The beginnings of the Ministry
Ephemeral attempts of an autonomous Fine Arts administration from the Second Empire
- Under the Second Empire
Between 29 November 1860 and 22 June 1863: Emperor Napoleon III appoints Alexander Colonna Walewski1 (natural son of Napoleon I) Minister of State for the Fine Arts; he laid the foundation stone for the Opéra Garnier (inaugurated in 1875) on 21 July 1862 and later introduced a bill on artistic and literary property.
On 15 May 1870, the government of Émile Ollivier created a Ministry of Fine Arts and then of Letters, Sciences and Fine Arts, which he entrusted to Maurice Louis Richard; but this ministry did not integrate the Museums which remained under the tutelage of the Emperor’s House. During his administration, he withdrew the age limit for the Prix de Rome competition until the age of 30, published a regulation for the Salon of 1870 which gave the election of artists the choice of jury, facilitated the operation of certain theatres, and offered the painter Courbet and Daumier the cross of the Legion of Honour, which they refused. Maurice Richard lost his portfolio on August 9, 18702.
- Under the Third Republic
November 14, 1881 to January 30, 1882: Gambetta appoints Antonin Proust to the new post of Secretary of State for Fine Arts (with the rank of Minister).
As an artist, critic and curator, he was the first to be convinced that, in order to have a strong ministry, it was necessary to concentrate the various services hitherto scattered under other tutelage. He was also the founder of the Musée des Monuments Français, the École du Louvre and the Musée des arts décoratifs. He also created the Conseil Supérieur de l'Architecture and launched an investigation into the situation of workers and art masters. Gambetta will also entrust art teaching to him at school. He will share his reflections in "art under the Republic»3.
After him, the governments will simply institute a Sub-Secretariat of State for Fine Arts within the Ministry of Public Instruction. The rue de Valois will thus see a dozen undersecretaries of State4.
In the 1930s, the return to an autonomous ministry of arts became a demand of the left parties but with the advent of the Popular Front in June 1936 it maintained the Beaux-ArtsArts under the tutelage of the National Education entrusted to Jean Zay who will be appointed Minister of National Education and Fine Arts and will remain so until September 19395. He is responsible for the creation of the meeting of national opera houses;6 and the National Museum of Folk Arts and Traditions; it also promotes the principle of mobile libraries called bibliobus. He also proposed the creation of the Cannes Film Festival, the first of which would have been held in September 1939 if the Second World War had not begun.
After leaving power, Jean Zay outlined the project of a «Ministry of Cultural Life» whose program will be taken over at the Liberation in the program of the Civil and Military Organization of the Resistance.
Thus, the preamble to the 1946 Constitution “The Nation guarantees equal access for children and adults to education, vocational training and culture”.
- Under the Fourth Republic
On January 22, 1947, Pierre Bourdan is appointed Minister of Youth, Arts and Letters, responsible for information services in the government of Paul Ramadier. He introduced six bills, three of which concerned the press. Thus, on February 28, 1947, is abolished the prior authorization which until then governed the press. It is also under his mandate that the first edition of the Festival d'Avignon takes place7.
After this ephemeral Ministry, the Fourth Republic in turn favors the formula of the Secretary of State housed by the National Education. This choice, considered an artistic resignation, was denounced in 1955 by the former assistant director of shows, Jeanne Laurent, and, in 1956, by an agent of the undersecretary of State, Robert Brichet who, in an article published in the notebooks of the Republic, pleaded «For a Ministry of Arts».
- To go further
Philippe Poirrier, The State and Culture in France in the 20th century, The Pocket Book, 2000.
1 - Françoise de Bernardy: «Alexandre Walewski (1810-1868), Napoleon’s Polish son». Paris, Perrin, 1976.
2 - Maurice Richard, Minister of Fine Arts during the Second Empire (1832-1888), Frédérique Hérault Master’s thesis under the direction of F. Choisel, Institut Catholique de Paris, 1998, 181 p.
3 - 'The Ministry of Arts (1881-1882) or the failed institutionalization of a republican artistic policyVincent Dubois, Publications de la Sorbonne (Societies and Representations) 2001/1 n°11 page 229 to 261.
4 - Including Dujardin-Baumetz (1905-1912). The latter’s chief of staff, who later became director of architecture and then director of Fine Arts, will recount in «Du palais Royal au Palais Bourbon» the 30 years of his life rue de Valois under these undersecretaries of State.
5 - Thirty-nine consecutive months, under five governments, he beat the absolute record for this position under the Third Republic.
6 - The numerous financial difficulties encountered by the Opéra-Comique in the 1930s prompted the State, at the instigation of Jean Zay, to place by decree of 13 August 1936 the Opéra-Comique and the Opera under single management, called Meeting of national opera houses (RTLN).
7 - Detailed digital directory of the Pierre Bourdan fonds at the National Archives