French Museums’ Collections in Disarray, Government Audit Reveals

The Louvre.
Photo: Courtesy Musée du Louvre.

A shocking 80 percent of French museums have no idea what’s in their collections. According to an audit of the 1,218 museums in France that are part of the Musées de France association, founded in 2002, a parliamentary commission found that the overwhelming majority of the country’s museums have not completed the mandatory once-a-decade inventory of the collections, Libération reports.

Drawn up by a team led by Isabelle Attard, secretary of the cultural affairs commission for France’s National Assembly, the audit found that as of 2011, 24 percent of national museums had taken stock of their permanent collections. By 2012, only 12 percent of non-national museums had completed an inventory of their collections. And many of those museums that complied with the law did so incorrectly or incompletely.

“In certain museums,” the report states, “the holdings were not scrupulously inventoried; in others the inventories have turned out to be insufficiently precise.”

The fault is not only with the museums, though. The audit revealed that Musées de France took too long to send its member institutions sufficiently clear directions for taking inventory of their collections. It wasn’t until 2006, a full four years after the establishment of the association in 2002, that the government drew up directives for completing the inventory process that is mandatory for member institutions.

The report concludes by laying blame on a broader lack of resources—both in terms of staff and money—for museums’ lack of compliance with the Musées de France laws. It also points to the lax job French museums have done in researching the provenance in works that are suspected to have been looted during World War Two.

The parliamentary commission is now eight months into its audit of the country’s museums, and will continue investigating until the year’s end.

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