French Government Loan
March 2, 1942 – January 1, 1945
Main Floor, Galleries 59, 60, 67, 71, 72, 76
This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.
Overview: 154 paintings of the French School of the late 18th and 19th centuries were on loan from the French government. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, an exhibition entitled De David à nos Jours was sent from Paris to Argentina for a tour of South America, as a gesture of goodwill on the part of the Daladier government. Selected by René Huyghe, curator of paintings at the Musée du Louvre, the paintings came from the Louvre, 19 small French museums, and several private collections. Because war conditions made it dangerous to ship the works back to France, they were brought to the United States by permission from the Vichy government. A section, The Painting of France Since the French Revolution, was shown in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles before coming to the National Gallery.
6 months before Pearl Harbor, storage space had been arranged at Biltmore in North Carolina to shelter the Gallery's most important paintings and sculpture from air raids. After the works departed in February 1942, space was available in galleries on the Main Floor to exhibit the French government loans in the custody of the Gallery during the war.
The Gallery relinquished custody of the loans to the Ambassador of the Provisional Government of the French Republic on February 1, 1945, although a number of the paintings continued to be housed and exhibited in the National Gallery until January 1946. A final exhibition of the French works was held in the Central Gallery beginning December 23, 1945.
Drawings and watercolors that also were part of the French government loan were displayed during the war years in several exhibitions in the ground floor galleries.