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Musée National des beaux-arts d’Alger
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Musée National des beaux-arts d’Alger

The National Museum of Fine Arts of Algiers ((in French) Musée National des beaux-arts d'Alger) is a museum located in Algiers, Algeria. On May 14th, 1962 over 300 works of art were brought to the Louvre in Paris from the Museum. This shipment included works by such artists as Monet, Delacroix and Courbet. The negotiations over returning the art, and whether it should indeed be returned to Algeria were a contentious issue in France and a cause of outrage in Algeria. Under the Evian accords of March 1962 it was agreed that all institutions and infrastructure which had under colonial administration been financed by the autonomous colonial administration in Algeria would remain under the control of the Algerian State. The argument of the Algerian negotiators for this technicality was that these institutions, museums included had been financed from the resources produced by the Algerian land and its people. Both the head of the Louvre and of the curator of the Museum of Fine Arts (who remained the same as under French administration) worked to bring the works back under Algerian control. The Director of France's museums Henri Seyrig argued that returning the work, in accord with the Evian Agreements would continue to remind Algerians of their ties to France and would follow a foreign policy brief stating an intention to “foster the most extensive audience for our culture” as an extension of politics by other means. while the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Michel Debre saw it as France’s cultural property, and a part of its territory that must be returned. The Musée National des beaux-arts d'Alger came under threat as independence approached. As part of their campaign of destabilization, on 26th November 1961 Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS) commandos bombed a statue by Antoine Bourdelle in the courtyard of the museum causing damage to the museum's first floor as well as the statue. Additionally there was a fear among French cultural authorities that strict Islamists would take offense to nudes kept in the museum and/or that post-independence rioting and looting would affect the museum. French authorities saw the immediate danger posed by the OAS and apparent danger of anarchy (the museum experienced a peaceful transition) as a reason to move the works of art in secret, under military escort first to Marseille and finally to the Louvre in Paris. The works were valued at the time to be worth, in today’s dollars $50 million. However, despite close ties with the museum, no cultural representatives of the FLN, or indeed workers at the museum were informed of the transfer when it occurred and only discovered the missing pieces when they found empty frames. When the missing works were discovered the Fine Arts Museums director, Jean de Maisonseul informed the French. Negotiations began in May 1967 and by 1970, over the protests of France’s minister of foreign affairs, Michel Debre, the work was repatriated to Algeria. Cooperation between museum officials was one of the few examples of goodwill negotiating on both sides.

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