Barely half a century ago, outside our museums and national collections, the search for works of art from past times was still the privilege of a small number of enlightened enthusiasts; and if the masterpieces of ancient Greek and Italian art had fervent followers, the memories of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries met, with rare exceptions, with almost general indifference.
We are already a long way from that time, and there are now few periods in our national history whose products are not the subject of incessant study and assiduous research. The reaction began with the Middle Ages, and the works of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries first regained favour with an irresistible impetus; the Renaissance followed the movement, and then came the opulent products of the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI, justly appreciated today after a long period of neglect; So much so that in our time, not to mention the numerous beautiful private collections assembled by amateurs as passionate as they are erudite, there is not an elegant home in which one does not find some souvenirs of the past exhumed from the family cupboards, brought back from the city or the country and placed in evidence like pious relics. The study of our national history has become a need for all, and the debris of the past has acquired a boundless value.
By opening in the Palace of the Universal Exhibition of 1867 a gallery intended to receive the works of the centuries that preceded us, and by placing them alongside modern industries, whose products methodically classified in the Champ de Mars attract the attention of the whole world and give a very complete idea of the productive force and power of civilised nations, the Imperial Commission was thus responding to a general feeling. The aim it set itself is, moreover, clearly defined in the short statement which precedes the decree constituting the Commission on the History of Labour: "To facilitate, for the practice of the arts and the study of their history, the comparison of the products of man's labour at different times and among different peoples, to provide producers of all kinds with models to imitate, and to draw public attention to those who preserve the works of past times. "This is the goal that the Commission on the History of Labour must have sought to achieve, and let us hasten to add that if it has been able to fulfil it, it owes it above all to the eager support given to it by most of our collectors in the interest of a work that is eminently national and the results of which need not be emphasised here.
Already, in recent years, an archaeological exhibition reminiscent of that of the Kensington Museum opened in London at the time of the last universal competition, had been organised at the Palais de l'industrie, by a society composed of artists and industrialists of renown and not hesitating to make any sacrifice to ensure the triumph of their principles, summarised in the very title of their association, "Union of the fine arts applied to industry. "This exhibition, directed by M. Guichard, the active and intelligent president of the society, and carried out by him and his colleagues, had been a resounding success and had been received with special favour.
But, this first time, collectors were called upon to bring purely and simply the riches of all kinds, of all periods and of all countries that they had in their possession, to exhibit them and to deliver them for study without distinction of origin, century or nationality. This was already a first and important result, without precedent in France, and to which the public had applauded as sincerely as unanimously.
The commission on the history of the work of the Universal Exhibition of 1867 had a quite different task to fulfil; it had first of all to appeal to the various foreign powers for the success of the common work, and to lay down the bases of a general classification, while leaving to each country the care and details of its organisation. Most of the countries of Europe responded to this appeal, and the retrospective collections sent by England, Austria, Portugal, Russia, Sweden and Norway, the Netherlands, and Rumania, rightly attracted the attention of visitors to the Champ de Mars. Italy itself, after long and numerous difficulties, has ended up, without detaching anything from its public and private galleries, by forming a brilliant exhibition by drawing from the Parisian collections.
As for the French section, the commission wanted to organise it in such a way as to give a precise idea of the importance of our industrial arts at all periods of our history by admitting only objects of national origin, to the exclusion of all foreign products; it was therefore necessary, as it said in one of its circulars, to adopt a methodical classification likely to make the chronological succession of the progress, transformations and even decadences of our industrial arts felt. This classification divides into ten clear-cut periods the Exhibition of the History of Work, which occupies the gallery between the Beaux-Arts and the Central Garden, and includes in its development the entire space adjacent to the modern sections of French industry.
The divisions adopted are as follows:
1° Gaul before the use of metals. - Comprising the utensils of bone and stone
with the bones of animals now lost from the soil of France, but found with these utensils and able to indicate the period to which they belong.
2° Independent Gaul. - Weapons and utensils of bronze and stone; terracotta objects.
3° Gaul during the Roman domination. - Bronzes; weapons; Gallic coins; goldsmith's and silversmith's work, jewellery; clay figurines, pottery, etc.
4° The Franks until the coronation of Charlemagne. - Bronzes; coins; goldsmith's and silversmith's work; jewellery; weapons; pottery; manuscripts; charters, etc.
5° The Carolingians, from the beginning of the ninth to the end of the eleventh century. - Sculptures, ivories, bronzes; coins; seals; silverware; weapons; manuscripts, etc.
