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Restoring the Hôtel de la Marine

La restauration de l'Hôtel de la Marine

How do you restore a monument that has had several lives, such as the Hôtel de la Marine? Follow us as we take a behind-the-scenes look at an exceptional project that took place on Place de la Concorde, in the heart of Paris, between 2017 and 2020.

A bias: to recreate the atmosphere of the 18th century

In 2015, the Ministry of the Navy moved from the Hôtel de la Marine in Paris to the new Ministry of Defence site in the south of Paris. The monument was then entrusted to the Centre des monuments nationaux. The aim was torestore the building and take visitors back to the days of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, when it was built in the 18th century.

After more than 200 years of occupation of the Hôtel de la Marine by the Ministry and the Naval Staff, the internal organisation of the building and its decor had changed considerably. The Centre des monuments nationaux, which has been entrusted with the management of the monument and its opening to the public, has chosen, wherever possible, to restore the original decor: that of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne in the 18th century, an exceptional testimony to theexcellence of French architecture and decoration.Restitution", because what we are talking about here is restoring the premises to their original state, that of the construction of the buildings in the 18th century. 

The CMN and its teams of curator-restorers have had the pleasant surprise of discovering the original wall decorations, ceilings and floors beneath the successive additions of the 19th and 20th centuries - an opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in the unique and exceptional atmosphere of a flat from the Age of Enlightenment. The ceremonial rooms l ining the loggia have been kept as they were designed by the Ministry of the Navy in the mid-19th century.

La restauration de l'Hôtel de la Marine
Hôtel de la Marine, chambre de M. de Fontanieu, alcôve et passage menant à la chambre d'apparat de Mme Thierry

© Benjamin Gavaudo / Centre des monuments nationaux

Focus: to restore or to restore?

The opening of the Hôtel de la Marine to the public has prompted the Centre des Monuments Nationaux and its curators to combine the restoration of the building with its restitution. But what is the difference between the two?

  • Restitution : the action of restoring an object to its original state by removing the traces of any subsequent modifications or alterations it may have undergone.
  • Restoration : this involves restoring a work of art or a monument to its original condition, trying to respect its current state and style as far as possible.

At the Hôtel de la Marine, it was decided to restore the intendant's flats to the state they were in at the end of the 18th century , by erasing all traces of the Ministry of the Navy. This was made possible thanks to the discovery of the original paintings, underneath more recent layers of paint, and their restoration using materials and techniques from the period.

Did you know? The worksite is one of the largest in the capital!

Hôtel de la Marine, restauration des boiseries peintes

© Ambroise Tézenas / Centre des monuments nationaux

Restoring buildings

The first phase of the work involved restoring the building to its original volumes. Over the course of two centuries, the space requirements of the Navy have changed: more offices, installation of lifts, but also the arrival of new technologies such as electricity, telephone and internet.

To save space, some rooms were built over, i.e. an intermediate floor was installed to double the floor area. On the first floor, the former bronze gallery, which opened onto the inner courtyard, was also closed off and placed in a mezzanine to save space.

The first phase of the works therefore removed these additions and restored the building to its original state, both inside and out.

The work on the Hôtel de la Marine is not simply a return to the building's origins. The client wanted a touch of modernity , with a glass roof over the Intendant's Courtyard and a carpet of light over the main courtyard.

The building is thus an example of a fruitful dialogue between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries.

La restauration de l'Hôtel de la Marine
Echafaudage dans la cour de l'intendant de l'Hôtel de la Marine

© Benjamin Gavaudo / Centre des monuments nationaux

(Re)discovering the painted decor of the Intendant's flats

How do you find decor dating back several centuries? By simply scratching around... Studies and surveys carried out prior to the restoration work soon uncovered the original paintings in the Intendant's flats, under layers of paint and decor added over the years.

Teams of restorers, armed with scalpels, were tasked with stripping, peeling, erasing and rubbing away the recent paintings, centimetre by centimetre, to rediscover the flamboyant 18th-century decor. A real treasure hunt.

