Michel Laclotte, Who ‘Created the Modern Louvre,’ Dies at 91

Michel Laclotte, who as director of the Louvre oversaw a lot of its historic renovations, and who earlier, as its chief curator of work, championed the Musée D’Orsay (the museum-in-a-train-station) and I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre — two of the most controversial however finally beloved architectural tasks of late-20th-century Paris — died on Aug. 10 in Montauban, in southern France. He was 91.

Pierre Rosenberg, Mr. Laclotte’s successor at the Louvre, confirmed the loss of life, at a buddy’s house. No trigger was given.

Mr. Laclotte went to battle for the Musée D’Orsay in 1972, after the French authorities had demolished the centuries-old market buildings at Les Halles. That had ignited a zeal for preservation in Paris rivaling that in New York City nearly a decade earlier, when the previous Penn Station, a Beaux-Arts landmark, was destroyed.

The Gare d’Orsay, a decommissioned prepare station on the left financial institution of the Seine, was dealing with the similar destiny when Mr. Laclotte had an epiphany: to show that giant and exuberant Beaux-Arts constructing right into a museum.

He and his colleagues had already determined to develop the mission of the Jeu de Paume, a close-by offshoot of the Louvre that held the nation’s assortment of Impressionist work, to incorporate different 19th-century work. For that Mr. Laclotte wanted more room, and plenty of it. The station appeared to suit the invoice.

But there was additionally a thought in the air to show the Gare d’Orsay right into a resort, or maybe a middle to advertise merchandise from the French provinces. Mr. Laclotte needed to make a transfer.

As he recalled in “A Key to the Louvre: Memoirs of a Curator” (2004), he paid a go to to the minister in control of greenlighting the challenge and made his plea: “Minister, you have to choose between Cézanne and reblochon cheese.”

Cheese misplaced.

The inside of the Musée d’Orsay, inbuilt an previous prepare station, was reimagined by the Italian architect Gae Aulenti right into a gutsy industrial area.Credit…Philippe Lopez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It can be greater than a decade earlier than the Musée d’Orsay opened, in 1986, its inside having been reimagined by the Italian architect Gae Aulenti right into a gutsy industrial area — primarily two tough stone galleries, which some critics likened to a funeral corridor. The evaluations had been blended.

Paul Goldberger of The New York Times described the galleries as bunkers, a “vaguely Egyptian version of postmodern architecture.” Some artwork critics carped over the assortment, irritated by Mr. Laclotte and his colleagues’ determination to incorporate a variety of labor from the mid-19th century to about 1915, relatively than simply the blue-chip Impressionists.

In any case, the public poured in, and Mr. Laclotte was pleased with the passions his new museum appeared to encourage.

Just a few years after the Musée D’Orsay opened, he discovered himself with a gaggle of American curator mates, two of whom had been arguing about the museum. “One was shouting, ‘I hate Orsay,’ the other, ‘I love Orsay,’” he wrote in his memoir. “At that point, I said to myself that the battle was won. The museum inspired pleasure, interest and intellectual debate — exactly as we had wished.”

The debate round the Musée d’Orsay, nonetheless, was a tepid tutorial tiff in contrast with the one which erupted when plans for a multiphase renovation and growth of the Louvre, referred to as the Grand Louvre, had been unveiled in the early 1980s. The huge, rambling palace that was the Louvre — the most well-known artwork museum in the world and the house of the Mona Lisa — was by the 1970s cramped, dingy, disorganized and unimaginable to navigate. Mr. Laclotte described it as a sea serpent that he and his colleagues had been perpetually wrangling.

One wing of the museum had been taken over by the Ministry of Finance, which turned it right into a warren of workplaces. The Cour Napoleon, the Louvre’s central courtyard, was a car parking zone by day and a homosexual cruising spot by night time. When François Mitterrand, head of the nation’s Socialist Party, was elected president in 1981, he gave his go-ahead for the renovation. (Large cultural establishments in France are run by the state.)