6° The Middle Ages, from the beginning of the twelfth century to the reign of Louis XI, in 1483: statuary; sculpture in ivory, wood, etc., furniture; bronzes; coins; seals; silverware; jewellery; weapons and armour; manuscripts, miniatures; inlaid and champlevé enamels; pottery, tapestries; fabrics, embroidery, etc.
7° The Renaissance, from Charles VIII to Henry IV in 1610 - Including, like the Middle Ages, the products of sculpture, goldsmiths, cutlery, and armoury; then those of clock-making, painted enamels, glazed earthenware, those known as Henry II's, the works of Bernard Palissy, glassware, tapestries, fabrics, embroidery, bookbinding, etc.
8° The reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, from 1610 to 1715, in which, in addition to the products of the previous centuries, we find carved and gilded wood furnishings, marquetry enhanced with gilded bronzes, Nevers and Rouen earthenware, as well as Rouen and Saint-Cloud porcelain.
9° The reign of Louis XV, from 1715 to 1775, including, apart from the above-mentioned objects, the porcelains of Chantilly, Mennecy, Vincennes and Sèvres; the earthenware of Moustiers, Marseille, Alsace, Lorraine, Picardy, Brittany, etc., etc.
10° The reign of Louis XVI and the French Revolution, from 1775 to 1800.
The eagerness of the principal amateurs of Paris and the departments, of the high clergy, of the municipal collections, to respond to the call which had been addressed to them by the commission of the history of work was such that a rigorous choice had to be made before delivering to the public the rooms of the French section.
A special jury, composed of the most eminent collectors as well as the scholars in charge of our main public establishments, and divided into five sections, each presided over by a member of the commission, was charged with examining and selecting the objects of art and antiquity sent from all parts of France and even from abroad, and any piece unworthy of being included in this great collection was set aside. - It should be added that the Imperial Commission assumed the costs of transport to and from the exhibition, of installation and arrangement, recognising that it was responsible for all the objects entrusted to the Commission de l'histoire du travail for the value of which the latter would have accepted the prior declaration.
The Retrospective Exhibition, opened in London in 1862, in the Great Hall of the Kensington Museum, included, apart from the objects belonging to the principal collectors of the United Kingdom, a large number of precious pieces kept in the galleries of the State, the palaces of the Crown, the treasures of the corporations. - In France, the law which governs our public institutions and ensures the preservation of the riches they contain, forbids the removal of any objects belonging to our museums and national collections; the exhibition of the history of work could therefore only consist of works extracted from private galleries, municipal museums and church treasures, to the absolute exclusion of any product belonging to the State, as well as to the Crown.
Le concours des musées du Louvre, de ceux de l'hôtel de Cluny, de Saint-Thomas d'Aquin, du cabinet des médailles et antiques, des Bibliothèques impériales et nationales eût considérablement simplifié les opérations de la commission de l'Histoire du travail; But apart from the regulations which it had as its first mission to enforce, there was a powerful interest in preserving the complete and integral physiognomy of our national collections, our museums and our libraries, at a time when the whole of Europe, called to Paris by the Universal Exhibition of 1867, was invited to visit them.
The French galleries of the History of Labour at the Palais du Champ de Mars are therefore composed solely of objects belonging to the main private collections of Paris, the départements, and sometimes even abroad, which have been entrusted by their owners to the care of the commission.
They also include everything that the cathedrals and churches of France have been willing to detach from their treasures, as well as a large number of precious objects of national origin that the museums of the principal cities of France have been quick to make available to the Commission de l'histoire du travail, following the first appeal to the municipal administrations.
The number of consignments was considerable, and we should like to be able to mention here the names of all the owners of archaeological treasures who were willing to relinquish, for the duration of the Universal Exhibition, valuable collections assembled at great expense.
Their number exceeds 480, and if we were allowed to limit ourselves to mentioning a few of them, taking them at random, we would mention, in the series of prehistoric times first of all, the collections of MM. Lartet and Christy, of the Marquis de Vibraye, of Messrs Bailleau and Feningre, those of Abbé Bourgeois, of Doctor Garrigou, of M. Peccadeau de l'isle, and M. Brun, of Messrs Belgrand, Filhol, Reboux, of Doctor Eug. Robert, M. le comte Costa de Beau-regard, and M. Marchant de Dijon, who exhibited the most beautiful specimens of instruments in cut flint, utensils made of deer and reindeer antlers, vases from the lacustrine stations of the Lac du Bourget, pottery, ornaments, bracelets and necklaces of all kinds, coming from different parts of France and belonging to the so-called Cave Periods, to the various Stone Ages, as well as to the transitional centuries. In the same room we would also find numerous objects entrusted to the commission by the museums of Poitiers, Tours, Narbonne, Saint-Lô, Auxerre, and the beautiful discovery of the Dolmen of Manné-er-H'roek in the municipality of Locmariaquer, kept in the museum of Vannes.
