Muriel Barbier on her way to Fontainebleau

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Muriel Barbier
Photo: Justine Rossignol
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9/5/23 - Appointment - Fontainebleau, Musée national du château - For the first time, a specialist in the history of the decorative arts has been named "directeur du patrimoine et des collections" ("director of heritage and collections") at "the house of centuries": well known to readers of La Tribune de l’Art, Muriel Barbier will take up her position there on June 1 and thus become the fourth official holder of this post, which arose from the transformation of the Château de Fontainebleau into a "établissement public" since 2009. As chief curator, she succeeds three men with very different profiles: Xavier Salmon (see the news item of 21/12/10), Vincent Droguet (see the news item of 31/12/13) and David Guillet (see the news item of 20/5/20), who retired in August 2022. One could logically be surprised by this long interregnum, even if one must recall that the interim was effectively assured by an eminent in-house curator, Vincent Cochet, responsible for furniture and decorative arts. Four other curators watch over the countless Fontainebleau treasures on a daily basis: Oriane Beaufils is in charge of paintings, decorations and graphic arts, while Christophe Beyeler is in charge of the Musée Napoléon Ier and the Napoleonic cabinet of graphic arts, Anaïs Dorey is in charge of the sculptures and the architectural collection, and Jean Vittet is one of the great specialists in tapestries.

Born in 1977 and trained at the École du Louvre and the Institut National du Patrimoine, Muriel Barbier had the opportunity to familiarize herself with her future home as soon as she wrote her thesis, defended in 2005 under the direction of Yves Carlier, on the marble fireplaces of the Château de Fontainebleau! Among her numerous discoveries, rewarded by a distinction with honors, was the identification of the fireplace in the Salle des Colonnes, which previously adorned the Salon d’Apollon at the Château de Versailles: its singular history was the subject of an article published in 2004 in Versalia, the journal of the Société des Amis de Versailles. Her specialized internships led her successively to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, where she was in charge of the inventory of the Villeroy-Mennecy porcelain collection, and also to the Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg (SPSG) in order to study the furniture of the Neue Kammern in the Sanssouci Park. After having been appointed to Senlis between 2005 and 2006, she worked as a curator at the Musée lorrain in Nancy until the end of 2009 before becoming a scientific documentalist in the History section of the Louvre’s Sculpture Department in Paris and joining the Château d’Écouen.

As curator at the Musée national de la Renaissance from 2012 to 2019, Muriel Barbier was in charge of the furniture, leather and textile collections and also coordinated the drafting of the ten-year inventory plan. She has co-curated several exhibitions at the museum, including "Un air de Renaissance. La musique au XVIe siècle" (see article), "Une reine sans couronne ? Louise de Savoie, mère de François I" (see article) or "Pathelin, Cléopâtre, Arlequin. Le théâtre dans la France de la Renaissance" (see article), she also knew how to valorize the late collections which do not really have their place at the Château d’Écouen with the exhibition "Être et paraître, la vie aristocratique au XVIIIe siècle. Hidden Trésors cachés du Musée national de la Renaissance" (see news item) organized at the Château de La Roche-Guyon in 2015, a banner year that began with the presentation of a superb embroidered box from the late sixteenth century acquired from Christophe de Quénetain with the support of the Fonds du Patrimoine (see news item of 29/1/15).

Leaving Écouen in the summer of 2019, Muriel Barbier joined the Mobilier national to manage the textile and country furniture collections while overseeing the institution’s deposits with the Presidency of the Republic. She then became head of the collections department, where Emmanuel Pénicaut, appointed director of collections last October (see the news item of 10/24/22), will soon have find a replacement for her. Co-curator of the rich exhibition "Palais disparus de Napoléon" (see article), she was particularly interested in textiles but also in the policy of replacing Old Regime furniture in the imperial residences, particularly sensitive to the Château de Fontainebleau. A natural partner of the Mobilier national, the latter has greatly developed its relations with the château in recent years, a salutary policy that has resulted in the arrival of numerous deposits at the château (see the news item of 20/10/20) as well as at the Musée Napoléon I (see the news item of 5/7/21), the redeployment of which is expected to become a reality in the coming years. The recent exhibition "Un palais pour l’Empereur" (see article) thus made it possible to admire "the most beautiful piece of furniture ever delivered to Fontainebleau under the First Empire " which had just been happily deposited by the Mobilier national, even if Muriel Barbier will certainly have the opportunity to consider the fate of the unfortunate gallery of furniture in the château, which was set up in 2009 on the first floor of the appartement des Chasses but has been closed for many years.

There is no shortage of work to be done in this prestigious château-musée, where the new director already has a good command of many scientific fields - from the problems linked to the preventive conservation of the collections to the nagging question of the storerooms, for which a permanent solution should soon be announced, and we can only hope that she will be able to quickly take up her duties, We can only hope that the magnitude of the task will not force her to give up her classes at the École du Louvre, where Muriel Barbier is an appreciated teacher, currently in charge of the specialty course in "Architecture, Decor and Furnishings of Great Houses". The mantels of the Château de Fontainebleau, a cross-disciplinary subject par excellence in a centuries-old royal residence, have enabled her to publish various articles evoking both the Rocaille period in the journal Histoire de l’Art in 2005 and the First Empire in the Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art Français in 2010. As stated in the press release issued last Wednesday, his first mission will be to implement the castle’s scientific and cultural project, designed under the aegis of David Guillet and recently adopted by the board of directors.

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