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Musée du Duc d'Orléans

Open to the public from 1928 to 1959, le Musée du Duc d’Orléans was purpose-built as a separate annexe of the Muséum Nationale d'Histoire Naturelle de Paris to house the hunting trophies bequeathed by Prince Philippe, Duc d’Orléans to France on his death in 1926. With an emphasis on natural history, it featured three gigantic walk-through panoramas depicting the scenery and wildlife of Arctic regions, Central and East Africa as well as the fauna and flora of Scandinavia.
The exhibits created a picturesque and striking scene of the regions Philippe, Duc d’Orléans had visited, incorporating representative animals artistically prepared and arranged by taxidermists Rowland Ward Ltd. With the use of the ‘diorama concept’, where ‘stuffed’ animals are arranged in natural surroundings, the museum presented a novel approach, at that time, to public display and education of natural history.
The large collection of zoological specimens, which the Duc had gathered on his expeditions, was highly regarded as “A World-Wide Record of Big Game”, and was of particular value for the variety of specimens it represented from around the world; many African specimens were new to science; others were of records in size; and it was considered to be the largest collection of trophies shot and collected by a one individual.

The Conception

Arctic region, polar bear.
The conception of a natural history museum, that outlined a more scientific purpose with less emphasis on trophy hunting, had been 40 years in the making. The Polar bear group amid an illusory icy landscape, against a painted mural, provided a realistic view of life in their Arctic habitat. The addition of a background was an important element which resulted in strengthening the illusion and marked the first display in the collection that sought to represent scientific truth.
A wildlife enthusiast since childhood, Philippe devote a great deal of his energy to building-up his own natural history collection. In 1888, having returned laden down with an assortment of trophies from his first successful big game hunt in India, Rowland Ward was entrusted with the job of preserving and modelling the specimens and inaugurated Philippe’s lifetime relationship with his taxidermists.
A very fine array of hunting trophies were displayed in his home at York House in England. This collection included traditional game heads, skin rugs, horns and skulls, tusks, and full mounts of mammals and birds staged in huge glass-enclosed habitat dioramas, such as the ‘tiger-elephant group’, regarded as his most treasured piece. His museum ambitions led him to engage in many more big game hunting adventures in pursuit of new specimens that would enrich the galleries.
Philippe, Duc d'Orléans' Hunting Museum - York House, 1902.
Needing more space for a growing collection, the Duc d’Orléans established his own ‘private’ hunting museum at Wood Norton in England. When he sold Wood Norton in 1912, the museum was transferred, complete with its specifically designed building, from England to Manoir d’Anjou, near Brussels in Belgium.
With James Rowland Ward's death in 1912, John B. Burlace acquired the business and took over as managing director of Rowland Ward Ltd. Burlace continued to provide taxidermy services to the Duc d’Orléans; and helped him to achieve his lifelong ambition. Over 2000 specimens had been modelled and arranged by Rowland Ward at his studio, “The Jungle”, in London to be set up in the exhibit. Burlace was also directly involved in supervising the relocation of the museum, and on Philippe’s death the installation in Paris.
Prior to moving the collection from England to Belgium, Philippe offered it to the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, but the offer could not be accepted on account of lack of space. Nevertheless, he pursued with fervor his initial idea to set up a natural history museum at Manoir d’Anjou, but, unfortunately, the work of installing his trophies was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I and it was not until 1920 that he was able to resume development and finally devote himself to the composition and perfection of his exhibits.
The habitat display envisaged by the Duc d’Orléans employed a slightly different dramatic technique than that of the diorama set in a wall niche behind glass. The panorama provided the sensation of freedom that Philippe seemed to be looking for. He wanted his animals set out in a ‘natural surroundings’ so that people could walk among them, like a field experience, where the spectator felt as though they were in the actual place where the hunter tracked the wild beast to its lair.
Philippe, who proved to be also a gifted amateur photographer, took many photographs during his many explorations and pleasure trips. Many of these were in panoramic format, probably taken with a "Kodak Panoram #4", a swing-lens panoramic camera developed by Eastman Kodak Company in 1899. It had the ability to capture a tremendous amount of information and shows how the aspect of illusion that formed the panoramic view formed a basis to be applied in visualising the museum design.
Creating the scenes became a complex process. It not only required good artistry but also a great deal of ingenuity to create the ‘perfect’ taxidermy arrangement and engaged the passions of both Philippe, Duc d’Orléans and J. B. Burlace, directing manager of Rowland Ward.
Moving through the gallery became a voyage of discovery, visitors acquired an exact and very detailed knowledge of the subjects they studied, especially as regards the life, habits and reproduction cycle of animals. But it was more than a teaching tool, it was an exciting adventure without its tedious and dangerous side-effects that affect the hunter-explorer in the wilderness, — up close animal encounters, suspended in motion, such as lions emerging from behind the rocks, giraffes topping the trees, hyenas pecking at a carcass, crocodiles basking in the sun ... a lion prowling outside the hunter’s tent, that was standing by the campfire, just as it had been during the Duc d’Orléans’ visits to the Sudan.
Lions equipped with realistic roars produced by the pressure of a button.
A faithful reconstruction of Philippe, Duc d'Orléans' camp in the wild.

