France: New “Masterpieces” coin series pays tribute to the masterworks of French museums

The Monnaie de Paris have unveiled a new coin series which will focus primarily on some of the most memorable art treasures and masterpieces housed in many of France’s landmark museums and historical monuments. The three-year “Masterpieces of the Museums” series commemorates major artistic eras such as the Renaissance, the Baroque period, and Impressionism, and aims to honour two major masterpieces each year. In 2017, the series commences with a sculpture and a painting: The Venus de Milo (Vénus de Milo in French; from the Louvre Museum) and the Déjeuner sur l’herbe (from the Orsay Museum). Each design is minted in both gold and silver.

The Venus de Milo

Gold €200 obverse.

The obverse design depicts the famous Greek sculpture Venus de Milo, which was discovered in 1820 in Mélos. The statue is surrounded by marble arches, giving the impression that it is framed. The interplay of materials, surface, and textures is perfectly transcribed with the engraving. The fabric’s movement is intricately detailed, and the clear body lines are also evident. On the wall at the right-hand side of the primary design is the encircled logo CHEFS D’ŒUVRE DES MUSÉES, which identifies this new series. On the wall to the left, written vertically, is the French name of the piece of art: LA VÉNUS DE MILO. The coin is available in €10, €50, and €200 options.

Dejeuner sur l’herbe

Silver €10 obverse.

The obverse presents Édouard Manet’s famous Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass). This painting was realised in 1863 and is on display in the Orsay Museum in Paris. On the coins, the scene of this countryside lunch comes to life, overflowing outside the frame. At the bottom of the obverse is the encircled logo CHEFS D’ŒUVRE DES MUSÉES, identifying the new series. Placed above the primary design on the picture frame are the title of the painting and the name of artist: LE DÉJEUNER SUR L’HERBE Edouard MANET. The date of issue, 2017, appears below the arm on which the right-most figure in the painting is leaning. The coin is available in €10 and €50 options.

Common reverse design for the series (silver €10 Manet reverse shown).

The reverse, which is common to the entire series and across all three denominations, depicts several views of many major French museums. An interior view of the Musée d’Orsay, on the top left, is recognisable by its distinctive clock. Beside that is a view of the façade of the Louvre as seen from the Napoleon Courtyard where I.M. Pei’s famous glass pyramid (represented on the coin by a triangular shape to the right). Below these two elements, a fresco shows the Hôtel Salé, which houses the Musée Picasso-Paris. The lower portion of the reverse features a view of the façade of Hôtel Biron, the current Musée Rodin, and above, the famous Centre Pompidou stairway. The words RÉPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE are inscribed to the left, below the hotel façade; the denomination, in two lines, is placed in the pyramid to the right.

The Hôtel Salé, which houses the Musée Picasso-Paris. (Hover to zoom. Photo by Yann Caradec)

The Musée Rodin, formerly the Hôtel Biron. (Hover to zoom. Photo by Dalbera)

The stairs at the Centre Pompidou. (Creative Commons image)


Denom. Metal Weight Diameter Quality Maximum Mintage
€10 .900 silver 22.2 g 37 mm Proof 5,000
€50 .999 gold 7.78 g 22 mm Proof 500
€200 .999 gold 31.107 g 37 mm Proof 250

The first of the coins in this series will be available from 12th September and will also be offered as separate purchases. All coins are individually encased in an acrylic capsule for protection and housed in a custom blue Monnaie de Paris–branded presentation box with a certificate of authenticity. Please visit the website of the Monnaie de Paris for additional information on these and other coins on offer.

The Venus de Milo

The Venus de Milo, which is housed in the Louvre. (Hover to zoom. Wikimedia photo by Livioandronico2013)

Discovered in 1820 in Mélos, a Cyclades island in Greece, the Aphrodite of Milos (better known as the Venus de Milo) is one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. The statue, which was sculpted in marble in the first century BC, was first offered to King Louis XVIII of France, who gave it to the Louvre Museum the following year. The sculpture is composed principally of two marble blocks that were separately created and then connected with vertical seals. The left arm and foot were attached to the main sculpture with tenons. Also uncovered along with the original statue were a hand holding an apple; an inscribed plinth (base); the chignon or knot from the back of the head; and part of an upper arm. The rougher workmanship of the hand led her finders to believe it was from a different sculpture, so they discarded it. Later historians have pointed out that parts of sculptures that would be high above the viewer were often fashioned more crudely, much as a person painting a wall might opt to skip the part behind a heavy bookcase. The story of this statue is full of mystery. Could it be that she is a representation of Aphrodite, often depicted as half-naked? or Amphitrite, a sea goddess venerated in Milo?

Dejeuner sur l’herbe by Edouard Manet (1832–1883)

Déjeuner sur l’herbe (or Luncheon on the Grass, by Édouard Manet), displayed in the Orsay Museum. (Hover to zoom. Google Art Project photo)

Édouard Manet, a French painter from the end of the 19th century and a precursor to the modern painting genre, is remembered for questioning the academic conventions of his time. He wanted to represent “modern life,” and in 1862, Manet presented an immense canvas entitled Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass). This work depicted characters in a countryside setting: a nude female and a scantily-dressed female bather having a picnic with two fully dressed men. The piece was criticised by Manet’s contemporaries, as both the style and the subject were regarded as shocking. In this work in particular, Manet did not accept the conventions of the day and imposed a new artistic liberty of his own. Émile Zola, prominent writer and critic, was the only one to defend the work, which is today considered one of the greatest paintings of Manet.

The Louvre Museum

The Louvre Museum, with the glass pyramid designed by I.M. Pei. (Hover to zoom. Wikimedia photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)

The Louvre is a museum of art and antiquities located in Paris. The building itself was once a royal palace that was one of the principal residences of the earlier kings of France. It became a museum in 1793 after the French Revolution and overthrow of the monarchy in 1789. The museum consists of 73,000 square metres of displays presented on Occidental or Western art from the Middle Ages to 1848, along with the heritage of the civilisations that have influenced it. Over 35,000 pieces of art are currently on full display; among these is the Venus de Milo.

The Orsay Museum

Musée d’Orsay, northwest view. (Hover to zoom. Wikimedia photo by Daniel Vorndran)

The Orsay Museum (Musée d’Orsay) is situated in Paris, upstream on the Left Bank sector of the Seine. It is housed in what was the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway built by Victor Laloux from 1898 to 1900, and was inaugurated as the new museum on the 9th December 1986. The transformation was reconstructed and centred around the nave, which became the main axis of the museum, and around the monumental clock. The collections include Western art history from 1848 to 1914 in all its diversity of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, graphical arts, photography, and architecture.

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