From Paris, With Love

Museums, like the artworks they house, are constantly evolving. Expanding collections and audiences, outdated facilities, natural phenomena (like earthquakes), or changing building codes can all contribute to a museum’s decision to shutter its doors for lengthy renovations. One museum’s closure, however, is another's golden opportunity, as in the case of this museum! The de Young has recently benefitted from two important museum renovations in Paris: first, the Musée d’Orsay sent us two major exhibitions during its expansive renovations (Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and Beyond and Birth of Impressionism) and now the Musée National Picasso brings us Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris opening this Saturday, June 11.

The Musée Picasso is located in Paris’s Marais district and will be closed until Spring 2013 as it undergoes major building restorations. Built in the second half of the seventeenth century, the museum was originally a mansion commissioned by Pierre Aubert, Lord of Fontenay. Affectionately known as the Hôtel Salé, the building takes its name from Aubert’s role as collector of the gabelle, or salt tax, for King Louis XIV. Sel is the French word for salt, and Hôtel Salé literally means "salty house"!

Musée National Picasso, Paris

In 1985 under the supervision of the architect Roland Simounet, the building was repurposed to house objects from Picasso’s personal collection, procured by the French state upon the artist’s death in 1973. Enabled by the dation law, Picasso’s family provided artwork from his collection to the state as payment for inheritance taxes. Subsequent provisions made by the family included not only artwork created by Picasso himself, but also masterpieces of African and Oceanic art and important works by old masters and Picasso’s own contemporaries, such as Cézanne, Matisse and Miró.

To correspond with changing building codes, preventive conservation requirements, and disability access, a comprehensive restoration has been delegated to the architects Jean-François Bodin of Bodin & Associés and Stéphanie Thouin, chief architect of historic monuments. The new design will triple permanent collection and temporary exhibition space, which will allow the display of more than 500 Picassos throughout the museum’s four floors.

The Musée Picasso is located in the Marais, a district spanning Paris’s 3rd and 4th arrondissements (or neighborhoods). Originally covered by swampland, the Marais (or marsh) was owned by a network of abbeys who ultimately dried out the wetlands to cultivate farmland and gardens.

The Places des Vosges in the Marais

Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Marais was a favored locale for courtly residences. Towards the turn of the twentieth century, the district became better known as a bustling commercial center and home to one of Paris’s primarily Jewish communities. During World War II the Marais' Jewish community was devastated by Nazi forces, and after the war the neighborhood’s once glorious architecture was in a state of neglect.

In 1964, the Marais was deemed Paris’s first historic district, or secteur sauvegardé (literally "secured area"), and it has been actively restored and conserved ever since. Today, the mansions of the Marais are architecturally stunning and add to the neighborhood’s fashionable reputation. A cultural hub, the Marais boasts trendy restaurants, sophisticated galleries, and, of course, the soon-to-be restored Musée Picasso!

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