In June 1907, the monthly Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced the arrival of an unusual treasure trove, a collection of medieval art and French eighteenth-century woodwork, furniture, decorative paintings, and gilt-bronze mounts that had arrived in in 364 packing cases, shipped from the gallery of Georges Hoentschel (1855–1915) in Paris. The cases were to form a new “Department of Decorative Arts,” the first decorative arts department in America and were a gift from J. Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913), president of the museum at the time. Morgan had purchased the Hoentschel collection in the spring of 1906. He gave the eighteenth-century material outright to the museum and loaned the medieval works indefinitely.
A new exhibit explores the legacy of this unique donation. Salvaging the Past: George Hoentschel and French Decorative Arts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened at the Bard Graduate Center (BGC) in New York on April 4 and runs through August 11. Many of the pieces on display have been rarely seen since the 1950s. The Wing of Decorative Arts opened in 1910 with the Hoentschel collection displayed in a systematic and integrated manner aimed at the education of students, artisans, designers, as well as the general public. That wing is now home to the Metropolitan’s Arms and Armor collection, and some Hoentschel masterpieces may be seen today in galleries scattered throughout the museum. But the lion’s share of the paneling, fragments of woodwork, and gilt-bronze mounts have not been on public view since the 1950s, when the fashion for presenting decorative arts in period room settings overtook the initial encyclopedic displays that were prominent in the first decades of the twentieth century.
This is the fourth in a series of collaborations between The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the BGC, and is the first comprehensive examination of Georges Hoentschel. Over 200 objects drawn primarily from the Metropolitan Museum’s holdings, with loans from other public and private collections in the United States and France will be included. A portion of the exhibition will be devoted to holdings displayed in installations inspired by historic photographs of Hoentschel’s densely arranged showroom-museum in Paris, where the objects served as models for his interior decorating business. As director of the Parisian decorating firm Maison Leys, Hoentschel catered to affluent clients, creating for them interiors in historic French styles. Ephemera, family papers, photographs, personal possessions, and a film presentation will outline his story within the context of Belle Époque Paris.
A book of the exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog. Lectures, study days, gallery talks, and conversations are offered in conjunction with the exhibition and group exhibition tours for adult and school groups are offered Tuesday through Friday between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and Thursday until 7 p.m. Reservations are required for all groups. The Bard Graduate Center Gallery is located in New York City at 18 West 86th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. The admission fee is $7 general, $5 senior and students (valid ID); admission is free Thursday evenings after 5 p.m. For more information visit bgc.bard.edu.