Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant

Ateliers Loire is invited to the Louvre

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 saw the inauguration of L’esprit d’escalier, a décor created for the Louvre Museum’s Lefuel staircase. The windows designed by artist François Morellet were produced by Ateliers Loire, an EPV-labelled company since 2 September 2008.



An important family of master glaziers located in Chartres, since 1946 Ateliers Loire has carried on its unique know-how enriched with numerous technical innovations.


We talked to Bruno Loire, the company’s project manager for the job, to find out more about what is one of the first major public commissions of windows for a civic building.


How did this prestigious job come your way?


In 1986, we opened up the workshop to artists to produce their monumental works. For example, we collaborated with the Italian painter Valerio Adami to produce a fresco for the lobby of the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, as well as some monumental tableaux for the Gare d’Austerlitz station concourse.

I met François Morellet, painter, engraver and sculptor, in 1991 when we were working on a stage curtain at the Théâtre Gérard Philipe. Then, in 1995, we worked together in Germany on a number of pieces in enamelled iron. So, in 2006, when the Louvre invited François Morellet to work on the Lefuel staircase, which links three departments of the museum, and on its windows, he naturally approached us.





- Can you describe your workshop’s contribution to these works?


The artist produced the design and we provided the technical expertise. Six of us at the workshop worked on the project.


The project actually took three years to come to fruition. In spring 2006, we began our research to determine which materials (glass and lead) and which production technique would be used. In addition, the design of the lighting by a specialist firm was complex, since it meant bringing artificial light into the museum.


Our job consisted of finding the materials and techniques that would give clarity to the artist’s design. This lengthy development stage, involving trying out different kinds of lighting and glass at the Louvre (we built an eight-panel test window), was an essential step prior to undertaking the work itself, which did not get under way until June 2009.


Once the trial stage was successfully completed, and after taking precise measurements of the dimensions of the windows and fittings, we produced, in conjunction with the artist, the life-sized sketches of the windows. These artistic, technical drawings present us with the reality of the dimensions of the piece. François Morellet had to make some minor alterations to his designs in view of technical constraints.






The workshop then took over, with our highly specific manual expertise. The plates of frosted glass were fashioned, cut to within a millimetre using traditional instruments, then tempered for safety reasons.

An initial assembly for a provisional fit at the Louvre enabled us to check the dimensions and shapes of the panels and the joins of the leadwork. The necessary corrections were then made in the workshop after unsetting the windows. We had to work fast. It’s always a bit frustrating: three years developing and scarcely six months actually making the piece!


The final fitting of the windows was completed in January 2010. This, too, was done using a traditional technique: pressing a bed of putty into the fine grooves of the 19th-century steel frames.






- What were the main challenges of this project?


One of the distinctive characteristics was the extreme precision of this job, knowing we had to work with an existing metal structure. There were few grooves, and so not much play for wedging the glass. In fact, we had to preserve the fittings of the original windows, which meant a high degree of rigour was required in our work.


The two specific difficulties we came up against were the constraints of artificial lighting and visitor safety. Lighting is fundamental in our work as windows only take on their meaning when lit up. Yet the staircase at the Louvre had no external windows. François Morellet opted for artificial light similar to daylight. We began by working in the workshop in natural light, and the challenge was to achieve the same results in artificial light. We discussed at length with the artist what kinds of glass to use. The lighting tests were decisive to giving the staircase back its sparkle.






The other constraint we faced was the requirement of visitor safety demanded by the Louvre Museum. So the glass was tempered to make it "safe”. The result is that it is five times more resistant to mechanical shock and, in the event of breakage, will shatter into tiny pieces that cannot harm visitors. For this stage, we had to find a company that could temper this kind of glass, which wasn’t easy since our glass was atypical and in small panes.


- Did you enjoy working with an artist?


François Morellet is an artist with whom I have a great affinity and great affection; it is both an artistic and a human pleasure to collaborate with him on his designs. In general, I like working with artists very much, because it is a very enriching experience, where each brings his contribution to the whole, with his creativity, desires, etc. For our part, we try to contribute our technical know-how, to find the right materials and processes so that the finished piece corresponds to the design which the artist originally put on paper.


We have similarly just worked with another artist, Kim En Joong, making the stained-glass windows for the Basilica of Saint-Julien in Brioude, for which we used glass-painting techniques.


09 March 2010