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Exhibiting the history of a collection


To mark the bi-centenary of the Musée des Artistes Vivants (Musée du Luxembourg) in 2018, the Musée national d’art moderne and the Musée d’Orsay retraced the history of this vast collection, constituted between 1818 and 1937, and of which they are the main trustees. Almost 80 years after the closure of the Musée des Artistes Vivants, this collection forms a complete ensemble, including the collections of the Musée des Ecoles Etrangères Contemporaines [Contemporary Foreign Schools] (Musée du Jeu de Paume). 


 The aim of the project is to highlight the concordance or the disparities between, on one hand, the choices made by the museum institution, and on the other hand, the ongoing history of art at the time these choices were made. Centred around the period of the modern avant-gardists, the study reveals significant historical moments of engagement, non-engagement or disengagement. 

The second phase of research, based on the specific case of the Musée des Artistes Vivants, is aimed at examining, via a comparative approach, the historical issues faced by contemporary art museums, which, like the Musée des Artistes Vivants, have to combine the short period of present day art with the long period of the collection.

This research project gave rise to an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, accompanied by a special edition of the Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne, a themed pathway at the Musée d’Orsay and an international seminar. 


Centre Pompidou exhibition Histoire(s) d’une collection  
Organised in 16 rooms and passageways, the exhibition presents a sequenced history of the creation of the Mnam collection and its institutional ancestors, shedding a specific light on the strategies of the acquisition policy.


Themed pathway at the Musée d’Orsay 

The Orsay before Orsay pathway showcases around five hundred works, indicated by a specific logo. Retracing the entry of works into the collection, the programme provides information on the reasons behind the shortage of certain impressionists in the collection and the orientations that guided the acquisitions. 


Special edition of the Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne  
The exhibition at the Centre Pompidou was completed by the publication in 2018 of a special edition of the Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne. This 112-page publication, entitled Histoire(s) d’une collection [The History of a Collection] reproduced and developed the information provided in the exhibition, in addition to numerous archive photos, reproductions of works and contemporary documents presented in the exhibition. This exceptional publication is a chronological account with in-depth articles and summarised overviews. A classified bibliography was added to this didactic rendition of the research task. 


Organisation of a seminar in partnership with the Musée d’Orsay and the French National Archives   
An international seminar, "The museum and the art of its time. Bi-centenary of the Musée du Luxembourg, 1818 – 2018" was organised by the Centre Pompidou, the Musée d’Orsay and the French National Archives. 

Scientific team

Project led in partnership with the LabEx CAP, Paris University 1, the Musée d’Orsay and the French National Archives. 


Scientific head: Nicolas Liucci-Goutnikov 

Associated researchers: Laurent Cazes and Chiara di Stefano

In the shop

Les cahiers du musée national d'art moderne - Special edition n°5

23,77 € 22,58 € Member