fr en
Le magazine

At the heart of Picardy, the Musée de la Coopération Franco-Américaine

mardi 27 juin 2017

Share on :

  • Exterior view of the château d'Ecouen: southern façade of the palace, from the south-east
    Exterior view of the château d'Ecouen: southern façade of the palace, from the south-east
    Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Blérancourt) / Gérard Blot

After a period of closure of 11 years, the Musée National de la Coopération Franco-Américaine reopens its doors on 4 July 2017

The Château de Blérancourt, a singular history 

The Château de Blérancourt was built between 1612 and 1619, probably by French architect Salomon de Brosse for the Potier de Gesvres family. This vast country residence was located in the middle of an artificial terrace, accessible only by a bridge and a monumental gate. It included a central residence, flanked by two wings and two smaller pavilions separate from the main building. Ornately decorated, they symbolised the new and original style of this château.

The main building was completely destroyed during the French Revolution. Only the colossal gate and the two pavilions were preserved.

When the first world war broke out, the château was in a state of abandon and overrun with vegetation. In July 1917, the château became the headquarters of a humanitarian organisation of American women led by Anne Morgan, the daughter of banker John Pierpont Morgan. The organisation came to the aid of the civilian population of the Aisne region, who were suffering after three years of war. Lodged in barracks, the American volunteers drove all over the region in Model-T Fords to bring aid to isolated villages.
It was a château in ruin when Anne Morgan purchased it in 1919.
The founder of the museum, a US citizen in love with France, dedicated a large part of her life to strengthening the friendship between France and the United States.

The creation of the museum

In 1924, Anne Morgan commissioned architect Jean Trouvelot to carry out restoration work on the bridge, the gate, the terrace and the two front pavilions of the Château de Blérancourt. Exhibition galleries were created in the South pavilion to house the first events organised by the Amis de Blérancourt association. This pavilion soon revealed itself to be too cramped for the museum's activities.
In 1928, the association decided to restore the north wing of the original residence to build a true museum. The museum is constructed using the original walls, but the coping, vaults and décor were all recreated in 1930.
Dedicated to the memory of Anne Murray Dike, an American doctor and friend of Anne Morgan, the museum houses the American Revolution collections.
In 1938, a second pavilion was rebuilt on the site of the south corner pavilion. Named the "volunteers pavilion", it houses the memories of American volunteers in the first world war, particularly an American Field Service ambulance.

The museum was thus designed as a Franco-American memorial in the form of a diptych, recalling the two great episodes of Franco-American cooperation: France's commitment to the American insurgents in their fight for independence and the solidarity of the US with French troops during the first world war.

Renovations et restorations 

In 1989, the museum saw major renovation work with the extension of the south wing by architects Yves Lion and Alan Lewitt. The new building is harmoniously integrated with the existing constructions at the site, with attention to size and materials. The interior layout is organised around a large sycamore picture rail that leads smoothly through the galleries. The materials of marble and American sycamore help to give a peaceful atmosphere to the rooms that are abundant with natural light: ingenious alcoves and sub-structures offer glimpses of the surrounding natural environment.

An architectural project for expansion

Following the initial expansion of the museum in 1989, the need to extend the galleries for the permanent collections and to create a gallery for temporary exhibitions led to a second phase of renovation and expansion works. The project was again awarded to Yves Lion and Alan Lewitt, architects for the first phase of the Florence Gould pavilion extension project.
A new development integrated major archaeological discoveries that were made during construction. The museum aims to raise awareness of the bonds between France and the United States through historical documents, artworks, art objects and videos that explore the relationship from the 16th century to the present day. The principal topics on display are: the Age of Enlightenment and French support in the American Revolution, the two world wars and artistic exchanges.