French passion

Exhibition of the Marlene and Spencer Hays Collection at the Musée d’Orsay

MúzeumCafé 37.

The main road leading to the banks of the river Cumberland and the tall buildings of Nashville, Tennessee, traverses a hilly landscape with private estates hidden among the trees. One of these has brought Paris to Nashville. The dividing lines between time and space grow indistinct in the pathways of the fabulous garden as you catch a glimpse of a small mansion built in French style amidst similarly French-like flower beds. Clearly you have reached the realm of Marlene and Spencer Hays, one of the shrines of their passion for French culture. It took five years to construct this reduced-scale copy of the Hôtel de Noirmoutier in Paris. French masters carved the stones, while the parquet flooring of the library and dining room came from a provincial French chateau. The Hays’ other residence in the heart of Manhattan is quite different. The original six-room apartment was transformed into a grand interior whose wood-panelled walls, forming a contemporary studiolo, feature New York’s skyscrapers. In contrast with the more intimate themes in Nashville concentrating on family scenes, here nudes, portraits of artists and the melancholy tone of turn-of-the-century Parisian genre paintings determine the atmosphere. Works by the same artists fill both residences, yet thanks to the arrangement two quite different moods have been created. The furnishings of Spencer’s office represent a third style, incorporating themes linked to the everyday activity of the successful businessman. A collection is always said to be the self-portrait of the collector. Luckily the curators of the exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay were able show more than three ‘self-portraits’. They could freely select among the extraordinarily rich and high-quality artworks, which thus could be displayed in their original birthplace, Paris.