Émile Biasini, the administrator appointed to supervise the challenge, selected I.M. Pei to be its architect, embracing his plan for a starkly gorgeous modernist glass pyramid, to be inbuilt the central courtyard as a sublime answer to the maze of the Louvre. Mr. Laclotte, who had admired Mr. Pei’s growth of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, was thrilled by the design. Much of the remainder of the nation was not.

Mr. Laclotte was thrilled by I.M. Pei’s design of a modernist glass pyramid in the Louvre’s central courtyard. Much of the remainder of the nation was not.Credit…Guia Besana for The New York Times

“A gigantic, ruinous gadget,” one critic lamented; one other labeled it “Pharaoh Francois’s Pyramid.”

Worse, to many Parisians it was a overseas object designed by a foreigner: There may very well be no higher desecration to this beautiful French monument that was the cultural coronary heart of Paris.

But Mr. Laclotte, ever diplomatic, took the storm in stride, even when a taxi driver, on studying who Mr. Laclotte was, berated him, shouting, “What you’re doing is criminal!”

“When you think about it, it wasn’t entirely unhealthy,” he wrote along with his typical mildness. “It shows that the French public is interested in such cultural matters, even if it is ill informed or ill intentioned.”

Mr. Pei’s pyramid opened in 1989, and the totally renovated museum was reopened in 1993 (although work was to proceed for a number of extra years). Mr. Laclotte retired the subsequent 12 months. Mr. Rosenberg, his successor, stated of him: “He created the modern Louvre. The image of Paris would not be what it is today without him.”

Michel Laclotte was born on Oct. 27, 1929, in Saint-Malo, a walled port metropolis in Brittany. His father, Pierre, a lawyer, was killed in 1940 whereas preventing in World War II. The subsequent 12 months, Michel’s mom, Huguette (de Kermabon) Laclotte, moved Michel and his sister to Nazi-occupied Paris.

Michel first wished to be an architect. But math was not his robust swimsuit, so he determined as an alternative on a profession in museums, for which he studied at the École du Louvre. As a young person, he would go to native museums on household holidays and reorganize them in his head. He saved copious notebooks on their collections.

“No doubt an adolescent passion for classification,” he stated of his youthful behavior. “And alongside this went a profound interest in the national patrimony.”

Mr. Laclotte, second from left, at the opening of the Louvre pyramid in 1989 with Mr. Pei, left, and President François Mitterrand, who had accepted the challenge. Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He started working at the Louvre in 1951 as an intern whereas nonetheless at school, giving guided excursions and serving to to doc works in the portray division. One of his tasks was to assist establish works present in Germany that had been stolen from Jewish collectors.

The subsequent 12 months the authorities started a program to examine museums that had been battered or destroyed in the warfare. Mr. Laclotte was chosen to direct the group that cataloged the artworks, or what was left of them, in addition to to develop the collections and oversee the buildings’ restorations.

Still in his mid-30s, he was named director of work at the Louvre in 1966, one in every of the most vital curatorial jobs in Europe. He turned director of the museum in 1987.

Gary Tinterow, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, stated in a telephone interview that Mr. Laclotte “belongs to a truly remarkable generation of French museum curators and administrators who transformed French museology in the last quarter of the 20th century and created lasting institutions that led the Western world in innovation.”

Mr. Laclotte’s area of scholarship was Italian primitives. When he retired in 1994, he helped set up a nationwide institute for artwork historical past, one other sophisticated diplomatic mission. He averted returning to the Louvre, he stated, to spare himself the embarrassment of listening to former colleagues inform him, “Now you can do what you want!”

No quick relations survive.

“He was a soft-spoken scholar,” Philippe de Montebello, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, stated by telephone, “and if you were only to have a meal with him, it would have been very easy to think that he was just that: a bespectacled scholar in an ivory tower. The truth is, he turned out to have been an extraordinary man of action.”

In the spring of 1988, when the pyramid at the Louvre was practically completed, Mr. Mitterrand arrived for a personal viewing. As Mr. Laclotte recalled in his memoir, the president took the director apart and stated, “Orsay and the Louvre — not bad for one career.”