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A Passion for France. The Marlene and Spencer Hays Collection
A Passion for France
Marlene and Spencer Hays began buying works of art in the early 1970s. Like many other American collectors of the time, they initially focused on late 19th and early 20th century American painting, winning their trophies by outbidding at the international auction houses of New York and London. Then, they looked further afield, and in the early 1980s discovered the Nabis. They immediately fell under the spell of the mysterious paintings of Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Maillol, Ranson and Vuillard, and started an outstanding collection.
To house these treasures, the Hays built their own hôtel particulier in Nashville, on a model of the Hôtel de Noirmoutier in rue de Grenelle in Paris, and furnished it with 18th century antiques. The paintings in their New York apartment, decorated by Renzo Mongiardino (1916-1998), fit well with the exquisite furniture like the set of settees chairs designed by Paul Follot in the 1920s, which is exhibited in the show. Paintings, sculptures, drawings, and rare books fill every room of their residences. But the Hays accepted to have their walls stripped for a few months and to have the masterpieces of French art return to their country of origin, so that the visitors of the Musée d'Orsay could see them.
Living in Paris
The collection includes a considerable number of paintings and drawings depicting Paris in the 19th century and the Belle Epoque. Looking at these works on their walls reminds the Hays of the times they too, strolled along the streets of Paris or in the Tuileries Gardens.
Fin de siècle Paris with its lively street life, cafés and theatres so accurately described by Anquetin, Forain, Béraud, Goeneutte and Steinlen also appeals to them. These paintings contain all the typical characters found on the Parisian boulevards: the "bourgeois", the "midinettes", the "flâneurs", shady characters and crafts of long ago. In Bonnard's painting of 1896, the lamps of Paris gardens, the legendary café-concert on the
Champs-Elysées, subtly cast light on the crowd looking for a night of entertainment. A painting by Fernand Pelez, Grimaces and Misery Circus performers, an initial version of a monumental painting now in the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris Collection, is one of the jewels of the Hays collection. A huge critical success at the 1888 Salon, this melancholic circus parade illustrates the ambiguous charm of urban poverty that exists behind the bright lights of the show.