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Cachin Cashes In
by Adrian Darmon

Françoise Cachin, head of France's national museum organization, the Reunion des Musées Nationaux, has resigned her post as of Jan. 31, 2001, after seven years in command. During her tenure, attendance to French museums increased substantially to last year's totals of 51 million visitors nationwide and 6.1 million at the Louvre Museum alone.

The granddaughter of both the Post-Impressionist painter Paul Signac and Marcel Cachin, who co-founded the French Communist party, Françoise Cachin studied philosophy and art history before becoming a curator at the French Museum of Modern Art in 1966.

After the transfer of French government holdings from the Museum of Modern Art to the Pompidou Centre, however, Cachin began agitating for the creation of a French institution dedicated specifically to 20th-century art. When the Musée d'Orsay was founded in a former 19th-century railroad station in Paris, Cachin was made director of the museum.

At the Orsay, Cachin organized successful exhibitions devoted to Manet, Gauguin, Cézanne and Seurat, as well as the Barnes Collection from Merion, Pa., which attracted over one million visitors.

Following the return to power of the French right-wing parties, Cachin was appointed head of the French Museums in 1994. Better known as an art historian rather than a manager, she tried to achieve a balance between rich and poor museums throughout the country and to protect publishing and exhibition projects that were important though unprofitable. During her career she oversaw the renovation or opening of 18 museums.

The only controversy marring her career involved the question of works of art stolen by the Nazis and held after 1945 by French museums; her administration was accused of procrastination in the scandals over Nazi loot that erupted in the 1990s.

Cachin now says she will devote herself to research -- including a show on Signac at the Metropolitan Museum in New York -- and will spend three months at the Getty Institute in Los Angeles. Her successor is expected to be Francine Mariani-Ducray, who has worked as an administrator for the Louvre and the Ministry of Culture.

ADRIAN DARMON writes on art from Paris.