Three paintings from the collection of the Louvre, and another 200 canvases belonging to a local maritime museum, went up in flames last Tuesday, when severe lightning caused a fire on the small island of Tatihou on the French side of the English Channel.
Around 7:30pm local time on July 18, the storage building of the Musée Tatihou caught fire, according to Ouest France. About one third of the building was destroyed in the blaze, along with artworks collectively valued at €2 million (~$2.3 million), Le Figaro reported. The fire was extinguished by 10:15pm.
The three paintings in storage on Tatihou from the Louvre were: Alexandre Casati’s “The Fish Sale” (19th century); a 17th century seascape by an unknown Dutch painter; and “Still Life with Fish,” by an unknown painter from the southern Netherlands.
“The Louvre museum expresses its great solidarity with the teams of the Museum of Tatihou and the Departmental Council of La Manche after this grave incident,” the Louvre’s administration said in a statement sent to Hyperallergic. “Three paintings from the Louvre in storage at that museum were unfortunately destroyed in the incident.”
There were no fatalities or injuries as a result of the fire, and the island — a popular tourist destination managed by the Departmental Council of La Manche — opened to the public the following morning on schedule.
“This is a loss of patrimony,” Philippe Bas, the president of the Departmental Council, said in a statement, “this represents 25 years of work and collecting that went up in smoke, but it’s a relief that there were no human casualties. It’s important to underline that.”
The Musée de Tatihou opened in 1992 and is devoted to chronicling the history, through historical artifacts and artworks, of the five grand French ships that sunk nearby in the naval battles of Barfleur and La Hougue (1692) between the French and a fleet of English and Dutch ships. Its collection includes many objects recovered from the wrecks — including canons, lifeboats, and even the figurehead from the prow of one of the ships — as well as artworks with nautical themes like seascapes and still lifes with fish and seafood.
Tiny Tatihou island is home to many historic sites, including remnants of a Bronze Age settlement from between 1500 and 1250 BCE. In the aftermath of the French defeat in the naval battles of 1692, a fort was built on the island, its most distinctive feature is the Tour Vauban, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 along with 11 other forts built by Louis XIV’s military strategist, the Marquis de Vauban.
In the early 18th century, partly in response to the Great Plague of Marseille, quarantine facilities were built on the island to control the access of goods and merchants from the North and Mediterranean seas to the French mainland. Those buildings now house the Musée de Tatihou and the storage facility that was partly destroyed in last week’s fire.