The Creation

Le Musée Duc d’Orléans created a sensation when opened to the public in 1928. It consisted of four pavilions: the first, the Entrance Hall had hunting trophies adorn the walls and many glass cases of birds and grouped mammals, including an exhibit documenting the Arctic expeditions. By introducing the theme of exploration to link the entrance to the natural history displays, he plunged the visitor into an atmosphere he wanted to create. The journey of discovery began on board a reconstruction of the cabin of the Belgica, the ship on which the Duc d’Orléans sailed to the Arctic. Furnished and stowed as at the time of an expedition with in each cabin the objects belonging to the crew — such as scientific instruments, the actual entries in the log-book, meteorological observations, Philippe's diary, and the Memoirs of Dr. Récamier, the surgeon and naturalist of the expedition. Visitors went from here into another pavilion containing panoramas of the Polar region and Scandinavia. And next continued – the third pavilion — onto the Egyptian Sudan and the marshy plains of Bahr el-Ghazal and finally, entered the fourth pavilion depicting Central Africa, Kenya, Uganda and the African Great Lakes.
All the animals, modelled and arranged by Rowland Ward, had been brought back by the duke from his travels and expeditions, which follows in a brief overview :
[WALLACE] India and Tibet - 1887, 1888, 1889; Switzerland, 1889; Caucasus and North America, 1890; British Somaliland, 1892-1893; Scotland, Andalusia, Tyrol and Carpathians, 1893, 1904; the Arctic regions, 1904, 1905, 1907, 1909 (including Norway, Spitsbergen, Greenland, Nova Zembla, sea of Karn, Greenland and Franz Josef Land); Turkestan, Central Asia, Caucasus 1911; South America 1913; Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, 1921, 1922; Sudan, Bahr-el-Ghazal, 1923; Red Sea, Dinder and Blue Nile, 1926.
Entrance Hall: Asian mammals and glass cases of birds and grouped mammals.
Entrance Hall: Mouflon, Giant Panda and Saiga Antelope.

Philippe, Duc d'Orléans — 1869-1926

Pneumonia, swift and severe, carried off the Duke of Orleans, at the age of 57 during a visit to Palermo on Sunday 28 March [1926]. In a letter, a year before his death, to his friend, the Duc de Luynes he wrote :
“In cruel sorrow the years of this long exile are creeping on. May God grant me the supreme consolation of seeing my country once before I die,”
he pleads, and announces his intention of bequeathing his private museum to the French nation.
When Philippe, Duc d’Orléans died in 1926, he left his unique collection to France, to the Muséum Nationale d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris. In accordance with his wishes, providing financial basis for its development and upkeep, the collection was transferred from Manoir d’Anjou to a specially built museum at 45 rue Buffon, opposite the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.
Philippe’s desire to complete a work of scientific value and with the intent to leave the entire collection to the country from which he remained an exile engrossed him during his latter years. Up to the time of his death he continued to make improvements. The last great expeditions he undertook to Africa for the purpose of hunting animals and studying their habitats with a definite objective to build a pavilion extension separating Egyptian Sudan from Central Africa, took place in 1923 and 1926. After Philippe’s death J.B. Burlace saw the plan to completion when he took charge of re-creating the entire display in its new location in Paris.
Le Musée du Duc d’Orléans was inaugurated on 22 December 1928, but despite the declaration of its guardian — to respect the will of the Duc d’Orléans, and maintain the collection in memory of the good Frenchman — changing interests will cast a dark shadow over his legacy.

Spectacular Folly

Lioness that has stricken down a zebra, Somaliland Fighting Lions,
and a mouflon in the claws of a snow leopard, mounted in 1892. Photo : 1973.
A fascinating collection of natural history, that had taken a lifetime of collecting and dedication to build had been destroyed by economic crisis, neglect and changing attitudes towards the subject and function of the exhibits, but foremost, by intellectual agendas geared towards an institution with a scientific vocation.
The museum, facing financial difficulties, suffered a deep crisis in the immediate postwar period, that left the curators concerned with the dilemma whether to preserve its heritage, or to focus on scientific research and higher education development. Lingering redevelopment plans were eventually scrapped due to budgetary constraints and in favour of its scientific mission, resulting in the museum’s closing to the public in 1959, deterioration of the building structures and damages to the collection due to insufficient maintenance (the staff was drastically reduced). After the building was demolished, the collection was dispersed among the various museum’s branches and specimen exhibiting severe deterioration were destroyed. The replica of the cabin from the Belgica ended up in the museum’s basement, but was finally removed and destroyed.
Somaliland, Fighting Lions.

Grande Evolution

In 1994, the Grande Galerie de l'Evolution of the Muséum Nationale d'Histoire Naturelle opened in Paris following extensive renovation. A great deal of the specimens are on display in the present museum’s galleries, and others kept in storage available to researchers.
In retrospect, it is very regrettable that this unique collection, such a remarkable achievement, has vanished. The visitor of the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, where the collection’s remnants take centre stage in the caravan of African mammals, will be struck by its clever design both highly educational and visually stunning, however, one will never grasp anything more than an insignificant fraction of the their former glory.