French Billionaire Art Collectors the Pinaults and the Arnaults Pledge $340 Million to Rebuild Notre Dame

Donations are pouring in after images of the cathedral in flames horrified the world.

Left: Bernard Arnault and his daughter Delphine Arnault. Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images. Right: Francois-Henri Pinault and his father Francois Pinault. Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images.

Billionaire art collectors and businessmen François Pinault and Bernard Arnault have pledged €300 million (around $340 million) to help rebuild Notre Dame. They announced their gifts within hours of a devastating blaze that ripped through the roof of the great cathedral in Paris on Monday evening.

The massive fire tore through the 850-year-old structure, causing the cathedral’s gothic spire to collapse as France and the world looked on. At one point the blaze threatened to consume the entire building, but the flames were finally contained this morning, around nine hours after the fire broke out, by some 400 firefighters who worked through the night. There were no fatalities, although one firefighter is reported to have been injured.

Although the cathedral’s main structure and its two bell towers have survived, concerns remain about the stability of the building. Some 100 firefighters remain on hand to control the situation, and extinguish remaining pockets of flames.

Last night, François Pinault and his son François-Henri Pinault pledged €100 million (around $113 million) to help fund the cathedral’s reconstruction.  The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, vowed to rebuild Notre Dame, a symbol of France and World Heritage Site, as the fire burned. 

“My father (François Pinault) and I have decided, as of now, to release €100 million in funds from Artémis to participate in the necessary effort towards the complete reconstruction of Notre Dame,” François-Henri Pinault wrote in a statement.

This morning, the French billionaire, Bernard Arnault, pledged a further €200 million to the pot. Arnault is Europe’s richest man and founder of the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. “The Arnault family and the LVMH group would like to show their solidarity at this time of national tragedy, and are joining up to help rebuild this extraordinary cathedral, which is a symbol of France, of its heritage and of French unity,” the family wrote in a statement.

François Pinault owns an impressive art collection. He founded two private museums in Venice, the Punta della Dogana and the Palazzo Grassi, and plans to open a private museum in Paris. The younger Pinault is CEO of the Kering Group, which oversees fashion houses Balenciaga, Gucci, and Yves Saint Laurent. He is married to the US actor Salma Hayek. 

Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. Photo by Michel Stoupak/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

The donations come after the French president vowed to rebuild the historic edifice. “We will rebuild this cathedral of Our Lady. All together. It is part of our French destiny,” Macron said in a speech at the site last night, where he announced the launch of a national fundraising campaign, as well as calling for international help.

In addition to the major donations from the Pinaults and the Arnaults, the US-based French Heritage Society has also launched a fund to help restore the monument, and several other discrete fundraising campaigns are also underway. The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, called on all 28 member states of the European Union to “take part” in the task of rebuilding the structure.

Many of the cathedral’s treasures and religious relics, including what is said to be Christ’s Crown of Thorns, and a piece of the Cross, were saved. “Some of the major pieces of Notre-Dame’s treasure are now safe at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris,” the French culture minister Franck Riester wrote in a statement. Twelve monumental statues from the cathedral’s roof were among those rescued. Early reports indicated that most of its great stained glass windows have survived, and its historic organ.  The reliquary rooster from the top of the spire, which was made from copper, however, melted in the blaze.

Now, the priority is the reconstruction of the cathedral, an advisor to Marsac-sur-Isle, the company charged with restoring them, told AFP. A restoration project on such a large scale “could take between 15 and 20 years, probably for a cost of several hundred million euros,” Patrick Palem said.

In the coming days and weeks experts will be investigating the cause of the blaze, which is as yet unknown although the fire service has cited the ongoing restoration efforts as possibly linked to the fire. French prosecutors said the incident was currently being treated as an accident. Experts are awaiting clearance to enter the cathedral. 

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