Musée Picasso Paris: A Home Fit for Genius

Home of the largest public collection of Picasso’s work in the world, plus many other pieces from his favourite artists, Musée Picasso Paris reopened in 2014 after a five-year refurbishment. The collection’s home, the magnificent 17th century Hôtel Salé, has been restored to its full glory. The attics, basement/cellar area and rooms originally used as offices have been opened up as exhibition spaces, doubling the size of the museum to allow the magnificent collection room to breathe. The refurb has been a resounding success, showing how a clever reorganisation of space can triple the usable footage and allow a collection to breathe.  The restoration of the interior was overseen by Stéphane Thouin, Head Architect of France’s ‘Monuments Historiques’, while the refurbishment and expansion was carried out by the renowned gallery architect Jean-François Bodin of Bodin Associés. Erik Dhont created the new garden.

What prompted the refurbishment?

The Hôtel Salé (so-called because it was built from the proceeds of a fortune made from salt in the 1600s) is one of the grandest 17th century houses in Paris. Finished in 1659 in the ‘Mazarin’ style – Italian baroque combined with neoclassicism – it features riots of sculpted fruits, cherubs etc on the façade and the magnificent central staircase (based on Michelangelo’s stair plan for the Laurentian Library in Florence). The sculpted elements on the external surfaces were in bad repair, and the entire building needed to come up to modern fire, accessibility and museum display standards, so it seemed the right time for a complete overhaul and much-needed extension to the gallery space.

The Hôtel Salé’s sculptural baroque flourishes were in a terrible state and required immediate restoration

Was it an extensive project?

Massive. The first part of the refurbishment, led by Head Architect of France’s Monuments Historiques Jean-François Lagneau, took from 2006-2009 and restored the decaying exterior. Refurbishing the interior took a further three years. This included renovating the main building including the magnificent original staircase, folding the attic and the third-floor office space into the exhibition space (the offices were moved to another building). They also excavated the basement and cellars to contain the technical equipment necessary for running the museum plus creating an auditorium, studio and teaching room. The ‘common area’ wing – the old stables, terrace and bailey – was also brought into the tour space and includes a new café. Last but not least Erik Dhont created a garden that lends itself to contemplation, strolls and organising cultural events.

Exterior of the 17th century Hôtel Salé

Was it a challenge?

The Hôtel Salé is partially classified as a Historic Monument so the level of care was painstaking. At the same time they wanted to create a state-of-the art museum for its thousands of visitors, including lighting, air con and accessibility issues and extend the museum’s exhibition space from 1,600m2 to 5,500m2 (nearly the entire building), doubling the visitor capacity.

Extending the main galleries was one of the primary aims of the work

How does the interior work now?

Areas opened up to visitors include the attic space, the 17th-century woodwork room classified as a historic monument, and the third-floor rooms formerly reserved for offices and workshops. Further rooms have been created by excavating the basements and vaulted cellars, plus suites of rooms along the garden and the garden itself. Jean-François Bodin’s restoration respects the remarkable architectural layout created by Roland Simounet in 1985 while opening the building further, and promotes a harmonious dialogue between baroque fancifulness in some areas and the minimalist aesthetics of other areas.

The expansion opened up the cellars to visitors – the display focuses on Picasso’s five studios

How does the collection flow?

The additional space means there is a satisfying logic in the way the collection works. The attic, with its elegant wooden framework, features Picasso’s favourite artists from his private collection, forming an artistic dialogue between Picasso and Cézanne, Gauguin, Degas, Rousseau, Matisse, Braque, Derain, Renoir, Modigliani, Balthus and Miró. The main body of the building offers up Picasso’s work, curated by Ann Baldassari. Her artistic itinerary is both chronological and thematic: works are presented in sets relating to the artist’s different periods. There’s also a changing temporary exhibition. The cellars of the Hôtel Salé centre on the theme of Picasso’s studios. Photographs, engravings, paintings and sculptures document or evoke Picasso’s various studios and the key works created five different locations.

The loft space features artists from Picasso’s private collection

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