Jean-Pierre Samoyault’s reaction to the purchase of Winterhalter’s copy

All the versions of this article: English , français
Miloud Boukerche (1908-1978)
after Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873)
Empress Eugénie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting, 1968
Oil on canvas - 292 x 415 cm
Preempted by the Château de Fontainebleau
Photo : Boisgirard-Antonini
See the image in its page

21/4/23 - Musée - Fontainebleau, Musée Napoléon I - In the email received from Marie-Christine Labourdette justifying the preemption by the Château de Fontainebleau of a copy of Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s painting (see article): The Empress Eugenie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting, she thought she was entitled to invoke the policy conducted by Colombe and Jean-Pierre Samoyault who were curators of the museum between 1970 and 1994.

We therefore asked Jean-Pierre Samoyault (his wife Colombe unfortunately passed away in 2009) what he thought of this acquisition. His answer, although measured in tone, left no room for doubt. He has given us permission to reproduce it here:

"Following the acquisition at public auction by the Château de Fontainebleau of a copy of Winterhalter’s famous painting, you are asking me whether I validate this acquisition and whether it completes the work of restitution of the Chinese museum that my wife and I accomplished when we were curators in this château.

I have always made it a policy not to publicly express a judgement on the restoration or acquisition policy of my successors at the head of the national museum and then of the public institution of the Château de Fontainebleau. Do I have to depart from this attitude today in the case you mention? One thing is certain: when I refurbished the salon-gallery in the early 1990s, I never imagined that one day a copy would be installed in the place of the original. We knew that the return of the painting was impossible, but history has never said its last word.

On the second point of your message, the sentence from Mrs Labourdette’s letter to you, that the installation of the newly acquired copy completes our work, is a view expressed by the President and not mine. I would have preferred that a tribute to the beneficial effects of my action at the head of the national museum for nearly twenty-five years had been paid in a circumstance that did not confuse faithful restoration with reconstitution at all costs".

Very diplomatically, therefore, but without ambiguity, Jean-Pierre Samoyault does not in any way validate this purchase, which is supposed to pursue his policy, which the president of the public institution imprudently claims. We therefore persist in requesting that this preemption, which ridicules French museums, not be confirmed and that the successful bidder for this work, for which Fontainebleau wanted to take its place, be allowed to recover it.

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