History of collections


Tobias Rehberger, Outsiderin et Arroyo grande 30.04.02 -11.08.02, 2002 © Tobias Rehberger © photo : Manuel Braun

Having inherited the collections of the musée du Luxembourg, created in 1818 to house state purchases from living French artists, the musée mational d'art moderne-centre de création industrielle now contains Europe's leading collection of modern and contemporary art. It is also one of the largest in the world, with over 100 000 works dating from 1905 to the present day.

Initially set up in the Palais de Tokyo in 1947, the collection was based on the musée du Luxembourg's store of works by French artists, and those of the Musée du Jeu de Paume, dedicated to contemporary foreign schools. Its first director, Jean Cassou, sought out donations and purchases from artists to fill the gaps in the national collections. The core, consisting of masterpieces by Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Robert Delaunay, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso.  

When the Centre Pompidou opened in 1977 and the museum moved into the new building designed by architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, the collection began to expand in a new way. The institution's multidisciplinary standpoint, focused on truly topical creation, profoundly influenced the Centre Pompidou's purchasing policy by including contemporary artists and opening out to art from all over the world. Major figures in modern art previously absent from the museum now entered the collection, including Giorgio de Chirico, René Magritte, Piet Mondrian and Jackson Pollock, alongside key names in the international contemporary scene, like Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Lucio Fontana and Yves Klein.

Now laid out in a new, deliberately decompartmentalised way, the museum circuit revealed the wide diversity of contemporary art and new territories of creation. Photography made an appearance, together with moving images, experimental films and videos. The expansion of the collections was spectacular, and in 1993, the museum entered a new phase in its history with the incorporation of industrial creation and the architecture and design collection. It was now called the musée national d'art moderne-centre de création industrielle. Since then, its collections have continued to grow (largely through the generosity of its donors), and to open out to new art scenes.

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The modern collection (from 1905 to the 1960's)

The modern collection consists of over 7 000 works in the field of the visual arts (paintings, sculptures and objects) produced by 1 535 artists born before 1920, together with over 800 anonymous works in the realm of tribal arts.

These works are exhibited on the fifth floor of the permanent collections in rotation, in a circuit that starts chronologically at the beginning of the 20th century with the Fauve revolution.

The modern collection contains groups of major works by all the leading figures in modern art, reflecting the movements that shaped modernity, including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Constantin Brancusi, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Fernand Léger, Raoul Dufy, Juan Gris, Marcel Duchamp, Henri Laurens, Jean Arp, Wassily Kandinsky and František Kupka. The reconstruction of André Breton's studio – a "collection within a collection" and a place of intellectual inspiration – is a highlight in the museum's Surrealism circuit. The post-war period is also well represented through movements such as Informal Art (Jean Dubuffet, Jean Fautrier and others), Lyric Abstraction and CoBrA.

The contemporary collection (from the 1960's to the 1990's)

The works here, by artists born after 1920, make up a collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and installations integrating new media.

Brought together just when the musée national d'art moderne moved into the Centre Pompidou, the collection contains over 2 000 works by 750 artists, including historical figures like Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko, Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys, Christian Boltanski, Annette Messager and Bill Viola.

Contemporary and progressive creation (from the 1990's onwards)

The collection of contemporary and progressive creation focuses on artists born after 1960, with works dating from 1990 to the present day. It consists of around 400 paintings, sculptures and installations, often multidisciplinary, exhibited in rotation in numerous hangs on the fourth floor of the museum, and elsewhere within and outside the Centre Pompidou.

Since the year 2000, the collection has expanded to include works by Yaël Bartana, Karla Black, Mircea Cantor, Olafur Eliasson, Koo Jeong A, Guyton Walker, Roman Ondák, Gabriel Orozco, Philippe Parreno, Anri Sala and Adrián Villar Rojas...

The photography collection

The musée national d'art moderne now houses Europe's largest collection of photographs, with 40 000 prints and over 60 000 negatives. It contains several major historic collections, and is now one of the few collections in the world that covers the entire history of modern and contemporary photography in all its diversity. Highlights from the Twenties and Thirties include the work of Man Ray, Brassaï, de Constantin Brancusi and New Vision and Surrealist artists, while recent additions include contemporary photographs from the Eighties to the present day.

The collection can be seen in the Galerie de Photographies, an area of 200 m2, where admission is free. Photography is also well-represented within the museum in the multidisciplinary circuit of modern and contemporary collections, where the disciplines dialogue together.

The design collection

Design also features in the collections, fostering a constant dialogue with the visual arts and architecture. To date, the design collection contains over 5 000 French and international pieces by nearly 400 designers, around a hundred of whom are French.  

Modern pieces (by the Union des Artistes Modernes), and those from Italy and Scandinavia are represented through the fundamental work carried out by Charlotte Perriand, Pierre Chareau, Eileen Gray and Jean Prouvé. Monograph collections, brought together at the Centre Pompidou through major donations, are dedicated to Serge Mouille, Ettore Sottsass Jr., Michele de Lucchi, Richard Sapper, Philippe Starck and Vincent Perrottet.