Did you know? The workmen who worked on the Hôtel de la Marine in the 1770s are the same as those who worked on the Château de Versailles!

La restauration de l'Hôtel de la Marine
Restauratrice dégageant les couches de peinture les plus récentes appliquées sur des boiseries

© Benjamin Gavaudo / Centre des monuments nationaux

Particular care taken with the furniture...

Thanks to the furniture inventories of the Garde-Meuble, it has been possible to identify most of the furniture and fabrics present in the Hôtel de la Marine in the 18th century. Marc-Antoine Thierry de Ville-d'Avray, intendant of the Garde-Meuble, drew up a general inventory of the institution's collections in 1774, which is still considered a reference today.

What could be more important than the furniture to restore the atmosphere of yesteryear? The Centre des monuments nationaux has acquired two unique pieces of furniture by thecabinetmaker Jean-Henri Riesener: a chest of drawers and a cabinet-style secretary. The first is representative of the style of the king's cabinetmaker; the second, classified as a national treasure, was commissioned by the intendant Pierre-Elisabeth de Fontanieu to furnish his private flats.

Therestoration of the decor, carried out by the Centre des monuments nationaux and its experts, also highlights the curtains, upholstery fabrics and wallpapers, restoring the original atmosphere to the rooms in the intendant's flats and the reception rooms.

La restauration de l'Hôtel de la Marine
Hôtel de la Marine, salle à manger, buffet devant un panneau de soie peinte

© Benjamin Gavaudo / Centre des monuments nationaux

... and textiles

To achieve this, period fabrics were purchased from dealers or at public auctions: crimson damasks, brocades, etc. These fabrics were used to reupholster the furniture, particularly the seats. The restorers found enough crimson damask to completely reupholster Pierre-Elisabeth de Fontanieu's gilded cabinet.

Two rooms, Thierry de Ville d'Avray's bedroom and Mrs Thierry de Ville d'Avray's bedroom, were entirely upholstered in textiles. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to find a sufficient quantity of fabric to completely redo the tapestry using period fabric. The Centre des Monuments Nationaux carried out numerous tests to obtain a textile as close as possible to the original. The doors from Thierry de Ville d'Avray's bedroom, now in the Boston Museum, are an important reference for this work.

Salon d'angle en travaux : couture d'une garniture architecturale

© Benjamin Gavaudo / Centre des monuments nationaux

Exceptional collaborations

The CMN has carried out rigorous work toidentify, research and locate the original furniture and objects.

Thanks to the generous collaboration of major public partners, such as the Mobilier national, the Louvre, the Musée des Arts décoratifs, the Musée national du château de Versailles, the Ministry of the Armed Forces and the Manufacture de Sèvres, many deposits have been made.

Collaboration with the Mobilier national, the forerunner of the Garde-Meubles de la Couronne, led to the deposit of a low bookcase commissioned from Gaudreaus for Louis XV in 1744 and used by Fontanieu for his dining room at the Garde-Meuble.

Riesener enlarged the piece, transforming it into a sideboard with a dumbwaiter mechanism and adding a second piece of furniture with matching decoration. The latter was previously kept at the Élysée Palace. Other pieces of furniture, which were also on the premises in the 18th century, have been deposited with the Mobilier National.

La restauration de l'Hôtel de la Marine
Buffet, détail d'un ornement de la façade

© Benjamin Gavaudo / Centre des monuments nationaux

The worksite in figures

  • 3 years of work
  • 1,200 m² of décor to be removed
  • 130 million budget
  • + 40 companies involved in the work
  • 500 items of joinery restored
  • 330 m² of glass roof created to cover the inner courtyard
  • 12,700 m² of total surface area renovated, including 6,200 m² for areas open to visitors
Hôtel de la Marine, salon d'honneur en travaux
Hôtel de la Marine, salon d'honneur en travaux

© Benjamin Gavaudo / Centre des monuments nationaux

Discover the restoration of the Hôtel de la Marine on video