Consolation by losing sense of time, at the Fesch Museum

Musée Fesch 002 This was to be my second meeting with Philippe Perfettini, historian at the Fesch Museum – where dates, details, stories/facts, emotions and tones were to pour out with a natural ease and where I found myself, once again on the bumpy road through history .. Let us wander back in time once again to 1799, when Napoleon came to power as First Consul.

With Chaptal as Minister in 1801, they decide to create the Beaux Arts museums in Provence, and 15 French cities all in all, i.e: Marseille and Lyon, but none at this moment in Ajaccio, whereupon Lucien Bonaparte starts sending books to Corsica, allowing Cardinal Fesch to look after them.

The Cardinal questions himself as to future possibilities for youth in Corsica, realising there is nothing other than professional activity in agriculture and fishing, and having studied in Aix-en-Provence with the majority of his family, he wonders what he could do to improve this situation and help education. A studies institute is created, but just to teach theology to the religious orders, along with a gallery of works of art. He thought of Casone, as a possible location (also belonging to him), but, changed his mind for the centre of the city. Now, the question arises: ‘why should this just be for theology?’ – it ought to be accessible for all, with science, maths, architecture, classical teachings, etc., and not just religious matters.
For the moment, there are no works of art there and Cardinal Fesch is living with his sister Laetitia in Rome, and his nephew Lucien is living not far from them, at the Palais Falconieri. He purchases a second palace using a figurehead (Peraldi), as the Bonaparte family are still forbidden to stay in Corsica (under the exile law, of 1815). He felt urged to find the right place, but, during this time we must remember that the sea comes right up almost into the city (as we know it nowadays).
In 1824, the first work starts, advancing very slowly indeed, and at his death in 1839 he possesses 16000 works of art, but the central part was not yet even finished … the whole collection was to be sold in 1845
– as a comparison today, the Louvre possesses 5800 paintings !                                      Musée Fesch 006(1)

1841 finally sees the finish of the central part, but it remains empty.

In 1855, the statue of Joseph Fesch is erected and the chapel is also finally finished in 1860. Two architects are assigned to take care of future works; Jérôme Maglioli and Alexis Paccard, and in 1868 the library too sees accomplishment. Cardinal Fesch had decided to bequeath part of his collection: 14500 are to be sold, in order to assist his family. 15000 paintings will be for Corsica; 1000 for Ajaccio and 500 for other towns – remembering that the exile law still exists until 1848, whereupon Louis Napoleon becomes President of the Republic.
Joseph Bonaparte negotiates, and between 1839 and 1843, the works finally arrive in Ajaccio. An inventory takes place. There would be three parts: Napoleonic, Italian and others. It is at that moment difficult to fully realise what this represents too. The location being a military caserne, the paintings were left stocked in crates, some being at the Town Hall. As for the Napoleonic Collection, this was immediately displayed at the Town Hall, which was in fact the first Corsican museum .. opening partially in 1860 and completely in 1871. Believe it or not, the Punta Castle was officially the second Corsican museum ! For a period of six years, nothing happened .. then, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte arrived to power.
His first visit in 1860, where he states that Corsica is ‘a family’ – he sees the work in progress, and Fesch still remaining a military barracks. He takes the decision to finish this project.

As for the crypt, Laetitia and Cardinal Fesch were the first occupants, and in 1951 the ashes of Charles Marie Bonaparte arrive (beforehand they were in the region of Paris).

The most probable date of the opening of the museum appears to be in 1866, and on August 1st the first deposit of a work of art was effected ‘La Forêt de Valdoniello’ by Jean-Luc Multedo.
1891 sees the finish of the stairs, and the development of the gallery .. note that, until 1970, the central part was used as a school (after the military).
So, in 1948 Jean Leblanc arrives and becomes curator of the museum of the town of Ajaccio, and under the obligation to find all the paintings having disappeared during the war – this lasts until 1970. When Marie-Dominique Roche arrives, she finishes his work and opens the museum to the general public. More inventories and work involved from 1974-1990. Having undergone quite a few problems, – it opens in 1990, and it is Jack Lang who inaugurates this event.
Such quality and also quantity had been collected by Cardinal Fesch, who in his lifetime had preciously collected works of art from Dutch, Flemish and French schools.
Marie-Dominique Roche who had taken up functions within, remains until 1997, being sick and overtired and having received very little help from the authorities.

Major works were to be carried out between 2008/2010, and also in 2010 a Napoleonic section was created, along with a department of Corsican paintings – this was a desire that François Corbellini had wished to achieve, already back in the 1920’s.
Know that, the Palais Fesch along with the hospital and the Lycée Laetitia, is amongst the biggest monuments existing here – 5000m², and this usually corresponding to a city with a population of 400.000 …
Today, around 60 people work there, Philippe Costamanga being in charge. Partnerships include: Getty Foundation, Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts de Paris, Surintendance Rome Museum and the Corsican University of Corte.
Of course, hopes reside in better finances for future restoration and expositions, increasing public/touristic visits and attracting an additional adult population, on the whole.

A must see, for all who visit Ajaccio, this is a rendez-vous not to be overlooked, I underline with insistence ! Allowing yourselves the privilege of a historical wander, through levels of time, accompanied by phantoms of the past is never without an emotional tenderness.

Once again, my sincere thanks to Philippe for his assistance here, and where history related as such, is a wonderful pleasure and a necessary halt.

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