Since its creation in 1897, the Société des Amis du Louvre, an association which does not receive State funding, has contributed to the wealth of the Louvre Museum’s collections. Over its existence, it has acquired, thanks to the passion of over 60,000 members, around 800 masterpieces, which it has donated to the museum.
Louis-Antoine Prat was elected as president of the Amis du Louvre in 2016, taking over from Académie Française member Marc Fumaroli who had presided over the association since 1996. Through its renown and the size of its community, the Société des Amis du Louvre has become France’s leading association devoted to the expansion of museum collections. In the current economic context in which State grants are increasingly meagre, sponsorship is a collective lever that has grown in prominence. Louis-Antoine Prat is an author and a teacher at the École du Louvre, specialised in drawing. A passionate collector, he has belonged since 1979 to the Société des Amis of which he is now president.
What led you to the Société des Amis du Louvre? Is your passion for collecting the main element in your path?
I was lucky to live surrounded by art ever since I was a child. My mother took me to the Louvre, and my father, an art lover rather than a collector, left behind varied piles of works. After studying literature and studying at Sciences Po, my wife and I enrolled up until doctoral level at the École du Louvre, driven by a joint desire to better understand the works around us. I became a project manager in the Graphic Arts department 40 years ago. Initially a scientific contributor, my task was to curate exhibitions and draw up inventories. Following a real-estate sale and inspired by the drawing seminars that we followed at the Louvre, we began a collection by making purchases at Drouot and from dealers. I had the luck to be very close to some specialists at the time – Jacques Thuillier, Pierre Rosenberg, Jacques Foucart, Jean-Pierre Cuzin, who gradually recognised me as being worthy of their trust. In 1990, Pierre Rosenberg showed the collection in the United States, then in 1995 at the Louvre — the first time that a private collection was shown at the Louvre — to which we gave a considerable number of drawings subject to usufruct, something that we continue to do. A travelling exhibition started in New York in 2004, organised by Pierre Rosenberg, in Barcelona in 2007 and in 2010 in Sydney. We have a project for Venice and the Museo Correr for next year, as well as the Bemberg Foundation in Toulouse. This collection is limited to one era and one school: the history of French drawing from 1600 to 1900 (which I taught for ten years at the École du Louvre), from Callot and Poussin to Seurat and Cézanne, producing publications of works and corpuses on Poussin, David, Watteau, with Rosenberg. In short, I’ve outlined the life of an art historian, art lover, and collector, marked early on by the presence of the Amis du Louvre association, which was more discreet and less dynamic at that time. In 1979, the then president, Jacques Dupont, a great collector, asked me to join the board. I went on to occupy the roles of deputy general secretary, general secretary, then vice president while Marc Fumaroli was president, until my election.
How would you sum up your aims?
My aims relate to two things: continuation and preservation. Continuation because this is a very old association, whose members have grown in recent years. When I first got to know the association, there were 10,000 members, compared with 60,000 today, representing subscriptions of €2 to 3 million per year. These add to the Louvre’s annual budget for acquisitions and its restoration credits, representing 20 % of museum admissions, in other words around €8 million per year. Des Mécènes par milliers, the catalogue published in 1997 to mark the association’s centenary, sums up this growth; another publication to celebrate our 120 years of existence will reflect the work achieved in the 20 years of Marc Fumaroli’s mandate. Continuing this policy means trying to federate the largest number of individual sponsors. This great adventure of collective sponsorship is the main aim of the Société. The collective dimension is crucial.
The other aspect is preservation. We mustn’t forget that we are an association, and we must conserve independence in the midst of interdependence. We depend on the Louvre, which has entrusted us management of all its entrance cards, through which we facilitate constant access to the museum. We must be attentive to the museum and support it, while defining our own personality by a certain purchasing policy, which depends on the hazards of the market. Recently, we have favoured crown jewels, 18th century silverware, rare works by masters such as David’s painting from his period of exile in Brussels, Watteau’s beautiful drawing for the centenary, or a very rare Egyptian statue from the Middle Empire. We try to “fill in the holes” of collections. When a work comes up for sale, it’s necessary to react very quickly. Thanks to our board’s attentiveness and reactivity, a purchase can be decided on within 24 hours, as opposed to heavier museum acquisition procedures which can last several months.
Have the Société’s activities taken on a multiple aspect?
