victor-André Masséna: «The continuation and development of the work begun by the Baron Gourgaud»
The new president of the Fondation Napoléon replies here to some questions and present his «agenda».
How do you feel as you take up the reins as president of the Fondation Napoléon?
I would like to say first of all how honoured I feel to be the successor of a man like the Baron Gourgaud. That the Fondation has become what it is today, is entirely due to his daily work over the last twenty years. His presidency has been a remarkable success, and this gives me a comfortable starting position. Indeed, I aim to continue working with the Baron Gourgaud – as you know, he is staying on as trustee and president of honour. We can all still benefit greatly from his broad knowledge of the environment in which we move and from his advice. As for myself, I am both very happy that the board of trustees has put their trust in me and (it must be said) rather surprised to find myself at the head of the Fondation, something which I could never have imagined three years ago. Here too I must mention the Baron Gourgaud: after the sudden death of Comte Florian Walewski –we all know how deeply involved he was in both the Fondation Napoléon and the Souvenir Napoléonien-, it was the Baron who asked me to join the board of trustees, so that I could get to know and appreciate the institution, whilst at the same time preparing me to become his successor.
How do you see the Fondation today?
In terms of visibility and work completed, the Fondation Napoléon is an institution in a class of its own. The quality of its services, its web sites, its library, its assistance and advice given to researchers is – and I'm choosing my words carefully here – exceptional. The Fondation is currently very well known and appreciated not only in France, but also abroad; this is something which particularly interests me. In recent years, the board of trustees and the steering committee has achieved splendid results, both in terms of “Napoleonic” actions and in terms of the organisation of our institution. I would like to add that these decisions are enacted by an excellent administrative team, very well led by Thierry Lentz. On the financial front, after four difficult years, resulting from the poor state of the economic climate and the stock exchange, the situation is perfectly satisfactory. I would like take this opportunity to note that we have never been «in trouble», as such, however it is true that we have had to keep a very close eye on things and to be more imaginative in every respect. To sum up, I would say: everything's fine and our programme for the years to come is looking set fair.
What is your programme? Do you have any new projects?
First and foremost, we are going to base ourselves on things as they are now. In other words we're going to continue the services we offer our public, the research projects we're pursuing or supporting, the excellent relations we have with important institutions, etc. We shall possibly aim more towards international matters; indeed the board of trustees has accepted this idea in principle. This is already true in terms of the exhibitions of our art collection: after Brazil in 2003, and we're going to be in Mexico in 2006. We also have plans regarding intellectual collaboration with major Italian, Polish and American universities. But we'll talk about this in more detail in the first half of next year.
Paris, 14 December, 2005