In the spring of 2019, the Musée Maillol in Paris exhibited artworks from the Emil Bührle Collection from Switzerland, featuring paintings (and a few sculptures) by Manet, Degas, Renoir, Monet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Goth, Modigliani and Picasso. I went twice, once to see the collection on my own and once on a guided tour a few days later.
This was the first time the Bührle Collection had been shown in France, even though most of the paintings were by French artists or had been painted in France.
At the beginning of the exposition there was an introduction to Emil Bührle (1890-1956) and to the more problematic aspects of his art collection.
Bührle was born in Pforzheim, Germany, but later moved to Switzerland, where he became a Swiss citizen in 1937. He became wealthy by manufacturing armaments and selling them to both sides of the same conflicts in different parts of the world, and later to Germany and Italy during the Second World War.
Exhibitions of his art collection have sometimes been boycotted because of the source of his money, and because during the war he bought several paintings that had been stolen from their Jewish owners by the Nazis. He later claimed he had bought the paintings in good faith from art dealers, not knowing that they were looted artworks. In 1952 a Swiss court accepted this explanation but ordered him to return thirteen paintings to their original owners, which he did, though in some cases he was able to buy them back. All of this is documented in text panels on a wall in the exhibition.
The impressionist painter Alfred Sisley was born in France to British parents, and he never did manage to get French citizenship (though he tried), even though he lived and worked in France for most of his life. Bougival, where he painted this picture, is a town on the Seine about fifteen km west of the center of Paris, on the way to Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
Irène Cahen d’Anvers (1872–1963), the daughter of a wealthy Paris banker, was eight years old when Auguste Renoir painted her portrait in 1880. Eleven years later, when she was 19, she married the 31-year-old Count Moïse de Camondo in what a recent article describes as “a fairy tale wedding” that united two major banking families and “was the talk of Paris for months.” Later, their messy divorce dragged on for six years and was no doubt also ‘the talk of Paris’ in a completely different way. After that, things only got worse for everyone involved, as I have outlined in my post on the Nissim de Camondo Museum in Paris.
On a Sunday morning I went on an informative guided tour of the Bührle Collection (in French) which I had booked in advance through the museum’s website.
Next door to the Maillol Museum is a mysterious monumental stone construction, which I thought must once have been the façade of some kind of palace. But no, it turned out to be the Fontaine des Quatre-Saisons (“Fountain of the Four Seasons”), which was built in the eighteenth century and was intended to provide water to the residents of this part of the city. It was criticized at the time (by Voltaire, in particular) for being totally out of proportion to the narrow street where it was located, and for having only two little tiny water spouts at the bottom where people could come to fill their buckets, assuming the water was even running.
Behind the Fountain of the Four Seasons there is a courtyard which is now used as a self-service outdoor restaurant whenever the weather permits. This is not an environmentally friendly restaurant, since they use throw-away plastic dishes and utensils, but otherwise it is a pleasant place to go for a quick salad or snack after visiting the museum. I’ve tried two of their salads so far (named after famous painters), and liked them both, but for a more substantial Sunday meal I went to a traditional restaurant, Les Ambassades, just around the corner on Rue du Bac.
This Vélib’ bicycle station in the middle strip of Boulevard Raspail, near Rue de Varenne, is where I docked my Vélib’ bike when I went to the Maillol Museum. Another nearby Vélib’ station, perhaps a few steps closer to the museum, is number 7005 at the corner of Rue du Bac and Boulevard Raspail.
My photos in this post are from 2019. I wrote the text in 2019 and 2022.
See also: Dina Vierny and the Maillol Museum.