In celebration of the city of New Orleans’ Tricentennial in 2018, the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) will present “The Orléans Collection,” an exhibition of selections from the magnificent collection of the city’s namesake, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans (1689-1723). Universally praised during his lifetime, the exceptional collection was comprised of some of the most important works in the history of art. On view from October 26, 2018 through January 27, 2019, “The Orléans Collection” will bring together, for the first time, a selection of masterpieces from institutions such as the National Gallery of London, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the National Gallery of Scotland to tell the story of the collection’s formation, its reputation, and its impact in early 18th century Paris.
“The Orléans Collection” situates Philippe II as the preeminent collector of his time. The astounding number of paintings recorded at the time of the Duke’s death—772—demonstrate the scope of his collection, which remained in his family for two generations until its sale in London in the 1790s during the French Revolution. Its dispersal represents a watershed event in the history of collecting, and contributed to the formation of Europe’s first public museums, among them, the National Gallery of London.
“The Orléans Collection” will explore aspects of Philippe II’s collection through four guiding themes: the Duke’s residence, the Palais Royal, and its grand redecoration as a center for the arts and exchange in Paris; the diplomatic and personal display of the collection in public and private spaces; the Duke of Orléans’ personal taste and psychology as a collector, and the fame and impact the collection had for visitors, contemporary artists, and collectors in Paris.
Upon the death of Louis XIV in 1715, Philippe II served as the regent of France until the young heir Louis XV came of age. After two generations of court life focused at Versailles, Philippe II’s eight-year regency represented an important shift of French social and cultural life back to Paris around the newly flourishing neighborhood on the Right Bank of the Duke’s Palais Royal.
The Duke had a remarkably developed sense of style, which is evident through his favorite paintings, and works by his court painter, Antoine Coypel, who is featured in the exhibition. He was most passionate about Renaissance Florentine and Venetian art, which hung in his grand gallery. He was also France’s first great collector of Dutch and Flemish art, which he displayed in the intimate setting of his private apartments. The installation will evoke the more coveted spaces of the Palais Royal, where many of the Duke’s notorious parties took place.
Philippe II cultivated a cosmopolitan circle and worked with agents and friends to acquire paintings. He sought to build a princely collection of international reputation, and visitors to the Palace wrote with awe of the sheer number of pictures and their sumptuous display. In 1721, the Duke’s important purchase of the collection of Queen Christina of Sweden brought over 100 masterpieces to Paris and was announced in the first Parisian art review. The collection included treasures from the Habsburg collections commissioned by Philip II of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and Rudolf II in Vienna. He purchased many other paintings, which came from European monarchs, played an important role in projecting a public image of nobility.
The final theme considers the impact of Philippe II’s collection in Paris for collectors and artists. Visitors and early guidebooks attest to the public orientation of the collection at the Palais Royal and the unique status of this princely collection as neither truly of the crown nor truly private. Many well-known French artists like Boucher and Natoire studied the collection and reinterpreted its famous paintings to the modern style.
Of the selection of masterpieces in the exhibition, one third are by Dutch and Flemish artists and four paintings are coming to New Orleans from Dutch museums. Philippe II was France’s first great collector of Dutch Art, which this exhibition highlights. While the French Royal Collection comprised notable works by northern painters, the Duke displayed the first comprehensive view of it in Paris; this part of his collection, in particular, was featured as a distinguished treasure at the PalaisRoyal. Visitors to the palace, like James Thornhill, commented on the entire education in Northern Painting the Duke’s collection offered. Among Philippe’s circle in Paris, a taste for northern pictures developed and, by the mid-eighteenth century, Dutch paintings were prized by many collectors.
Philippe II’s political and cultural ambitions guided the display of his paintings. One of the main themes explored in the exhibition is the hierarchy of status and desirability expressed in the collection’s presentation. We now see the more personal side of the ambitious, complex public figure: he preferred to display the Dutch and Flemish paintings in his private apartments. There he and those in his intimate circle could view the landscapes, genre pieces, lowlife scenes and rare Dutch nudes. The exhibition installation will include a Dutch cabinet room, and Dutch paintings will feature in two other exhibition sections as well.
