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200 Objects Damaged After Lightning Sets Fire to French Museum

Three paintings on loan from the Louvre are among the destroyed works

(Conseil départemental de la Manche/Facebook)
smithsonian.com

On July 18, a severe lightning storm started a fire on the small French island of Tatihou. Flames soon engulfed the storage building of the musée de l'Île de Tatihou, a museum devoted to local maritime history and art. The facility burned for nearly three hours, and the losses were devastating. According to Benjamin Sutton of Hyperallergic, 200 objects have sustained significant damage.

Among the artworks destroyed by the flames were three paintings on loan from the Louvre: “The Fish Sale” by 19th-century painter Alexandre Casati, “Still Life with Fish” by an unknown painter from the Netherlands and a 17th-century seascape by yet another unknown Dutch artist. It is the second time this month that items from the Louvre’s collections have been affected by inclement weather. Earlier in July, torrential rains in Paris seeped into the museum and damaged works by the classical French painter Nicolas Poussin and the Rococo master Jean François de Troy.

In a statement to Hyperallergic, the Louvre confirmed that three paintings had been destroyed on Tahitou and expressed “great solidarity with the teams of the Museum of Tatihou and the departmental council of La Manche,” which manages the island. 

The musée de l'Île de Tatihou is known for its impressive collection devoted to the 1692 battles of Barfleur and La Hogue, during which the French navy fought against—and lost to—an allied fleet of English and Dutch ships, a key military engagement in the Nine Years' War. Its artifacts include relics from sunken French vessels and nautical-themed artworks.

According to Naomi Rea of artnet News, 182 out of 206 works held in the museum’s storage facility have been completely destroyed. The fire burned through objects from the 1692 shipwrecks, along with paintings dating from the 17th to 19th centuries. Bronze Age items also went up in flames; Tatihou is home to an ancient settlement that was occupied between 1500 and 1250 BCE, Sutton reports.

“This is a loss of patrimony,” Philippe Bas, president of the departmental council of La Manche, said in a statement. “[T]his represents 25 years of work and collecting that went up in smoke.”

Fortunately, no one was killed or injured while flames burned on the island. “[I]t’s a relief that there were no human casualties,” Bas said in his statement. “It is important to emphasize that.”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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