AN EXCEPTIONAL PATRONAGE
Three years ago, the World Monuments Fund Europe – the European branch of the leading international private organization devoted to the restoration of monuments around the world – made the restoration of the Foyer one of its priority projects, and it raised two thirds of the money needed for the work.
The Grand Foyer underwent four phases of restoration during the XXth century, and today its condition is perfectly stable. The dirtying that had appeared over time was mainly due to cigarette smoking. After the work endeavoured in 2011 to restore the paintings located between windows, a great campaign of restoration funded by the World Monuments Fund and the French Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication revealed the original shine of the Grand Foyer.
The Grand Foyer restored
For every decorative register, experts carried out various analyses of the materials, the techniques and the levels of dirtying, as well as preliminary tests, in order to determine what kind of cleaning would be most suited for the works of art. During the restoration, an atmosphere of general harmony was made possible thanks to mutual consultation and dialogue among the members of the team. The cleaning process allowed the team to rediscover techniques, subtle hues and finishing touches that the patina of time had made invisible.
The oils, produced in ateliers on large linen canvases, were affixed to the walls following the marouflage technique (using adhesives that harden as they dry).
Henri Gervex (1852-1929) produced the paintings at both ends of the foyer: The Queen’s Comic Ballet evokes the birth of opera at the court of Henri III; The Saint-Laurent Fair illustrates the emergence of the comic opera genre in early XVIIIth-century Paris.
Albert Maignan’s (1845-1908) paintings were inspired by scenes from comic operas that were popular in 1898, which can be identified thanks to their choruses : between the windows, Le Chalet (1834) by Adolphe Adam on the left and La Dame blanche (1825) by François-Adrien Boieldieu on the right; by the doors of the avant-foyer, Les Noces de Jeannette (1853) by Victor Massé on the left, and Zampa (1831) by Ferdinand Hérold on the right. On top of them, one can see allegories of the Andante, the Adagio and the Allegro, as well as two women representing the arts of Romance and Lyricism. The ceiling depicts Les Notes et les Rythmes (Notes and Rhythm).
The collection of busts is relatively heterogeneous as it was created over time. Nonetheless, it brings together some composers that became emblematic of the Opéra Comique: André-Modeste Grétry, Étienne-Nicolas Méhul, Fromental Halévy, Ambroise Thomas, Édouard Lalo and Claude Debussy.
The twelve stucco medallions that surround Maignan’s painting form a more structured pantheon, following the idea that the prosperity of the Opéra Comique relies on its composers (placed on top), but also on the librettists (on the left) and the singers (on the right). Regarding the mouldings, the restoration revealed that the vegetable motifs were created using three pigments of gold : red, yellow and green.
Located on top of the doors that lead to the lateral rotundas, the gilt bronze allegories of Music and Song are creations by Paul Gasq (1860-1944). Likewise, the ornaments of the five marble doors were cast and gilded by Christofle and Cie. They had to be taken down completely in order to be fully restored, and the work done unveiled the original, delicate hues of the Sarrancolin marble. The restoration also recreated the alternation of matte and shiny surfaces present in the original bronzes, in the motif of the laurel and acanthus leaves.
Each one of the bronze chandeliers, made by the Christofle workshop, are decorated with 116 lightbulbs. Together with those visible lightbulbs, faces of satyrs and nymphs create a complex tableau in which the innovative use of electric light was a central element. The renovation of the chandeliers thus recreates perfectly the luminous atmosphere of the foyer as it was conceived in the early 1900s.
The delicate mahogany wainscots, adorned with a golden frieze, were probably the most difficult thing to restore. As for the parquet, arranged in a herringbone pattern, it will be restored in 2013.
Lastly, the historical research carried out in the context of this restoration revealed that fine curtains and valances used to decorate the windows before 1950. They are currently being studied, in order for their materials, patterns and colours to be determined in preparation for an eventual restoration.