Over the last few years we have seen major French collections, most notably the Louvre, reaching out to far flung museums and orchestrating exhibitions of small micro-collections of their immense holdings. It’s a symbiotic relationship and a model that has worked well in the past: the larger museum gets to rotate some of its permanent collection for a modest fee, and the smaller museum capitalizes on the caché of the larger museum’s reputation. Well last week I was afforded the opportunity to see one of these exhibitions myself: Royal Treasures from the Louvre: Louis XIV to Marie-Antoinette.
The Legion of Honor is an excellent choice of venue for such an exhibition: the museum is modeled on a replica of the Palais de la Legion d’Honneur that was exhibited at the Panama Pacific International Exhibition held in San Francisco in 1915 (coincidentally, that pretty dome you see out near the entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge? That’s from the same exhibition). Moreover the museum is dedicated to those Californians who lost their lives defending French soil in World War I.
It is a solid exhibition with a carefully curated selection of items highlighting the collecting habits of different French monarchs: one collected carved gemstone pieces, another collected molded glass, etc…It also showcases some exceptional examples of royal gifts, from snuff boxes to porcelain to tapestries. The museum has also gone to a great deal of trouble to provide background information for some of the more complicated objects on view (Let’s just say there’s a lot more to that desk than meets the eye). It is an uncluttered exhibition and definitely worth the trip if you are interested in anything remotely related to the Louvre or fancy decorative French objects.
While you’re there it would really make my day if you check out the conservation project of the Salon Doré that is taking place on the main level. Growing up that room was one of my absolute favorites in the whole museum, and it is so gratifying to see the Salon finally getting a little TLC and some historically accurate reconfiguration. You can actually see them cleaning off the outer layers of paint and restoring the gild work, it’s pretty exciting stuff.
I just hope the French remember all this the next time someone makes a disparaging comment about les Américains being unable to appreciate French culture. Not that that happens to me or anything. Much.