As a specialist of Dutch and Flemish Art, project director Vanessa Schmid is contributing an essay examining Philippe II’s particular interest in Dutch Art. The essay will review the substantial efforts the Duke made by working with agents and dealers to secure Dutch paintings. The purchase of Adriaen van der Werff’s The Judgment of Paris was negotiated personally through letters sent by the Philippe II and the work was hung as the showpiece of his small, private dining room, where his famous, raucous dinner parties took place. Gerard Dou’s work is prominent in the collection. Dou was the most recognized Dutch genre painter beyond Dutch borders, and The Violin Player, now in the Royal Collections of Lichtenstein, is an extraordinary example of the Leiden artist’s ‘fine-painting’ technique.
Among the range of Dutch masterpieces owned by the Duke, Rembrandt’s The Mill is perhaps one of America’s best-known treasures. This picture was not hung in the private apartments, but was honoured and admired in the Grand Gallery at the Palais Royal, where visitors celebrated the painting’s incredible presence. In the period, The Holy Family at Night, then thought to be one of Rembrandt’s greatest paintings but now attributed the workshop of Rembrandt, was perhaps one of the most copied paintings of the eighteenth century. The spot-lit scene with its patient attention to detail and description of surfaces proved a fascinating challenge for artists to replicate and translate into print. This painting will serve as the point of departure from the section devoted to the fame and reputation of the collection to its role in the artistic education of artists during the Regency period.
Offering opportunities for new scholarship, NOMA’s exhibition is the first time this subject has been undertaken. The exhibition will be accompanied by a full color 300-page scholarly catalogue, by project director Vanessa Schmid, NOMA’s Senior Research Curator for European Art. The catalogue will present new research and serve as a lasting resource for scholars and the general public alike. Contributors include leading scholars in the fields represented in the collection. Essay and discussion topics include: Philippe d’Orléans: Absolute Regent by historian Alexandre Dupilet, Philippe II’s Collection by Françoise Madrus, The Louvre Museum; Antoine Coypel and the Regent by Nicole Garnier, Musée Condé; The Le Brun of Architecture: Gilles-Marie Oppenord at the Palais Royal by Jean-François Bédard, Syracuse University; Venetian Art at the Palais Royal by Xavier Salomon, The Frick Collection; The Emergence of the Bolognese School by Rachel McGarry, Minneapolis Institute of Art; The Palais Royal and Contemporary Art in Paris by Kelsey Brosnan, New Orleans Museum of Art; and The Orléans Phenomenon in Great Britain and an appendix tracing the Duke’s paintings to their current locations, both by J. Armstrong-Totten, formerly of the Getty’s Project for the Study of Provenance.
Related programs will include curator-led noontime talks, gallery tours, seminars, film screenings, lectures, and a two-day symposium, exploring the major themes behind the exhibition.
The New Orleans Museum of Art, founded in 1910 by Isaac Delgado, houses nearly 40,000 art objects encompassing 5,000 years of world art. Works from the permanent collection, along with continuously changing special exhibitions, are on view in the museum’s 46 galleries Fridays from 10 AM to 9 PM; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10 AM to 6 PM; Saturdays from 10 AM to 5 PM and Sundays from 11 AM to 5 PM. NOMA offers docent-guided tours at 1 PM every Tuesday – Sunday. The adjoining Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden features work by over 60 artists, including several of the 20th century’s master sculptors. The Sculpture Garden is open seven days a week: 9 AM to 6 PM. The New Orleans Museum of Art and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden are fully accessible to handicapped visitors and wheelchairs are available from the front desk. For more information about NOMA, call (504) 658-4100 or visit www.noma.org. Wednesdays are free admission days for Louisiana residents, courtesy of The Helis Foundation. Teenagers (ages 13-19) receive free admission every day through the end of the year, courtesy of The Helis Foundation.