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French Museum Faces “Cultural Catastrophe” After Storage Vault Floods

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Waterlogged works at Musée Girodet (all photos courtesy Claire Hansen-Béales)

Recent heavy rainfall in France has led to dangerously high water levels, but while some Paris museums have managed to safeguard their collections, staffers at the Musée Girodet found themselves with hundreds of water-damaged artworks. The Montargis-based museum in the Loire Valley is primarily dedicated to paintings by its founder, the neoclassical painter Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson — who studied under Jacques-Louis David — but also holds a number of works by other artists mainly of French, Flemish, and Italian backgrounds. Among the works affected by the floods are a number of Girodet’s creations as well as sculptures and paintings by Théodore Géricault, Francisco de Zurbarán, Jean-Jacques Feuchère, and Henry de Triqueti.

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A damaged painting (click to enlarge)

Closed for the past four years due to ongoing renovations, the Musée Girodet was set to reopen next year but will have to push back that date due to the flood, which Montargis Mayor Jean-Pierre Door described as a “cultural catastrophe.” The museum’s building sits at the center of a narrow strip of land bordered by the Loing river and a canal, but during the renovations most of its collection has been stored off-site, even closer to the water, in the underground vault of a former bank.

“This place was selected because the weather conditions were good for conservation, and the hermetic walls prevented water from entering,” museum spokeswoman Claire Hansen-Béales told Hyperallergic. “This bank safe has never flooded since its building. Unfortunately, the wave that assaulted Montargis in less than two hours on May 30 drowned the storage area. The museum had retained a maximum of works but it was impossible to [safeguard] the entire collection in two hours.”

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A sculpture covered in mud
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Pieces of a sculpture

A team spent two days pumping water that had seeped into the storage area before successfully draining it and establishing an evacuation process. While some artworks still remain inside the vault, people are actively working to move them to alternative storage areas nearby. Volunteer restorers have given their time and energy to assist in any way possible, from cleaning mud-splattered works to placing paper on paintings so the pigments do not wash away.

Hansen-Béales estimates that restorations will require hundreds of thousands of euros. To raise money for preliminary restoration processes, the local group la Société des Amis du Musée Girodet launched a campaign on the crowdfunding platform Dartagnans. As of press time, over 100 contributors have pledged nearly €9,000 (~$10,200) to the cause, which has an end goal of €30,000 (~$34,000) — what the museum considers a first step in a more comprehensive recovery process.

Meanwhile, back in Paris, the Musée d’Orsay and the Grand Palais, which closed early last week to evacuate their collections, have reopened. The Louvre, which also shuttered due to flood threats, remains closed until tomorrow — although it faced another, smaller threat today in the form of a contained fire that broke out just outside its doors. Museum officials are now assessing their collections and believe there is little to no damage.

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A museum worker examines some damaged works
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One of the damaged paintings
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One of the damaged paintings
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