A recent collection
The Petit Palais photographic collection was created in the early 1990s. Although it held a wealth of works from the 19th century, the Petit Palais had no exhibits relating to the major invention of the century – photography. The creation of a collection dedicated to this technique was built around existing items already in the museum’s documentary resources (daguerreotypes, pictorialist photographs preserved in the museum as souvenirs of the exhibition held in 1904, etc.). At that time, the large Parisian museum collections were reassessing the status of so-called “documentary” photographs (the example of the Musée Rodin’s photographic collections is very instructive in this respect) and so by creating a photographic collection, the Petit Palais became part of this trend to re-evaluate a former collection whose purpose had originally been utilitarian.
Using as a basis this core historic material which changed status by virtue of being added to the general museum inventory, acquisitions were made targeting prestigious prints of major personalities in the collection (Vollard, Sarah Bernhardt, etc.), or groups of photos tracing the history of the building and the Universal Exhibition in 1900 (the Neurdein album, a collection of photographs backed with cardboard, etc.).
Contemporary photography naturally found a home in this collection whose aim was to interact fully with the life of the building and the museum. When exhibitions were staged the collection quickly incorporated an interesting series on the renovation of the Petit Palais by the photographer Flore and photographs by Bruno Barbey and Carlos Freire.
Areas for development
Following in the footsteps of the Dutuit brothers, major figures in the history of the Petit Palais, the first line of research and expansion for the photographic collection is the reproduction of works of art from the past and present. Collecting reproductions of works (from the collection or other sources) will enable a visual history of attitudes to art to be created and to offer a behind the scenes glimpse of the museum.
The theme of the background processes of art is a complementary one. Using photographs of artists at work, studios (research is due to take place on the caster’s workshop and the work of sculptors to enhance the collections) and open-air painters, the photographic collection focuses on showing art in the making.
As a visual record of a prestigious venue, the collection has as its goal to pursue one of its founding principles of focusing on the building and its context: photographs of the Petit Palais are still of interest to photographers today. Architectural photography, both in the past and in its contemporary reincarnation, merits a place in this collection which aims to offer a specific perspective.