Jacques Sallois, president of the interministerial commission for the verification of deposits of works of art from 2010 to 2018 (1), former director of museums in France, calls for more monitored and more consistent deposits.
La Croce: Of the 467,000 works of art in the national collections deposited in museums or in various institutions, at least 57,500 are missing (2). How to explain the extent of these disappearances?
Jacques Sallois: Many of these deposits are very old. Some date back more than two centuries. A part of them has disappeared in the events of history, accidents or wars. Others have been destroyed over time: custom furniture deposited by the national Mobilier or pieces of crockery from the Sèvres Manufacture which, by themselves, assure half of the national deposits … Or we can not compare the breakage of the dishes in an embassy and the theft of a Louvre painting in a regional museum! This is why our Commission refused in its report to publish a "global figure" of the missing works.
Lost works of art of the Republic
It is also true that the state, for decades, has shown too little concern for this heritage "deposited" in various republican institutions. The first report on the subject, published by the Court of Auditors in 1997, had the effect of an electroshock. Since then, the evidence of the collections has progressed a lot, revealing the extension of disappearances that have remained hidden. The loss balance is still far from exhaustive, but this increased vigilance has already made more responsible for deposits and custodians.
In twenty years, less than 2,000 complaints have been filed on missing works, a very small number …
J.S .: In most of the old disappearances, one can only notice the failure of the research. But the commission recalls that non-localized works must remain in inventories. For the rest, claims for compensation require that the works be duly documented. Their number is progressing.
Today, the museums of France systematically complain as soon as a disappearance is observed. In 1990, when I arrived at the direction of the museums of France, he was far from the case for fear of revealing the defects of security. The National Center of Plastic Arts now also complains about every disappearance of portraits of Napoleon III or Eugenia, after Winterhalter, which had been deposited by hundreds in the region. The police told us that nothing was easier to identify. Not all depositors are so strict, but things are changing. And I believe a lot in pedagogy and dialogue to make responsible caretakers.
Should the disappearances question the deposit policy?
J.S .: Above all, it would be a disaster! It is essential that the national collections are closer to all citizens. Today, when the state does not have much money to support regional museums, it still has the means to give them treasures. The Louvre and the Pompidou Center agree that they still have room for improvement. On the other hand, impermeability must be an opportunity to question the relevance of old deposits with respect to the scientific and cultural projects of the deposit museums.
Collection by Sabine Gignoux