Place de la Concorde
To travel through time all you have to do is go to Paris to the Place de la Concorde. You will first arrive in the 18th century, visiting the building designed by the King’s architect, Gabriel, sumptuously restored by designers Joseph Achkar and Michel Charrière.
Opulence: the best of the genre
The Hôtel de la Marine was initially the former storage locker for the crown. It is difficult to describe the level of opulence, but also of precision, in the restoration of this site. This era, which was for a long time a reference point for collectors from all over the world, has been seen as a little naff over the past twenty-odd years – with the exception, perhaps because it is grandiose, of the Château de Versailles, the Frick collection in its new formula on Madison and the Getty Museum – but here we rediscover the best of the genre.
It is at the heart of the Hôtel de la Marine (the word ‘hôtel’ here is used in reference to ‘hôtel particulier’, which is a townhouse-style building) with its grand staircase, its majestic courtyard and its restored opulence, from floor to ceiling, that the Centre des Monuments Nationaux (CMN,Centre for National Monuments) has leased 400m2 for 20 years to a foundation owned by a member of the royal family of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani.
Financing the building works
Contrary to information relayed by various media platforms, the sheikh does not pay an annual rent but officially rather “a contract states that the Al Thani Collection will finance the building works in these spaces, the temporary exhibitions and the security, and all proceeds from ticket sales will go to the CMN.”
Having chosen Paris as one of his homeports – he also owns the Hôtel Lambert – the sheikh is a voracious collector. From Renaissance masters to Jeff Koons via the decorative arts, he has amassed a collection that traverses all eras.
His jewellery collection has toured the world, from the Grand Palais in Paris to Beijing’s forbidden city (See here the report about the exhibition in Paris). In 2019 a sale primarily dedicated to his Mughal jewels also made headlines (See here the report about the auction).
“It is a collection in perpetual evolution,” says the senior curator, a former curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Amin Jaffer, specialist in Mughal arts. He explains that the purpose of the Al Thani Collection in Paris is to display artworks in three dimensions with great visual power.
From Neolithic to 19th
While it may be modest in size, the setting and its contents take your breath away. It’s a concentrated showcase of precious pieces from the Neolithic era of the Anatolian steppes to the African 19th century.
Suspended golden flowers
The Paris-based Japanese architect Tsuyoshi Tane has been charged with designing the display, which is particularly astonishing in the first room. In this salon of treasures he has conceived a suspended shower of golden flowers, which overhang seven masterpieces kept in glass cases.
Perhaps the most fascinating object in the ensemble is “The Stargazer”, an anthropomorphic and pared-back marble piece standing 20cm tall and made around 3300 BC in Asia Minor. This poetic name is due to the fact that the figure is looking upwards towards the sky.
In the next room there is a series of eleven heads. The head of an Egyptian princess carved in stone from around 1351 BC presents sensual features and an oblong skull, paying homage to the god Akhenaten. She is flanked on either side by other supernatural beings, such as a jade Maya mask with eyes always open, which may have been used to cover the face of a dead body, or a Fang reliquary head used to create visions amongst those initiated to the tribe.
Spirit of humanity
A small yet powerful distillation of the spirit of humanity, whose contents, we are promised, will be renewed every six months.
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