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Was Your Ancestor a Copyist at the Louvre?


Recently, we had the opportunity to learn more about copyists at the Louvre. Since the Louvre opened in 1793, those with the gift have been copying its paintings. By the mid-nineteenth century, hundreds of people were setting up their easels in the galleries of the museum and painting copies of paintings. Permission had to be obtained from the administration, stating which picture was to be copied. One supplied one's own materials and had to protect the floor.

Some copyists were students of the Ecole des Beaux Arts; many were professional copyists, who sold their paintings; and many were foreigners come to fulfil a dream. The Louvre also operated something of a copyists' sweatshop  called the Atêlier des Copies, where artists were employed to produce innumerable copies of portraits of kings and of heads of state.1 Should your ancestor have been among them, you may now be able to trace that bit of his or her life.

Last year, the Louvre transferred over one and a half kilometres of archives to the Archives nationales. This haul covers the management and history of all of France's national museums, including the Musée d'Orsay and the Luxembourg Museum, with such categories as:

  • personnel
  • collection inventories
  • accounts
  • restauration
  • the Ecole du Louvre
  • the annual salons
  • exhibitions
  • authorisations to copyists

The archivists have finished re-cataloguing the collection and it can now be searched on the general search facility of the Archives nationales, SIV. If your ancestor was employed by or made copies at one of France's national museums, his or her name will appear in the search results. Be forewarned that some years of some categories are missing but, on the whole, it is an excellent new place to hunt for your arty ancestor. Once you have found someone, you may request copies of the relevant documents from the archives. Who knows? You may be able to obtain a copy of the painting copy!

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy 

1. Duro, Paul. "Copyists in the Louvre in the Middle Decades of the Nineteenth Century", Gazette des Beaux Arts, vol. 111, 1988, pp. 249-254.