The presence of the Salon du dessin’s guest this year, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Marseille, offers an opportunity to show a selection of drawings from its graphic arts department as well as from two other Marseille museums with old master drawing collections, the Musée Grobet-Labadié and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, de la Faïence et de la Mode.

In line with the theme of this year’s fair, the art of gardens and botany, works depicting nature in one form or another were selected from the three museums’ collections. Forty drawings dating from the 15th to the 19th century – including works by Pierre Puget, Jean-Baptiste Huet, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Hubert Robert, Jean-Antoine Constantin and Camille Corot – will offer a sampling of the treasures to be found in Marseille’s museums.

Since 1869, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Marseille has been housed in the left wing of the Palais Longchamp in superb rooms specially designed for its collections by architect Henry Espérandieu.

The museum’s beginnings 60 years earlier were much more modest, however. The collection was presented to the public for the first time in 1804 in the chapel (built in 1751) of the former bernardine convent. It was one of 15 museums created in major French cities by the Consulate’s Chaptal Decree of XIV Fructidor, Year IX. When it opened, the marseillais discovered works obtained by the revolutionaries’ confiscations of the property of locals, religious establishments and emigrants, as well as masterpieces taken by the young Republic from both French territory and lands conquered by its victorious armies in Italy, Flanders and Germany. These works, through which visitors could trace the history of the French, Italian and northern schools, had been sent by the state two years earlier to enrich the museums it had just created in the provinces.

While there were no drawings in the first museum, a graphic arts department was established during the 19th century. The largest part consisted of Italian and especially French works dating from the 16th to the 19th century. Like the painting and sculpture collections, the graphic arts collection stands out for the number of works testifying to the richness and dynamism of artistic creation of the Provence.

A museum always ends up reflecting its artistic environment. During the museum’s two centuries of existence – thanks to the usual sources of a public collection’s enrichment: acquisitions, donations and legacies – its collections came to reflect the development of the arts in the Provence and the tastes of the local elite: the Borélys in the 18th century and Emile Ricard, Charles Magne and Hippolyte Mireur in the following century.

Two of Marseille’s museums were born of the generosity of collectors at the start of the 20th century. They are the Musée Grobet-Labadié, located in the mansion where art lover Marie Grobet lived, and the Musée Cantini, which, before it became a well-known Marseille museum of modern art, housed the remarkable old master collection of the sculptor and art patron Jules Cantini.

These two art lovers had a strong interest in the graphic arts, and many of the works in their collections have recently been reattributed. The 20th century was a good time for drawing in Marseille: in 1964, Maurice Feuillet gifted the city of Marseille a remarkable set of works on paper, most of them by great masters of the French 18th century.



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