When one chances upon his favourite author

I had decided to limit (for the time being, at least) my examination of the archives of the Louvre’s Department of Egyptian Antiquities, which are held in the Archives nationales, to 1914. Article 20144775/2 “Administration” contains numerous files that mark out the history of the department on a wide variety of subjects1 One of the files from 1913 concerns a trivial episode of a window damaged, apparently by a visitor, and the reimbursement of the said window (for 25 F). It contains an estimate made by the glazier on 27 October 1913 and some correspondence, up to the copy of the receipt sent to the clumsy visitor on 17 November. The display case concerned is that of a sarcophagus (designated by the number I 712). Nothing particularly surprising. Except that… the visitor in question is a certain “M. de Crayencour”, who gives an address in Brussels (24, rue d’Écosse).

Letter from M. de Crayencour to the Louvre museum, November 1913

Rue Anatole de la Forge 7

Paris

Sir,

I did receive the letter claiming twenty five francs – for breaking a window at the Egyptian dept – I gave my name and address, not to have the replacement made at my expense – but because I was asked to do so, being told that it was a pure formality – I am not persuaded at all that this glass was not cracked before my visit, but I prefer to satisfy the requirements of the administration anyway.

M. de Crayencour

This man, who settles the bill with obvious reluctance, is probably none other than Michel René Charles Jean de Crayencour (1853-1929), whose daughter Marguerite took the imperfect anagram of his surname as her pen name: Yourcenar!

It is a pity that no description of the incident can be found in the daily reports written by the supervisors, following a practice put in place after the theft of the Mona Lisa in 19112. Nor is there any mention of it in the notebook kept daily by the assistant curator of the department3, which tells us at least that works were being carried in the Charles X Museum, probably closed at this time. The damaged showcase was probably located in the Columns Hall (on the first floor of the Arts Pavilion, in the south wing of the Square Court ) or in the Henri IV Galery (in the southern part of the east wing of the Square Court).4

The life of Michel de Crayencour5 was described by his daughter in the last two volumes of her genealogical trilogy Le Labyrinthe du monde, Archives du Nord and Quoi ? l’éternité. He appears therein as an original personality, an adventurer and a worldly figure in the 1900s, “perpetually at odds”6), which fits well with this misadventure and the tone of his response.

The Brussels address may be that of a home of Marguerite’s maternal family7.

Is it forbidden to imagine little Marguerite, then ten years old, accompanying her father into the Egyptian rooms that day?

Marguerite Yourcenar (picture: Bernhard De Grendel, 1982)

This post was translated into English from the French original “Où l’on trouve par hasard son auteur préféré”, February 17th, 2019.

  1. They are listed in detail in the finding aid for this deposit. []
  2. Archives nationales, 20144794/22: no such incidents were reported in the Egyptian rooms during October 1913. The main concern of the museum guards at that time was caused by visitors who smoked on the sly. []
  3. Archives nationales, 20144775/5; the notebook covering this period was meticulously kept (I suspect by Charles Boreux); alas, its author was absent between 16 October and 3 November, and does not mention the incident earlier; a note will describe this valuable document further next week. []
  4. Added 2 June 2019: since this post I have found the fortnightly reports sent by each department to the director of national museums between 1911 and 1935 (Archives nationales, 20150044/35-36) and the 5 November 1913 report does mention this incident: “On 21 [October 1913], a visitor unintentionally broke one of the windows of the sarcophagus of King Antef. The guard took the necessary steps, i.e., took the name and address of the visitor and we were notified.” The coffin in question (Louvre E 3020) was in the Columns Hall in 1895 (Rougé (de), Emmanuel & Pierret, Paul, Description sommaire des salles du musée égyptien, new edition, Paris, 1895, p. 155). []
  5. It is not impossible that this is rather the latter’s namesake son (Marguerite’s half-brother), but this remains highly unlikely given that he did not get on well with his father and was “married and established in Belgium in 1911”: Marguerite Yourcenar, Essais et mémoires, coll. “Bibliothèque de la Pléiade”, Paris, Gallimard, 1991, p. 11333 (Le Labyrinthe du Monde, t. 2 Archives du Nord). []
  6. Marguerite Yourcenar, Essais et mémoires, coll. “Bibliothèque de la Pléiade”, Paris, Gallimard, 1991, p. 953 (Le Labyrinthe du Monde, t. 2 Archives du Nord []
  7. Centre international de documentation Marguerite-Yourcenar, “Close ones. The Family“); that of Paris, on the other hand, actually corresponds to a residence frequented by father and daughter between 1912 and 1914 in the 17th arrondissement, before they moved to the former Avenue d’Antin (now Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt) – they left the capital at the outbreak of the war ((Josyane Savigneau, Marguerite Yourcenar. L’invention d’une vie, Paris, Gallimard, 1990, p. 53. []

Thomas Lebée

Chargé de travaux dirigés (École du Louvre) ; documentaliste scientifique au département des antiquités grecques, étrusques et romaines (musée du Louvre)

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