LETTERS TO THE EDITORS

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  • 11.2.19jo

    Je serais navr douvrir une polmique dans ce journal avec un collgue dont japprcie particu- lirement et la science et la charmante courtoisie. Si sur lantriorit des travaux analogues ceux de Compigne il est facile de prciser les dates (et je me propose dy consacrer une note ultrieure), en revanche lorsquon aborde le domaine subjectif des prfrences personnelles il est trs difficile daffirmer une vrit. Pour ma part je puis seulement dire que de prtendues restitutions comme celle de la chambre de Frdric le Grand Potsdam sont

    LETTERS TO THE I .I 2.1 949

    Dear Sir:

    M. Vergnet-Ruiz paper on the restoration of the Palace of Compigne (Mus., Vol. I, 1948, page 64) is of particular interest because it indicates the trends which French authorities are now fol- lowing in the maintenance of former royal palaces. There is no doubt that the state of the Palace of Compigne has benefited greatly by the expert care with which M. Vergnet-Ruiz, the curator, has restored it to its former glory. In addition to his report, M. Vergnet-Ruiz has compiled some information on the restoration of historical interiors abroad and has suggested the acceptence of certain principles. These, he believes, should in time yield museographic theories. Allow me to offer some additional information concerning these two mat- ters as well as a few points of possible further dis- cussion.

    It is unfortunate that M. Vergnet-Ruiz was not well-informed about work outside France. It is worth while to mention Sweden where the preser- vation of interiors and the various cultural aspects involved has been thoroughly studied since Arthur Hazelius began discussions many years ago. The Hallwyl mansion in Stockholm might even be considered a curators dream come true-a com- pletely-equipped house with every item in evidence in the series of lavishly printed volumes of its inventory.

    In order to become acquainted with the prin- ciples followed in the Uniied States, it is scarcely necessary to wait for the arrangement of two historical houses recently acquired by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, for the meritorious principles of this Society are well known. The activities of Colonial Williams- burg should have been mentioned because of the successful way this corporation has carried out the work of preservation and restoration in this country. Attention should also have been given to the nation-wide efforts in restoration of the National Park Service.

    The situation in Germany was apparently misun- derstood. This, I wish to emphasize, may not have been caused through any oversight of the author, but may be due to the fact that literature about the former princely palaces which have been made into house-museums is now scarce and, even more important, a systematic theory of the work done has never been published in extenso.

    In any case there can be no discussion about rhe fact that the general type of restoration recom- mended by M. Vergnet-Ruiz now was developed in Germany immediately after the revolution of ,1918. Activities in this respect were begun in Prussia and Bavaria with countries like Saxony, Baden and Wiirttemberg following. While I do

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    prkciskment celles auxquelles sopposent mes prin- cipes et dont je souhaite voir viter dans la plupart des cas la rkppttition. Cette partie de la note de M. Huth se rapporte A des prsentations historiques qui rappellent celles de Louis-Philippe Versailles et dont les principes codif& en regard de ceux que jai tent dexprimer permettraient au lecteur de se faire lui-m&me une opinion sur la valeur sdenti- fique rciproque ou lopportunit.

    JEAN VERGNET-RUIZ

    Inspecteur gnral des nztrskes de province, Conseri~ateur du chdtean de Compigne.

    EDITORS not wish to turn present discussion into one con- cerned with the question of priorities, a point to be made is the decision of the German people to preserve intact the heritage from former rulers, a decision which was, in itself, an historical one of the first magnitude. It is therefore pertinent that these measures were taken in 1919 and not, as it might have been done, under the Hitler rgime or even, as M. Vergnet-Ruiz suggests, as a consequence of precedents set in France. Seen in retrospect it was a logical step in the evolution of historical visualization which of course, is as old as the pyramids.

