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American patrons more cautious in France

Saturday September 17 is the big day. After years of delays and setbacks, the National Library of France (BNF) is finally reopening the Richelieu site, its splendid historic cradle located in the 2e district of Paris.

In the crowd of guests, there will of course be representatives of the State, which has settled most of the bill of 260 million euros. But don’t be surprised to hear English spoken: seven American patrons donated 2.6 million euros to this giga-restoration. In particular Mark Pigott, discreet boss of the Paccar truck manufacturer and regular supporter of the BNF, who signed a check for 1.2 million euros.

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The love story between the French establishment and America, where the ultra-rich have the habit – and duty – of giving their share to the community in return for a tax deduction, does not stop there. The Mellon Foundation has thus disbursed no less than 1 million euros for the program to safeguard the heritage in danger of libraries in the Middle East, launched by the BNF in 2016. The Getty Foundation, for its part, finances the position of a young curator in charge of studying the collection of drawings from the school of Fontainebleau, this French reinterpretation of Italian mannerism.

« The United States is one of the few countries where we don’t have to explain who we are or what we do », welcomes Kara Lennon-Casanova, patronage delegate of the BNF. In this nation of self-made men, libraries, among the few free places, are indeed part of the social ladder.

dapper billionaire

At the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, American benefactors also make a difference: they are responsible for 70% of donations over 1 million euros. Stephen Schwarzman, founder of Blackstone, the largest alternative asset manager, contributed no less than 2.5 million euros to the renovation of fashion galleries. The dapper billionaire Marina Kellen French has paid 1 million euros for the restoration of six thousand drawings and numerous dresses by Elsa Schiaparelli, from the collections of the Parisian museum.

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But American generosity rarely reaches such levels. Their contribution represents barely 3.17% of the overall patronage of the Palace of Versailles. At the Musée d’Orsay, the American Friends raise around 600,000 euros per year, a drop of water in an overall budget of 60 million euros. « But it’s an oxygen balloon that allows you to launch projects »defends Guillaume Roux, director of patronage of the museum.

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