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History of the Louvre
From château to museum

A visit to the Louvre and its collections lets visitors discover Western art from the Middle Ages to 1848, as well as a large number of ancient civilizations. Yet it also offers another history to explore. The grand palace that houses the museum, which dates back to the late twelfth century, is a true lesson in architecture: from 1200 to 2011, the most innovative architects have in turn built and developed the Louvre. Long the seat of power, this royal residence was also home to French heads of state until 1870 and is one of the major backdrops to the history of Paris and of France.

Sadness of the “Belle Époque”

The fall of the Empire, the destruction of the Tuileries, and the removal of the seat of power may have marked the triumph of the museum at the Louvre. Yet in fact, the beginning of the Third Republic was a difficult time for the institution. A number of space-consuming administrative departments invaded the palace, including in particular the Ministry of Finance that occupied the entire site of the former State Department, remaining there until its relocation in 1986. In 1905, the Central Union of Decorative Arts—an association that aims to promote the applied arts—was granted premises in the Pavillon de Marsan and part of the adjoining wing, which it still occupies today. In addition, the museum had only low funding available in an increasingly competitive art market context between major European institutions. Two unfortunate incidents seem to sum up this difficult period: the 1896 purchase of the tiara of Saitaphernes, which proved to be a fake, and the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911.
These difficulties should not, however, overshadow other positive developments, including the Winged Victory of Samothrace being displayed at the top of the Daru staircase from 1883, the creation of a procurement fund for major museums, and of the RMN (Réunion des Musées Nationaux), an advisory body for the pooling of their resources and requirements. The founding of the École du Louvre also enabled the museum’s curators to publicize and disseminate their research. The Louvre’s universalist ambition also lived on, particularly through the acquisitions of generous benefactors: in 1894 Ernest Grandidier donated his collection of Chinese and Japanese art (now in the Musée Guimet), and the bequest of Baroness Delort de Gléon in 1912 led to the creation of an Islamic art division that was to open after World War I.


 

8 images or videos

  • Demolition of the Grande Galerie, Archives Nationales (64 AJ 286 d 24)

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    Published on: November 5, 2015

  • Staircase of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, 1934, Musée du Louvre

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    Published on: November 5, 2015

  • Cour du sphinx, 1934, musée du Louvre

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    Published on: January 13, 2015

  • Aerial view of the Louvre-Tuileries sector and of Paris, to the east

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    Published on: November 5, 2015

  • Cour Marly, 1993, musée du Louvre

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    Published on: January 13, 2015

  • Musée du Louvre-Lens, architects SANAA / Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa - IMREY CULBERT / Celia Imrey and Tim Culbert - MOSBACH PAYSAGISTE / Catherine Mosbach

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    Published on: November 5, 2015

  • Newly covered areas of the Department of Islamic Art in the Cour Visconti of the Musée du Louvre (R. Ricciotti – M. Bellini / Musée du Louvre)

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    Published on: November 5, 2015

  • Architectural project of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, exterior view

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    Published on: November 5, 2015