This Newly Restored Paris Landmark Just Reopened as a Major Design Museum
Following a four-year renovation, the Hôtel de la Marine debuts with a dazzling array of pieces, including a sofa made for Marie-Antoinette
Situated in a prominent spot on Paris’s Place de la Concorde, in close proximity to the famed Champs-Élysées and the Tuileries, the remarkable Hôtel de la Marine complex is now welcoming visitors, offering a dazzling view into the decorative arts of 18th-century France. Dating back to the late 1700s, the original structure, known as the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, housed the furniture, rugs, and jewels of the king as well as the institution’s intendant, Pierre-Elisabeth de Fontanieu. During the French Revolution and up to 2015, the site was the headquarters of France’s navy ministry.
“The Hôtel de la Marine is an architectural gem in the heart of Paris, with an incredible view on the Place de la Concorde from its loggia,” says Jocelyn Bouraly, administrator of the museum. “This monument was the first museum in Paris. Representative of the French art de vivre, it was essential to preserve it for future generations in order to account for the technical know-how of France: stone cutting, gilding, trimmings, carpentry and cabinetry, chandeliers, sculptures and paintings.”
Following the navy’s departure in 2015, the site was passed to Centre des Monuments Nationaux, whose mission is to conserve, restore, and maintain approximately 100 national monuments, including the famed Arc de Triomphe, Villa Kérylos in the French Riviera, and Sainte Chapelle, among others. Two years later, the organization kicked off the massive restoration of the building starting with the architecturally significant façade before moving in to the courtyards and apartments.
“There were many incredible discoveries made during the restoration of this 18th-century palace,” Bouraly tells Galerie. “In the intendant’s apartments, our restorers have discovered up to 18 coats of paint on the woodwork. Fortunately, we have been able to unveil them after careful work. We were also able to restore the Golden Cabinet, which had become a fully stainless steel kitchen during the occupation of French navy’s operations headquarters in this palace. Two fireplaces were discovered in the formwork of this room as well as the original woodwork.”
Visitors to the Hôtel de la Marine can take an audio-guided tour of the spaces, restored to their 18th- and 19th-century splendor, using the Confidant, an innovative interactive headset. However, one of the first moments experienced is a new addition to the facility—a dazzling, gemlike glass ceiling created by architect Hugh Dutton alongside Christophe Bottineau, head architect at France’s historic monuments office, that caps the intendant’s courtyard.
“As soon as visitors enter the monument, this glass jewel appears as a masterpiece before the visit,” says Bouraly. “This diamond, as we might call it, is made up of laminated panes of glass offering remarkable transparency, accentuated with a masterful arrangement of mirrors over the upper facades and directing light to the bottom of the courtyard. Thus, the Hôtel de la Marine is part of the past and the present, like a jewel in the heart of Paris, emblematic of French excellence and a real place of life and discovery.”
While the architecture itself is spectacular, the Hôtel de la Marine is filled with a number of treasures. Teams worked with a number of leading institutions including the Louvre Museum, the Musée des Arts décoratifs, and the Palace of Versailles national museum to locate pieces originally held at the Garde-Meuble. Returned to the site are a vase-clock with dolphin handles in soft-paste porcelain, a sofa made for Marie-Antoinette by Jean-Baptiste-Claude Sené, a cylinder desk by Riesener ordered in 1784 by Thierry de Ville-d’Avray, and a sideboard by the same Riesener, ordered by Thierry de Ville-d’Avray and which was held at the Élysée Palace.
Then, decorators and 18th-century specialists Michel Charrière and Joseph Achkar searched auction houses, flea markets, galleries, and other sales to find period-correct pieces in order to restore these spaces as faithfully as possible for the public.
“The feat of the Hôtel de la Marine teams has been to restore this palace to an almost original state,” says Bouraly. “We succeeded in replacing in the Golden Room the fall-front desk and a mechanical table known as the Table of Muses, by Jean-Henri Riesener, delivered in 1771 for Pierre-Élisabeth de Fontanieu, the Intendant of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne. These two pieces of unparalleled manufacture had not been found in the same room since the Revolution when they were sold separately.”
Work on the structure is ongoing with two restaurants opening their doors, including Café Lapérouse, a fine-dining destination as well as a wine cellar and chocolatier designed by Cordelia de Castellane, artistic director of Dior Maison and Baby Dior. This fall, the Hôtel de la Marine will host an exhibition of pieces from the Al Thani Collection in the former tapestry room. “Encyclopedic in its approach, and representing a diverse range of cultures and civilizations, the Collection celebrates creativity and the universal power of art through the ages,” says Bouraly, “just as the Hôtel de la Marine is emblematic of French know-how, taste, and the French art of living.”