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Art Entrepreneur Adorns New Paris Space With Borrowed Works

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"Esterhazy Madonna" (1508) by Raphael is on loan from the Szepmuveszeti Museum Budapest for the show "Birth of a Museum" at the Pinacotheque de Paris, which runs through May 29. Source: Pinacotheque de Paris via Bloomberg

Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Call it chutzpah or audacity: To open a museum in Paris, a city crammed with art institutions, takes nerve, particularly when you don’t have a collection.

Like Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Marc Restellini has always depended on the kindness of strangers -- and his own business acumen.

In 2007, he launched the Pinacotheque de Paris, an exhibition space near the Eglise de la Madeleine. Privately funded and unashamedly commercial, it was greeted with icy hostility by the city’s art establishment.

Still, it worked.

Even if you don’t buy the numbers cited by Pinacotheque press agents, the success of its shows -- the last, “The Gold of the Incas,” has just closed -- is undeniable.

Restellini has opened a new space, 3,000 square meters on two levels, across the street. The title of the first exhibition says it all: You’re invited to witness “The Birth of a Museum.”

What you find is three different shows: The first, some 100 paintings, comes from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg; the second, about half the size, is from the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts; the third is described as “the permanent collection of the Pinacotheque.”

How did the resourceful Restellini produce a permanent collection out of thin air? He didn’t.

Private Loans

On closer inspection, you discover that the 100 or so paintings, with a couple of ancestor figures from Borneo thrown in, belong to 40 private collectors and are on loan for periods running from 1 to 10 years.

The diversity of subjects and styles is wide. A portrait by Van Dyck hangs next to a landscape by Corot, a “Roman Beauty” by the academic painter William Bouguereau (1825-1905) jostles a Surrealist scene by Max Ernst (1891-1976).

Restellini defends the jumble by recalling the “Wunderkammern,” the chaotic collections of kings and princes that preceded our museums before they fell into the hands of nitpicking art historians and curators. To turn the clock back, he says, promises to be a “unique experience.”

If you don’t concur, you can always savor the loans from St. Petersburg and Budapest.

The hanging here is also unconventional: Instead of being grouped together by country of origin or school, the Hermitage paintings are presented in the order of their acquisition by the czars -- from Peter the Great (1672-1725) to Nicholas I (1796-1855) -- which makes for some strange bedfellows.

Not all of the canvases are masterpieces. Yet there are enough that merit attention: Rembrandt’s “David and Jonathan,” Velazquez’s portrait of the Conde-Duque de Olivares or the daughters of the mad Czar Paul painted by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, to mention but a few.

The loans from Budapest also include worthwhile pieces -- not least Raphael’s “Esterhazy Madonna,” named after Prince Nicholas II Esterhazy (1765-1833), whose huge collection later became the nucleus of the museum.

The new wing of the Pinacotheque de Paris is at 8 Rue Vignon. “La Naissance du Musee” runs through May 29. Information: http://www.pinacotheque.com or +33-1-4268-0201.

(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Jorg von Uthmann in Paris at uthmann@wanadoo.fr.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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