It’s true that our activity is characterised by receptions to mark events, intellectual enrichment and acquisitions. Sébastien Fumaroli has nurtured the aspect of unifying members: he organises voyages, lecture tours specially conducted for certain categories of our members, evenings to mark a festive event, plays or concerts. We privilege the most generous category of benefactors as we can’t invite all 60,000 members. There are three categories of donors: members, corporate members and benefactors, with different subscription rates: €80, €120, €1,000. Recently, we held big soirées to thank our big donors who are sponsor trustees: Michel-David Weill and his wife, and Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, a member of our board, who financed purchases of antiquities and restoration of the Borghese Gladiator. In our quarterly bulletin, agreement was made on a wide panel of offers. Dinner-shows are opportunities to bring an artist to the Louvre (William Christie concert in front of the Winged Victory in 2015). We recently supported the Tessin exhibition, organised trips with curators on the theme of the exhibition, financed a cocktail at the Swiss Institute in honour of the Graphic Arts department, invited 400 members to an advance screening of the film on Hieronymus Bosch at the Marignan Cinema. These are elements of our outreach activities.
We have a wide vision on what it means to love and help the Louvre. The enrichment of the museum occurs through objects, but also through its promotion. Recently, we voted in favour of meeting the cost of renovating all the rooms holding 18th century objets d’art. We took charge of the renovation and decoration of the official chamber of the Duc de Chevreuse, representing an expense of €3 million over three years. Recently, we also voted in a grant to allow young members to take part in digs organised near Rome, in Gabii, Etruria. This is a means of intellectual enrichment; the digs will enable documentation of works at the Louvre, such as Napoleon’s purchases or pieces from the Borghese collection.
In this context of broadening our sponsorship policy, we can also mention support for two journals. Historically, the first is La Revue du Louvre, a journal of the Musées de France: a scholarly publication on museum collections, which we finance entirely and distribute to our benefactors along with five catalogues from the Louvre’s exhibitions. We also support, through our members’ subscriptions, the more generalist and less erudite publication, Grande Galerie, released four times a year, and printed in 50,000 copies. This pure diffusion of knowledge is in line with a pedagogical approach. The Ami du Louvre may be a scholar, an art lover, or a stroller. He’ll want to come back if we look after him.
Who are the targets of sponsorship projects?
We don’t have specific categories or targets, and we start very early because you can be a Friend of the Louvre from age four onwards, with a card that you can give to your children or grandchildren to awaken their interest in the museum. There are thousands of us sponsors, and we call on all good intentions.
How do you decide on future acquisitions? Do you carry out an information watch on the art market?
The Amis du Louvre have no personal collection, and the objects that are purchased always go to the museum. These depend on the hazards of the market, so we need to keep informed. We have the same expectations as private collectors, along with the same shortcomings: we don’t know what tomorrow’s market will hold. When professionals have objects likely to interest us, they contact the Société or curators. The board is made up of 32 members elected by the general assembly every four years, which elects the president and votes on the acquisitions. It would be complex and not very discreet to hold referendums among the 60,000 members. The board is primarily composed of art lovers and sponsors, curators along with a few great connoisseurs who make donations directly. We also receive bequeaths which may take the form of share portfolios or a sum of money coming with a request. Several years ago, a member bequeathed us his garage and asked that a German painting missing from the Louvre be purchased. This was how a Lessing work found itself on the Louvre’s picture rails! A doctor couple bequeathed us €4 million, which enabled us to buy Empress Eugenie’s diamonds, exhibited with the Crown jewels. We buy for all departments without showing favour, but it’s more difficult and rarer for antiques as producer countries often have a legislative arsenal that prevents export – whether Italy, where everything is notificato, or Mesopotamia where war and looting are underway…
What sort of compensation is offered to sponsors?
There is no compensation of the sort as seen at Orsay recently, when the donation made by the Hays couple entailed major renovations. The museum is always reticent to commit to this restrictive type of compensation as it is not extendable. AXA, for example, contributed to the purchase of the national treasure, Portrait du comte Mathieu-Louis Molé by Ingres — the most expensive work to ever be purchased by the Louvre — and deducted 90 % of the sum paid and 5 % of communication expenses. We helped to acquire Comte Molé and 18th century silverwork tureens. The Amis du Louvre intervene either individually or collectively through the voting of the credit by the board. When the Louvre wishes to make a purchase, we can help it financially or collaborate in the project, with the museum calling on its own corporate sponsorship and crowdfunding initiatives, in which the Amis intervene on an individual basis.
Where do you situate yourself as a collector?
I’ve already been in a situation where I’ve been in competition, but if I know that a work rouses the interest of a museum, then I withdraw. Sometimes with regret!
Do you exercise pre-emptive rights in auction rooms?
If the curators plan to acquire an object, the museum will pre-empt it and turn to us for the financing validated upstream by our board. Going back to crowdfunding, very recently, the Musée du Louvre called on participatory sponsorship, for a campaign to restore the funerary chapel of the tomb of Akhethtep, an ancient Egyptian treasure. The objective has been set at €500,000 by 30 January 2017.
By becoming an Ami du Louvre, you participate in an act of collective sponsorship and benefit from advantages, including free priority access to the museum’s collections and exhibitions for a one-year period. The reception desk for the Amis du Louvre is located under the Pyramid, Paris 75001. www.amisdulouvre.fr