A French Collection, a Collection of France: The Marquise Arconati-Visconti’s Cultural Patronage during the Third Republic

    • Presentation speakers
      • Martina D'Amato, Bard Graduate Center, New York, USA


    In 1914, the Marquise Arconati-Visconti, née Marie Peyrat (1840-1923), the Parisian radical, philanthropist, salonnière, and society woman, formalized the donation of her French and Italian art collection to the Louvre. “The Louvre will inherit one of the most beautiful groups of Italian artworks ever assembled,” wrote one journalist, calling it “revenge” in response to Frenchmen donating abroad, namely the antiquarian-dealer Louis Carrand (1820-1889) whose bequest went to the Bargello in 1889. This sense of nationalism behind the Marquise’s collection was no accident. Her patronage and philanthropy decidedly benefited the French people, despite the collection’s Italian origins; the foundation of the Louvre group was acquired by her father-in-law Giuseppe Arconati-Visconti and was inherited by the Marquise after her husband’s death. Moreover, the Marquise’s strong republican affiliations and weekly Dreyfusard salon made her a central, if hidden (due to her sex), figure in politics. This ‘French-ness’ with which she imbued her art collection extended to her donations of objects and money to other national museums and libraries, including the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Musée Carnavalet. Even her donations abroad, like those to American institutions and the estate of Gaasbeek Castle given to the Kingdom of Belgium, were made with the legacy of French culture and history in mind. This paper will demonstrate how a collection so mixed, and so dispersed, could come to represent both a nation and the woman behind it. The Marquise’s eccentric lifestyle and her approach to collecting, unusual for its political intent but also its feminine associations, represent an important departure from the philanthropy of her predecessors during the Second Empire and early years of the Republic. The Marquise’s formation of a personal and national identity through her collecting and philanthropy will be explored through period publications and her extant correspondence with politicians and museum professionals.