With a wide variety of prototypes, elements of design and exceptional pieces, the collection provides a constantly-renewed interpretation of the history of design, from the masterpieces of a highly imaginative modernity to works with an eye to the future.

The cinema collection

Experimental films, artists' films, film installations, video, HD

The cinema collection consists of works by experimental film directors, and films and installations created by visual artists. In 1976, Pontus Hulten, the first director of the musée national d'art moderne at the Centre Pompidou, commissioned a programme entitled "A history of the cinema" from Peter Kubelka, a key proponent of the experimental school, for which the museum bought the first hundred films making up the core of the collection. It now includes 1 300 works by visual artists and film directors from a wide range of geographic and cultural backgrounds. From Voyage dans la lune by Georges Méliès (1902) to Untitled by Trisha Donnelly (2015), the collection covers over a century of experimental and artistic film practices that have developed on the sidelines of industrial cinema.

Each year, the Centre Pompidou acquires new works, both historic and contemporary, which it preserves in their shooting format. One of its tasks is to carry out constantly-evolving digitisation campaigns in order to safeguard our film heritage. Another is to distribute these films, which it does using all the means provided by today's digital technology.

The new media collection

The Centre Pompidou houses the world's leading collection of new media works: 160 multimedia installations and nearly 2 000 multiples (video tapes, sound tracks, CR-ROMs and websites) dating from 1963 to the present day. The "new media" field covers not only video works produced on a digital support but also works that come from other media, like the cinema, converted onto digital supports for distribution requirements.

From the first installation that entered the collection in 1976 – Present Continuous Past(s) by Dan Graham – numerous acquisitions have formed a corpus of historical installations unique to the Centre Pompidou, thanks to the institution's forward-looking interest in this type of work. In addition, numerous works have been produced or co-produced by the new media department and acquired through commissions from artists. Iconic works in the collection include New Skin by Doug AitkenHors-Champs by Stan Douglas, Corps Etranger by Mona Hatoum and SWITCH by Tony Oursler, together with landmark works like Zapping Zone (Proposals for an Imaginary Television) and Immemory by Chris Marker.

The graphic art collection

The cabinet d’art graphique of the musée national d'art moderne houses the Centre Pompidou's collection of works on paper. It includes around 20 000 drawings and prints. This collection, swelled by those of the Jeu de Paume and the musée du Luxembourg at the creation of the cabinet d’art graphique in 1975, has grown considerably over the years. The historical part of this collection (1905 to the 1960s) recently acquired some major collections of works by Antonin Artaud, Victor Brauner, Marc Chagall, Robert Delaunay, Jean Dubuffet, Marcel Duchamp, Wassily Kandinsky, František Kupka, Henri Matisse and Joan Miró.

Meanwhile, the collection's contemporary section has been enlarged through a dynamic acquisition policy, backed by the generosity of donors and artists, which is very much in tune with today's graphic creation within and outside France.

Acquisitions, donations and the acceptance in lieu system

In a few decades, the museum's collection has become a world reference for the graphic arts of the 20th and 21st century thanks to a dynamic, well-supported acquisition policy. The collection stands out for the multidisciplinary character of the works bought and retained, and the choice of acquisitions since the opening of the Centre Pompidou has respected this balance by fostering the entrance of works from all disciplines and provenances.

Initially made up of the historical collections of the former musée national d'art moderne, it was enlarged thanks to an acquisition committee who focused on heritage and contemporary purchases at a time when historical works were accessible. Numerous works accepted in lieu of tax have also contributed splendidly to the collection's variety. Acceptance in lieu is a legal arrangement whereby inheritance tax debts can be written off in exchange for art works, books, collector's objects or documents of considerable artistic and historical value. Works by Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, Constantin Brancusi, Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko, Roberto Matta and Joan Miró, together with collections of photographs by Marc Riboud, Brassaï and Henri Cartier-Bresson, have entered the collection in this way.

Donations, coming mainly from artists themselves - like Cy Twombly and Gérard Fromanger - from their families - like the exceptional donation of two works by Henri Matisse in 2013 - or from collectors - like the donation of 1 200 drawings by Florence and Daniel Guerlain in 2012 - have given additional depth and breadth to this extraordinary collection. 

The Friends of Centre Pompidou and the Centre Pompidou Foundation have provided invaluable support in enlarging the collection. The Société des Amis du Musée has dedicated all its resources to acquiring important works by Huang Yong Ping, Daniel Buren, Rachel Whiteread, (with the participation of the Clarence Westbury Foundation), Anish Kapoor, Jeff Wall, Carsten Höller, Alina Szapocznikow, Tunga, Anri Sala, Marwan, Paul Armand Gette and Piero Gilardi. It has also enabled works by a large number of contemporary artists and designers to enter the collection via collectors' groups, united under the aegis of the PAC (Project for Contemporary Art) and the "Perspective" Group.

American, Japanese and Latin American friends' associations have helped works by many artists, designers and photographers from their respective art scenes to join the collection.