In the series of Celtic and Gallo-Roman periods, we should mention the contributions of M. Julien Gréau, of Troyes; those of M. Ed. Barry, of Toulouse; of M. de Glanville, of Rouen; of M. Jules Chevrier, of Chalon-sur-Saône; of M. Duquenelle, of Reims; of M. le baron de Girardot, of Nantes; of M. Charvet; those of M. Hucher, of Le Mans; of Comman Oppermann, of MM. d'Amécourt, Esmonnot and Bertrand, of Moulins; Revoil, of Nîmes; Benjamin Fillon, of Fontenay-le-Comte, and so many others that the scope of this notice obliges us to pass over in silence.
The archaeological societies of the province and the departmental museums have sent a powerful contingent to this second series which embraces independent Gaul and Gaul during the Roman domination; let us mention only the archaeological committee of Senlis, the society for the conservation of the historical monuments of Alsace, the museums of Lyon, Poitiers, Rennes, Saint-Lô, Falaise, Melun, Auxerre; those of Le Mans, Annecy, Rouen, Beauvais, Chartres, Moulins, Meaux, Aix, Beaone, Nîmes, Arles, Soissons; then finally those of Saverne, Beauvais, Troyes, Caen, Boulogne and Narbonne, without forgetting the museum of Toulouse, whose magnificent gold necklaces found in the Haute-Garonne, at Fenouillet, recall the most beautiful treasures of antiquity.
If we pass to the Frankish period and the Carlovingian era, we find the same competition on the part of all the possessors of ancient objects, and the same eagerness on the part of the enlightened administrators of the departmental collections; the invaluable objects entrusted by the museums of Dieppe, of Le Mans, by those of Boulogne, of Beauvais, the college of Vervins, the museums of Arras, Troyes, and Tours occupy the major part of the room devoted to the first of these series with the suite of coins of M. le
Viscount de Ponton d'Amécourt and the fine consignments of Messrs Carrand, Alfred Ramé, Rollin and Feuardent, of Doctor Closmadeuc and of the library of the seminary of Autun.
We have said that the commission on the history of work had received the most active support from the high clergy of France. This assistance can be found as early as the Carolingian era. The treasure of the cathedral of Sens, that of Sainte-Trophime of Arles, the church of Sainte-Paule of the Côtes-du-Nord, that of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, the seminary of Autun, the church of Saint-Andoche of Saulieu, those of Chelles, of Saint-Orens of Auch, and the cathedral of Troyes are worthily represented, next to the splendid flabellum of the abbey of Tour-nus, belonging to M. Carrand, of Lyon, of the equestrian statue of Charlemagne, of Mrs. Evans Lombe, of the evangeliaries and psalters of the library of Troyes and of the beautiful manuscripts of the collection A. Firmin-Didot collection.
The large room reserved for the Middle Ages, from the beginning of the twelfth century up to and including the reign of Louis XI, also draws most of the riches it contains from the treasures of our churches and departmental collections. These are : the beautiful ivory Virgin of the Lyon museum, that of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, the candelabra of Saint Remy, from the Rheims museum; the crosses of Angers, Sen-lis, Narbonne, Versailles; the large shawls of Troyes, Mauzac, Rouen; the famous chalice of Saint-Remy of Rheims, the reliquaries of Chartres, Le Mans, Poitiers, Bousbecque, Toulouse; the tapestries of Angers cathedral, those of Rheims, and a thousand other objects precious for their origin and the historical memories attached to them.
In the Renaissance gallery, private collections dominate, and apart from the nave of Sainte-Ursule, the reliquary of Rheims, some large and beautiful pieces of religious goldsmithery and enamelware, the arms of the museums of Lyon, those of Draguignan and Rennes, we would have to cite many names known and appreciated in the field of art and curiosity.
