Homage to Yvonne Brunhammer (1927-2021)

It was only recently that museums and universities in France began to acknowledge the fundamental role played by women in the arts. This is no less the case of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, where artists recognized for their tremendous contributions to the world of decorative arts often include names like Julies Maciet, Antonin Proust, Georges Berger, David David-Weill and Francis Mathey. There is no doubt however, that the contribution of women to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs has been vast, the most impressive of which has been the impact of the late Yvonne Brunhammer (1927–2021), who died in Paris on February 28th, 2021.

Yvonne Brunhammer began her career at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 1950 as a specialist in Islamic Arts with a unique interest in Middle Eastern rugs and Koubatcha ceramics. In 1956, Brunhammer edited the second edition of L’Art Musulman, authored in 1928 by historian Gaston Migeon and collector Raymond Koechlin. Her scientific knowledge and professional role expanded at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, where she served as Assistant Conservator between 1963 and 1969, and Chief Conservator of Historical Collections until 1986. With the departure of Francois Mathey in 1985, Brunhammer succeeded her former colleague, and was appointed Director of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, a position she held from 1986 until 1991.

Yvonne Brunhammer became a leader in the global museum landscape and was recognized not only in France, but the world-over, for her breadth of professional collaborations, exhibitions and publications, most notably in Japan and America. In the realm of Art Déco, Brunhammer distinguished herself in 1966 with the innovative exhibition, Les années 25. Art déco. Bauhaus. Stijl. Esprit Nouveau and a decade later with the exhibition Cinquantenaire de l’exposition de 1925, both at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Her book, Le Style 1925, from 1966, has been republished on several occasions and is still an important reference of Art Déco works. Brunhammer, along with colleagues Ralph Culpepper, Maurice Culot, Yves Plantin and Alain Blondel, was one of the first to re-popularize Art Nouveau globally with the exhibitions Pionniers du XXe Siècle at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 1971, Art Nouveau. Belgium. France in Chicago and Houston in 1976, and 1900 en France: Art Nouveau in Tokyo in 1981. On her quest for an artistic overview of the 20th century, Brunhammer organized the exhibition Les Années UAM 1929-1958 (Union of Modern Artists) in 1988. The catalogues of these exhibitions, which brought together renowned specialists of the time, and her many publications, such as Les Artistes Décorateurs 1900-1942, published in 1990 and André Arbus, Architecte Décorateur des Années 40 published in 1996, remain references for academics and art historians today.

Beginning in the 1980’s, Yvonne Brunhammer became increasingly interested in contemporary creators thanks to her collaboration with the Centre Pompidou and the design historian and friend, Raymond Guidot. Brunhammer paid tribute to designers Charlotte Perriand in 1985, Issey Miyake in 1988 and Sylvain Dubuisson in 1989 with major exhibitions held in their honor at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Her continued interest in ceramics also led her to organize the exhibitions and publish the accompanying works Céramique Française Contemporaine. Sources et Courants in 1981 and Verriers Français Contemporains. Art et Industrie in 1982. The latter, still considered a standard in its own right, brought new interest to the world of glass art, and thanks to its publication, led to the establishment of the Centre du Verre at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

Yvonne Brunhammer spent the entirety of her career at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Incredibly fond of the museum’s holdings, she was constantly promoting these unparalleled collections of decorative arts through publications such as Cent chefsd’oeuvre du musée des Arts décoratifs in 1964 and Le Beau dans l’Utile : un Musée pour les Arts Décoratifs in 1992, the only transversal publication of the collections of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs based on historical styles, published by Massin. Of equal importance, Yvonne Brunhammer advised, prepared and educated an entire generation of conservators whose experience and knowledge has been sought the world-over. In 1986, as financial difficulties loomed over the privately funded Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Brunhammer inspired the idea of showcasing “the accessible reserves”, where recent acquisitions could be displayed. Prescient to the importance given to sustainability and repurposing, Brunhammer elected to reutilize display cases and storage materials from previous exhibitions, making her pioneer in these fields. This included chairs from her groundbreaking 1968 exhibition Les Assises du Siège as well as works that had been included in her 1980 exhibition, Les Métiers de l’Art which incorporated loans from the holdings of the Fonds National d’Art Contemporain (FNAC).

Today, as the international art scene takes for granted the prominence of subjects such as Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Contemporary design, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs pays homage to the life of an exceptional visionary.

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