August 2, 2021

a restoration rooted in the 18th century


After four years of work, hidden behind large advertising tarpaulins, the Hôtel de la Marine, place de la Concorde, in Paris, reopened its doors to the public on June 12. It is on this occasion that Arte offers a documentary that reviews the history of the place and explains the principles of its restoration.

The building, erected from 1757 as a mirror of a construction located on the other side of the rue Royale, became, in 1774, the full reception area of ​​the Royal furniture repository (ancestor of the Mobilier national). Under the leadership of its steward, Pierre-Elisabeth de Fontanieu (1730-1784), it conserves not only furniture but also crown jewels, fabrics, tapestries and ceremonial arms. After the Revolution, and until 2015, the headquarters of the Ministry of the Navy will be located there. Over time, the decoration and the partition of the rooms will be modified until the last restoration, launched in 2017, restores the original elements, preserved or found, as well as ad hoc furniture.

The documentary by Nathalie Plicot and Valériane Cariou follows Joseph Achkar and Michel Charrière, the decorators of the intendant’s apartments, for a long time in their search for objects, especially in antique shops, “For equivalences to what cannot be found in the national collections”, or in their purchases of new fabrics: in certain cases, it will be a question of “aging” them in the washing machine and the dryer, as we hear Michel Charrière prescribe.

Private funding

But it is not said why a private (and reputable) decoration studio was called upon rather than the State clerks usually assigned to this task – except by this statement from Philippe Bélaval, president of the National Monuments Center (CMN): “We called on decorators who are used to fitting out houses, apartments and living spaces. They are extremely in love with this time […], they taste very safe. It is indeed very new, it is the first time that it has been done. ”

The viewer may find the explanation a little short and ask a few legitimate questions. Was this possible because the funding for this restoration, estimated at some 130 million euros, is essentially private (The world March 13)? Was there a call for tenders? Did the two decorators facilitate access to generous patrons? Did their interpersonal skills make a difference (as a short scene about a sale at Christie’s suggests)?

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It would have been interesting if this documentary clarified these subjects and possibly gave way to a broader critical perspective. But, as the controversy has accompanied this restoration project from the start, this documentary, which is co-produced by the CMN, probably preferred not to tackle it. So that this film – otherwise instructive and pleasantly produced, which draws a nice portrait of its first steward, Pierre-Elisabeth de Fontanieu, to whom we owe decisive and luxurious choices in terms of the layout of the premises – seems a official communication accompanying the shining reopening to the public of this jewel of the Ancien Régime.

Hôtel de la Marine, rebirth of a palace, documentary by Nathalie Plicot co-written with Valériane Cariou (Fr., 2021, 52 min.) Available on until August 26.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also In Paris, the Hôtel de la Marine regains its 18th century chandelier