France's New Camille Claudel Museum Crosses Boundaries With Public/Private Partnership

France's New Camille Claudel Museum Crosses Boundaries With Public/Private Partnership
Rendering of the Camille Claudel Museum
(Courtesy Nogent-sur-Seine via Flickr)

Between the ages of 12 and 15, French sculptor and graphic artist Camille Claudel lived with her family in Nogent-sur-Seine in the northeast of France, and there began to make her first sculptures. The town calls itself her "artistic birthplace" and has been planning a museum in her honor, led by mayor Gérard Ancelin. According to a Nogent-sur-Seine press release, this is the first public-private partnership to establish a museum in France. The innovative economic model spooked some members of the city council, and the proposed project only barely passed in a vote last week.

According to L'Est-Eclair, all council members from leftist parties abstained or voted against the proposed Camille Claudel Museum, and two members from the mayor's rightist coalition followed suit. Nevertheless, the council narrowly approved a 25-year contract with the construction company SNC Lavalin, which will not only oversee the design and construction of the museum but also manage and maintain it. Under the terms of the agreement, Nogent-sur-Seine will pay the company €1.14 million ($1.5 million) during the museum's opening year (2014), after which annual sums will gradually be reduced. At the end of the 25-year period, the town's total bill will have reached €20.9 million ($27.4 million).

Council member Jean-François Loreau voted against the project, telling L'Est-Eclair that "given the financial uncertainty that we're experiencing, a 15-year partnership would have been more appropriate and would have let us avoid huge financial costs." The figures include not just construction costs but also fees for management, insurance, and repairs. Thierry Neeser, head of the city's finance department, said that the town can invest €5 million ($6.6 million) every year without having to borrow any funds. He also added that the numbers were purposely based on "pessimistic estimates" and if costs rose more slowly, the figures could be adjusted downwards.

Nogent-sur-Seine has the largest collection of Claudel's works; the town bought 41 of the artist's pieces from her great-niece, Reine-Marie Paris, in 2008. Half of them are displayed at the Paul Dubois-André Boucher Museum while the other half remain in storage due to a lack of exhibition space. To create the new museum, architect Adelfo Scaranello will renovate the house where Claudel once lived and construct additional buildings next to it, with space reserved for educational programs, offices, a shop, a library, and an auditorium. From a collection of about 1,000 pieces, 280 works will be on permanent display, including sculptures by Claudel and other artists. The project also expects to receive €3.9 million ($5.1 million) in funding from government sources, including €1 million ($1.3 million) from the French government as part of its regional museum initiative.

French museums have only recently begun to turn their attention to the private sector to raise funds, with the Louvre seeking donations of $650,000 to restore two Egyptian pieces for its new Islamic wing. The move follows an extremely successful Louvre campaign that raised $1.3 million from corporate and individual donations to purchase Cranach's "The Three Graces." If it is successful, the Camille Claudel museum may encourage other French towns to seek private-sector partners when developing new institutions.

However, not all private initiatives are likely to be welcomed. When a developer wanted to turn the former French naval headquarters in Paris into a for-profit cultural and shopping center, his proposal was rejected, and the Louvre was chosen to develop the site instead — demonstrating French reluctance to cede already-existing institutions to private sector companies.