Fondation Dina Vierny, Musée Maillol 59-61 Rue de Grenelle, Paris (inaugurated January 1995). Catalog of the museum
Aristide Maillol an exhibition at the Georg-Kolbe-Museum, Berlin, January 14–May 5, 1996; continuing on to Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, May 15–September 22; Gerhard-Marcks-Haus, Bremen, October 6–January 13, 1997; and Stadtische Kunsthalle, Ma
A pyramid can be a cruelly deceptive thing—a promise of immortality, a pledge of permanence, an earnest of fame. I.M. Pei’s pyramid—with its three subsidiary pyramids and its flat-based, triangular, minimalist fountains—may have solved for a generation or so the question of what to put at the heart of the Louvre, how to fill the Cour Napoléon. But nobody who has glanced at the history of this space can possibly feel that this solution will last forever, or even for very long. To believe this would be to subscribe to some theory of the death of the history of taste.
For the Louvre is continually transforming itself—why should it suddenly stop now? Skip back a couple of generations and we find the Cour Napoléon (from 1907 to 1933) home to a “Campo Santo,” with trees and flower beds and monuments to the great—statues of Corot, Poussin, Houdon, Watteau, Puget, names that were never expected to suffer any casual slight.1 Also on this prestigious spot stood an American work, Paul W. Bartlett’s monument to Lafayette, which had been erected “by the school-children of the United States,” and was a project of the Daughters of the American Revolution.2
At the entrance to the courtyard was a substantial monument, 24 meters high, to the republican leader Léon Gambetta (1838–1882), for which 280,000 citizens, of France and all its colonies, had subscribed. It was in stone and bronze, and its allegorical figures—Strength, Truth, Democracy—were melted down during the Vichy regime. After the war, its stone remnants were put in storage, later to be re-erected behind the mairie of the 20th arrondissement, with the euphemistic inscription: “Detail of the Gambetta monument.” The word “detail” in this context means that Gambetta has been deprived of his left arm, while two of his companions have mislaid their heads.
Near where Gambetta once stood, Pei has accommodated the square’s only statue—a replica in lead of Bernini’s marble equestrian figure of Louis XIV. He could hardly have chosen a better memento mori, a better antidote to the hubris of sculptor and architect. For Bernini was one of Pei’s predecessors on the job—he spent the summer of 1665 designing an extension to the Louvre, only to find his plans frustrated and rejected through the intrigues of the court.3 When his equestrian statue arrived in Versailles, the king hated it so much that at first he wanted to have it smashed into pieces. It was banished to a far corner of the garden. Bernini had represented Louis as having mounted, like Hercules, the steep hill of virtue and glory. (The hill, of course, supported the weight of the horse.) In 1688, a mere three years after the statue’s arrival at Versailles, the sculptor Girardon took his chisel to the hill of glory and transformed it into lambent flames. The headgear, too, he changed, turning the French king into the Roman hero Marcus Curtius. As a result of this ingenious editing, a figure which was once climbing a…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.