It is here that we find the entire collection of earthenware by Palissy and his school, that of Oiron, known as Henry II's earthenware, this admirable series of painted enamels, signed by the most esteemed names of the Limoges school, and all the charming products of sixteenth-century French art, taken from the galleries of Barons James, Alphonse and Gustave de Rothschild, of M. le baron de Theis, de M. Dutuit, de Rouen, de M. le capitaine Leyland, de Londres, de M. le duc de Mouchy, de M. le vicomte de Tusseau, deM. d'Yvon, de la princesse Czartoriska, de celles de Mlle Grandjean, de Mme la baronne Salomon de Rothschild, du comte de Reiset et de tant d'autres collections justement célèbres
The rooms devoted to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries follow the Renaissance gallery and extend across the transverse path, from the vestibule where the large relief plan of the Restoration of the Tombs of Saint Denis, executed with rare skill by M. Villeminot under the direction of M. Viollet-le-Duc, is placed, to the exhibition of the Netherlands which opens the series of foreign sections on this side.
It is here that the large and beautiful pieces of furniture decorated with marquetry and gilded bronzes, sent by the city of Poitiers, by Baron Le Pic, the Duke of Mouchy, Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, the Count of Chauveau, M. d'Yvon and the Count of Pontgibaud; the marbles and statues of Messrs. Strauss and Beurdeley, the series of elegant furnishing bronzes by Mr. Viscount Clerc; the fine specimens of the earthenware factories of Rouen, Nevers, Moustiers, Marseille, etc., belonging to Messrs, belonging to Messrs Maillet du Boullay, Davillier, Aigoin, Morel, Périlleux, Delaunay, Achille Jubinal, Bigle, in the museums of Rouen and Nevers; French porcelain of the first periods; the soft pastes of Sèvres; the pieces of religious goldsmithery entrusted to the commhsion by the cathedral of Troyes, by Mr. le vicomte d'Aigneaux; the priestly vestments of the cathedral of Rheims and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, as well as the precious series of French prints gathered by M. A. Firmin Didot for the history of printing from the origin to our days in the cities of Paris and Lyon.
Further on are all the movable objects from the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI brought by M. Double and whose collection forms a very interesting whole for the history of these last periods; furniture enhanced with fine marquetry, bronzes chiselled by the first artists of the time, marbles, statuettes, figurines, vases of all kinds, pieces of silverware, weapons, tapestries, fabrics, complete services in old Sèvres porcelain, forming a set of perfectly chosen specimens of the most varied industries in honour in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Silver and table silverware are represented by the justly famous collections of M. le baron Pichon, M. le comte de Pontgibaud, M. le comte d'Armaillé; and the showcases contain the most charming samples of French jewellery, enamel, Martin varnish, rock crystal, and gold boxes belonging to H. A. le duc Georges de Mecklembourg, to the duc de Mouchy, to M. de La Rochefoucauld duc "de Bisaccia, to M. Léopold Double, to MM. Hunt and Roskell of London, with the old Sèvres vases of MM. Thiac, vicomte de Saint-Pierre, Beurdeley, de Sampayo and the rock crystals of M. Baur, etc.
The collections sent by M. de La Faulotte, the Count of La Béraudière and M. Spitzer also occupy an important place in the last two rooms of the French section, and the furniture objects which compose them, bronzes, marbles, porcelains, are of an irreproachable choice. We would also like to mention the series of antique watches belonging to Mme d'Hargeville, comprising more than one hundred and fifty pieces of French origin and exquisite taste, the beautiful marbles and porcelains of Mlle Grandjean, those of Mme la marquise de Fénelon, Mme la baronne le Coulteux, the comte de Beaussier, Dr Coqueret, the vicomte de Pulligny, M. Delamarre, the varnished furniture of M. Delamarre, and those of Mme d'Hargeville. We have to refer to the catalogue currently being published by the Commission de l'histoire du travail.
We cannot, however, leave these galleries without saying a word about the precious collection of fans belonging to Mme Fur-tado, to Doctor Piogey, to M. le baron Pichon, to the comte d'Estampes, to MM. Duvelleroy, Vannier, Voisin, Duvauchel and Singer, and without glancing at Oberkampf's first attempts, in 1760, at printing Jouy canvases, the interesting samples of which have been devoutly conserved by M. La Bouchère.
The Illustrated World's Fair proposes to publish a certain number of the most precious objects belonging to the various periods of the history of work, either in the French section or in the various foreign sections; We shall therefore have the opportunity to return in detail to an exhibition of which we have been able to give only a very inadequate idea and which responds, as we said, to a general need, today that the taste for objects of art and high curiosity is universally widespread, while presenting in its entirety an eye-catcher whose variety, unexpectedness and richness must be sufficient to charm the most indifferent.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée