The 40th anniversary of the Musée National Marc Chagall provides the opportunity to present a number of exhibitions devoted to the artist. It was important to us to use one of these exhibitions to present the building itself which, since 1973, has housed the collection the artist donated to the French State. The task of designing and building this museum was entrusted to André Hermant (1908-1978), an architect and town planner, who produced his best work here.
A graduate of the École Spéciale d’Architecture where he frequented the student groups that gathered around Auguste Perret, André Hermant became a member of the Union des Artistes Modernes (French union of modern artists - UAM). He completed some notable architectural projects such as the Rubber Pavilion for the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (the International Exhibition dedicated to Art and Technology in Modern Life) in 1937 in Paris, and then was involved in work to standardise architectural elements during the war. Interested in the theory of architecture, he also wrote for specialist journals. In 1946, he joined Auguste Perret’s team working on the reconstruction of Le Havre. He was the theorist for the “functional shape” section of the UAM, which explored “the idea that an object’s function, structure and shape are inseparable,” the foundation of French design according to Nathalie Simonnot, the exhibition curator. Until the 1960s, he was also involved in work on social housing.
He worked on several museum projects at that time, including the redevelopment of the Musée des Antiquités Nationales in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (completed in 1969), which enjoyed enormous success with both the public and museum specialists. After having worked on the Petit Palais d’Avignon (1961-1965) and beginning work on the Galerie Nationale de la Tapisserie in Beauvais, he was considered a museum specialist and was entrusted with a completely unprecedented project: a museum to house the works of a living artist, Marc Chagall.
The project was to include rooms for a permanent exhibition of the Biblical Message canvasses, for which Hermant designed a large room with twelve walls, using three interlaced polygons, and the hexagonal Cantique room. He also included two temporary exhibition rooms and an auditorium. The building is on one level on a large piece of land donated by the town of Nice. The garden was laid out by the landscaper Henri Fisch.
Directly collaborating with the artist, Hermant designed a structure that fulfilled the wishes of the artist in every respect: to create a welcoming home for the works in a space crisscrossed by light, but also a place for visitors who are able to gradually discover Chagall’s paintings, mosaics, stained glass windows and paper works thanks to the both understated and rigorous layout.
The exhibition presents over 100 documents, a large number of sketches made by the architect, plans and surveys as well as photos of the work in progress starting with the old villa which preceded the museum, and continuing with visits to the building site by Hermant, the completion of the mosaic under the watchful eye of Marc Chagall and finally the museum’s inauguration ceremony in the presence of the artist, André Malraux and the Minister of Culture at the time, Maurice Druon.
The exhibition commissioners are Nathalie Simonnot, doctor in the history of art and a researcher with the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, and Maurice Fréchuret, Chief Heritage Curator and Director of 20th century national museums in the Alpes Maritimes region, assisted by Elisabeth Pacoud-Rème, responsible for the collections at the Musée National Marc Chagall and Sarah Ligner, curator at the Musée National Marc Chagall.
The exhibition has benefited from the generous support of Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine in Paris and the École Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture in Nancy.