The âMuseum of French Artâ in New York, founded as a society in 1911, was a subsection of the French Institute in the United States dedicated to arts. It was housed with the French Institute in the United States on 599 Fifth Avenue, New York City, had a Gallery with permanent French art collections, a library and a reading room. It held temporary exhibitions of French art loaned by private collectors. The Museum of French Art was most active until the 1930s, at a time when the opening of museums and art galleries was booming in New York.
Plans for the building of the French Art Museum in the United States, 1919 from RĂŠpertoire de l'art franĂ§ais aux Etats-Unis dans des collections particuliĂ¨res et au MusĂŠe d'art franĂ§ais. ([New York], 1919) British Library RB.31.C.836.
When the Museum of French Art was created, Fifth Avenue was already home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art which opened in 1872, and for the Henry Clay Frick House, built in 1912-1914, whose collections were opened to the public in 1935. The Museum of Modern Art also opened on Fifth Avenue on 7 November, 1929, nine days after the Wall Street Crash. The Museum of French Art was inspired not only by fine arts museums but also by institutions like the âSouth Kensington Museumâ (founded after the 1851 Great Exhibition, now the Victoria and Albert Museum) and the more recent MusĂŠe des arts dĂŠcoratifs de Paris created in 1905. It was never built as a distinct monument, though its trustees tried to raise funds for this purpose: in 1919, plans for such a construction were published at the end of the catalogue of its first official exhibition.
French Ambassador Jules Jusserand with Mme Jusserand, 1918 (Image from the Library of Congress)
The idea for the creation of a French Institute in the United States emerged at a council of the Alliance FranĂ§aise of New York. The institute had three subsections: the âMuseum of French Artâ, whose aim was to promote French Fine Arts and to be a window for French arts and crafts, past and present; the âEntente France-Americaâ, focused on commerce, industry and science; and the âFrench Unionâ, a society dedicated to Belles Lettres: Literature, History and philosophy. The French Institute and its art section offered French language courses, technical courses on French arts and crafts, it awarded French language prizes to high school students and organised concerts and lectures for the public and for its members. The British Library holds the programme of a Gala Concert held in 1913 by the Museum of French Art in honour of the French Ambassador in Washington and his American wife, Mr et Mme Jusserand.
Programme for a Gala Concert offered by the Museum of French Art to the French Ambassador at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, December 14th, 1913. (New York, ) d.488.l.(10.)
Advertisement for an exhibition of the Museum of French Art, The Sun, 25 January 1920. NEWS12364
The first official exhibitions held at the Museum of French Art in 1918, 1919 and 1920, were organised chronologically (âFrom the Gothic Period to the Regenceâ, âPeriods of Louis XV and Louis XVIâ, âThe Directoire and Empire Periodsâ). In 1920, the chairman of the Exhibitions department of the French Art Museum, Mrs Henry Mottet, donated to the British Museum (along with 20 major European and American museums and libraries) a copy of the catalogues for the first two exhibitions, which were published in large format limited editions of 100 copies.
Images from The First Official Loan Exhibition of the Museum of French Art, held in 1918, from RĂŠpertoire de l'art franĂ§ais aux Etats-Unis dans des collections particuliĂ¨res et au MusĂŠe d'art franĂ§ais.
Later exhibitions focused on specific French artists: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1922), Odilon Redon (1922), Picasso, Braque, LĂŠger (1931), Degas (1931), Renoir (1931), Derain and Vlaminck (1932) and historical characters: âNapolĂŠon and l'Aiglonâ (1927), the Marquis de Lafayette (1930). Other exhibitions had a particular thematical, historical or geographical focus: âFans and handiwork of court and home life, XVIth to XIXth centuriesâ (1926-1927), âThe art and customs of the Basque country of southwestern Franceâ (1927), âSilken textiles of France: Louis XIII to Louis Philippeâ (1928), âEcclesiastical arts of Franceâ (1928), âFrench prints from the XVth century to the XXth centuryâ (1932).
The Director of the Museum of French Art was Emile McDougall Hawkes, founder and first president of the Institut FranĂ§ais in the United States, a lawyer and engineer from New York who had studied in France and Germany, was active in several Franco-American cultural associations based in New York, including the Alliance FranĂ§aise, focusing on French language teaching outside of France, and he received the French distinction of Commandeur de la LĂŠgion dâhonneur. He was a trustee of the Foundation of another Francophile and patrons of the arts, John Sanford Saltus.
A portrait of McDougall Hawkes, dated from 1910, and signed l.l., possibly John Bow, was sold in 2015 by Cowanâs Auctions. It bears a plaque inscribed âMcDougall Hawkes, First Chairman of the Board of Trustees, 1911-1929, Museum of French Art, French Institute in the United Statesâ.
McDougall Hawkes was also involved in other trade and science organisations, including the French-American Chamber Commerce, âEntente France-Americaâ, a society which aimed âto develop commercial, industrial, economic and scientific relations between the American and French peoplesâ (New York Times, 11 Aug 1916), and the French-American Medical, Chemical and Physics Society.
Title-page, with McDougall Hawkesâ inscription, from Le Biscuit de SeĚvres. Recueil des modeĚles de la manufacture de SeĚvres au XVIIIe sieĚcle ([Paris, 1921]) 7808.s.7.
When McDougall Hawkes visited the British Museum in 1922, he donated to the library a signed copy of Le Biscuit de SeĚvres by EĚmile Bourgeois and Georges Lechevallier-Chevignard, illustrated by many plates.
Plate from Le Biscuit de SeĚvres.
IrĂ¨ne Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator, Romance languages
Museum of French Art, French Institute in the United States. RĂŠpertoire de l'art franĂ§ais aux Etats-Unis dans des collections particuliĂ¨res et au MusĂŠe d'art franĂ§ais. Tome I: lâArt gothique. First annual official loan exhibition of French art, January 29th to February 12th, 1918. Catalogue: Gothic period to the RĂŠgence. Tome II, Le dix-huitiĂ¨me siĂ¨cle. Catalogue of the second annual official loan exhibition of French art: periods of Louis XV & XVI, held at the gallery of the Museum in the city of New York, January 14 to January 29, 1919. ([New York?]: Privately printed, 1919). RB.31.C.836 and RB.31.C.837.
âThe French Institute and Museum of French Art in the United Statesâ, The Lotus Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 9 (Jun., 1912), pp. 267-280. [JSTOR]
âTo Develop French Trade: Prominent New Yorkers Incorporate Entente France-Americaâ, New York Times, 11 Aug 1916, p. 11. MFM.MA3