Dr. Philip Ward-Jackson reports on the condition of the Triqueti plasters after the Montargis floods.
Following an earlier news flash on the 3rd Dimension website, warning of possible damage by flooding to the collection of sculptures by Henry de Triqueti belonging to the Musée Girodet at Montargis, further reports have brought a degree of reassurance. An article which has appeared on the website La Tribune de l’Art on 23rd June, gives the clearest picture so far of the extent of the damage.
The flood occurred on 1 June. Large numbers of works from the museum were being held in reserves in two basement rooms which had originally been the vaults of the bank La Caisse d‘Épargne. Both of these were inundated. The reporter for La Tribune to a degree exonerates the museum’s curators. The flood resulted from the breaking of the banks of the river Loing some 70 metres upstream from the town, an eventuality which could scarcely have been foreseen. The room containing the paintings was the first to be pumped out, whilst the sculptures in the other room remained immersed for two whole days. Now the reporter feels tentatively able to reassure us that the plasters have lost little more than their surface patina, mostly a build-up of dirt and grease, though the ex-curator of the collection, Richard Dagorne has confessed to me his fear that the sculptor’s points de repère, pencil marks to facilitate translation to marble using a pointing machine, may also have been washed away.
If these reports are reliable we can breathe a sigh of relief. The majority of the Triqueti sculptures were plaster working models for the sculptural component of the elaborate décor conceived and executed by the sculptor between 1864 and 1872 for the Wolsey Chapel at Windsor Castle, with the intention of converting it into a commemorative chapel for Prince Albert. Of course these are entirely replicated by the marbles themselves at Windsor, so their loss would not have meant that all trace of the project had been eliminated. Nonetheless, as with all such plaster models, they are a more accurate record than the marbles of the clay originals from the sculptor’s own hand. They have recently formed a very prominent feature of the exhibition Henry de Triqueti 1803-1874, Le sculpteur des princes, shown first at the Musée Girodet in 2007, and subsequently, in a slightly modified form at the Museo Vela in Ligornetto (Ticino).
The Tribune’s report brings some measure of reassurance in the short term. We must however await a fuller report for all our fears to be allayed. As was the case with many of the museum’s more important paintings, some of its sculptures will have been on display at the time of the flood, and therefore out of harm’s way. My own priorities in this case may not have been the Albert Chapel plasters, important though these are, but rather Triqueti’s competition entry for the tomb of Napoleon, a very rare survival, which I know from having handled it to be in an extremely fragile condition, the terracotta study for Albert’s effigy at Windsor, or the full-scale plaster model of the effigy of Ferdinand, Duke of Orleans. Of the latter, the Tribune article shows us that at least the head and shoulders have survived intact. We may soon hear further news about the extent of the damage, or hopefully that all the sculptures have come through with nothing more than a good wash.
Main image: Henry de Triqueti, plaster models for the effigies of Ferdinand, Duke of Orleans, and Prince Albert, photographed in the storerooms of the Musee Girodet, Montargis in 1976 (photo: reproduced by permission of the Courtauld Institute of Art)
Make a donation towards the appeal to restore works in the Musée Girodet damaged by the historic floods in Montargis here.