For museums, the Second Empire was a period of stability and professionalisation. The role of the curator was recognised, collections grew and numerous donations allowed collections in the increasing number of provincial museums to flourish. The musée du Louvre, founded in 1793, and conceived as an encyclopaedia of art, was at the heart of a system which experienced unparalleled development. The time was right for museological progress and large-scale works.

The continuation of a reform begun under the Second Republic

In 1848, fundamental reform began, led by Philippe-Auguste Jeanron, director general of the national museums. At this time, the national museums included the Louvre, the musée du Luxembourg and the musée de Versailles. They were required to inventory their collections, draft catalogues and open to the public. Count Émilien de Nieuwerkerke, who succeeded Jeanron in 1849 and became superintendent of the Beaux-Arts in 1853, pursued this far-reaching policy until the end of the Second Empire.

Administration and financing of the imperial museums

The national museums became the imperial museums and from 1852 were placed under the Maison de l’Empereur. Initially subordinated to the curators of the Louvre, in 1867, the musée de Versailles, the musée du Luxembourg and the musée de Saint-Germain, which joined the imperial museums on its creation in 1862, gained relative autonomy.

The budgets allocated by the civil list were stable and generous. Their management was closely monitored. Sometimes Napoleon III gave money from his own purse, regularly helping the musée de Saint-Germain in this way.

Despite there being no legislation to officially organise the museums, the fall of the Second Empire did not affect the museums. Under the Third Republic, the museums remained exceptional cultural organisations.