    This is what happened in Prussia after 1919. At that time estates of the Hohenzollern had to be separated from State properly. In order to do this, the contents of all palaces had to he checked and compared with the inventories and other papers which had been preserved in the State Archives since the xwth century. Since it was necessary to carry out this enormous task, it was decided that it should be done in a constructive way and as a result of all the research work, an attempt should be made to restore some of the more important palaces as historical house-museums. According to the period in which they were built, the most suitable ones were designated to represent either in whole or in part in some of their suites the era of a apecific ruler. Then based on Archives sources these palaces were re-equipped with all available furnishings to show as nearly as possible how they appeared in their hey-day. Missing items were usually omitted, but occasionally certain compromises were made in the use of suitable substitutes though no copies or completely alien objects were ever introduced. Major difliculties sometimes occurred. For instance, the room in which Frederic the Great died had been altered by his successor who had replaced the panelling with some in the style of Louis XIV and had given away the furniture. The Rococo chair in which the king died was, however, available, and was placed in the room together with a few other authentic and important items. The room thus assumed a miseum-like character because of its emptiness. Though this could not be avoided, the main features, the chair in which the king died, was in evidence. The chair unquestionably was a most suitable object with which to kindle the imagination of the visitor and give him a kind of mental shock, similar to that which James Feni- more Cooper experienced at Mount Vernon when he put his hand on a door-knob and recalled that George Washington had touched the same spot. Would any visitor impressed by such an association care whether the style of panelling conformed to that of the chair. While I do not think so, I ask this question because, according to the principles set up by M. Vergnet-Ruiz, the arrangement in Sans-Souci is wrong-he calls it confusing, This may be so, there are other solutions too, perhaps even much better ones. But certainly there is no ideal solution which can be based on a principle

    and a frozen rule. What I am afraid of in M. Vergnet- Ruiz principles is their rigidity; they leave no leeway for a factor which, it seems to me, M. Ver- gnet-Ruiz has not considered-the factor of inter- pretation. I am suie that M. Vergnet-Ruiz will agree with me when I say that the restoration of a palace is more than a lesson in style or, at best, an illustration of the every-day life of a bygone age, What we wish to do in restoration is to visu- alize a chapter in history and for this purpose prepare a certain object for demonstration. To do this we must take-whether we like it or n o t a very defmite point of view which, though it should be objective in theory, does not always turn out that way.

    Compigne, Sans-Souci and Sarskoye Selo are all excellent objects with which to illustrate certain historical ideas-so too, is a log cabin in Tennessee a n d I agree there are certain basic d e s which are useful in dealing with these various objects. Beyond that, however, we must leave the treatment of any given problem to the tact, prudence and discretion of the restorer, for the reason that in every case there are so many imponderabilla involved that there can be no point in attempting the the establishment of any set of complicated rules. Such d e s demand a greater measure of objectivity than is possible. We must not be blind to the fact that in restoring and interpreting an historical object there are almost always certain tendencies involved which cannot or even should not be avoided. These tendencies make it impossible to any set of rules dictated mainly in regard to styl- istic considerations which are not the most impor- tant ones in view of a complex historical situation.

    For readers who are interested in bibliography, I wish to add that the first guide of an historical house-museum in Prussia based on archive research was published by C. F. Foerster : Das Neue Palais, 1923. The first director of the administration of the former royal palaces in Prussia was Paul G. Hueb- ner (succeeded by Ernst Gall), in Bavaria Friedrich H. Hofmann (succeeded by Heinrich Kreisel, not Kessel). The book by Burkhard Meier (not Burgmayr), Potsdam, 1923, was an unoffidal publication.

    This author has published a resum concerning the restored apartments of Frederick the Great in Phoebus, August and December issues, 1949.

    Yours sincerely, HANS HUTH

    Associate Cnrator, Department of Painting.

    The A r t Institute of Chicago

    11.2.19jo

    I should very much regret embarking on a controversy, in this journal, with a colleague whose knowledge and courtesy I deeply appreciate. Whereas dates can easily be attributed to work such as that carried out at Compigne (and I pro- pose to write a further note on this subject), it is very diflicult, in the matter of personal preferences, to make any dogmatic statement. For my part, I can only say that I am opposed in principle to so-called restorations such as that of Frederick the Greats room ar Potsdam, of which I hope to see as few repetitions as possible. Mr. Huth, in this part of his note, refers to historical representations remin- iscent of those of Louis Philippe at Versailles; a comparison of the principles underlying such representations with the principles that I have tried to explain would enable the reader to form his own opinion of their respective suitability and scientific value. (Translated from French.

    JEAN VERGNET-RUIZ Inspector-General

    of French Provincial Museums Cwator of the Chteau de Compigne.

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