Death of François Bergot

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Writing an obituary is a delicate exercise, and even more so when one did not know the person in question. Nevertheless, we feel it is necessary to pay tribute to great curators. We have received from Dominique Ponnau, honorary director of the École du Louvre, a beautiful text on the death of François Bergot, who was one of them, on 28 January. The style is very personal, different from what one usually finds on La Tribune de l’Art, but we feel it is necessary and useful to publish it as it is.

François Bergot
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21/2/23 - Obituary - Our profession has just lost one of its best. François Bergot is dead. May I, without fail of tone, pay to the friend the homage that one owes to the colleague. Is it possible to forget the wound of the heart? How can we reconcile it with the unfailing dignity of such a distinguished mind, with the nobility of such an ardent soul? One would easily fear to fail in modesty, if one did not fear even more to fail in accuracy. Crystal, at the slightest crack, sounds false. Let these lines, at least, ring true!

The first time I saw François was a very long time ago, when he knocked on my grandmother’s door in Vannes, where he had come to fetch a young man on leave to take him to Rennes, where he was working as curator of the Fine Arts Museum. I had just been appointed head of the general inspection of classified and controlled museums. The love of Brittany immediately united us. We understood each other at a glance. Yet we belonged to different social backgrounds, he to the Breton aristocracy, I to the common people, but at that time mysterious links, founded on a common historical and literary culture, that of the Greco-Latin humanities, to which everyone had access, whatever one may say today, and on the Catholic Christian religion, to live by or simply to refer to, maintained harmony beyond all differences and all contradictions.

At the museums of Rennes (1969 to 1978), then in Rouen, at the head of the Beaux-Arts (1979 to 1988), this great lord who was so friendly to the humble, to the poor, without the slightest touch of haughtiness, had a life comparable to that of a provincial governor of the Ancien Régime, or better still, of a medieval feudal lord, loyal to the king, and therefore intractable in defending the rights of the subjects entrusted to his care. His subjects were the works of art in the museums, which he treated with paternal care and to whose defence he devoted himself. Among them, he could have said, like Thérèse de Lisieux, "I choose everything", but his predilection led him more particularly to those of the Grand Siècle, especially in painting, and to the homage to be paid to the great collectors of the past, such as President de Robien, an admirable figure of the Breton aristocracy.

The history of art, and more particularly of 17th century French art, and the institution of the museum had in him a brilliant and tireless defender, an example for the youth of today.

François Bergot, at the end of his official career, was called to the side of the Director of the Museums of France and maintained with him, in sometimes difficult times, the requirement of a great servant of one of the highest institutions of France, the museum, the talent of a master of thought, and also of that which cannot be taught: style.
Retired at Versailles with Francine, his wife, and Jérôme, their son, he showed me one day, a few years ago, in his magnificent library of letters, several almanacs of the Court, among which the one of 1789 and the one of 1790, examples in few words of the proximity of the Capitol and the Tarpeian Rock. Marvellous François, forever alive!

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