1847: Foundation of the Société Schongauer
In 1846, Louis Hugot, the archivist-librarian of the City of Colmar, founded a circle of intellectuals and enthusiasts with the aim of setting up a print collection and drawing school. In 1847, this circle became known as the “Martin Schongauer Society”, and developed a plan to create a museum in Colmar, the capital of the department. The building once occupied by the convent of the Dominicans of Unterlinden had been abandoned and was threatened with destruction, leading Louis Hugot to suggest it could be transformed into a museum.
1849: Transfer of the convent church to the Société Schongauer
On 20 June 1849, the Municipality of Colmar transferred the church of Unterlinden to the Société Schongauer, as a place to bring together not only the works that had been confiscated during the French Revolution, but also those recently acquired by the association itself.
The association undertook to cover all the costs of renovation and the installation of the new museum in the church.
In 1849, the society already had 700 members.
3 April 1853: Inauguration of the museum
The Musée Unterlinden, installed in the renovated church of the former convent, opened its doors to the public for the first time on 3 April 1853. It presented medieval panel paintings, altarpieces, modern paintings, prints, plaster casts of ancient works and the Bergheim Mosaic, discovered in 1848.
The mosaic of the Gallo-Roman villa of Bergheim came to light in 1848, in a little wine-growing village near Ribeauvillé. It was one of very few mosaics to have been discovered in Alsace and certainly the most spectacular archaeological discovery of its day. The mosaic was bought by the department and gifted to the City of Colmar. It was one of the very first works to be installed in the convent church and was on display for the opening of the Musée Unterlinden on 3 April 1853.
Louis Hugot (1805-1864)
Born in Strasbourg in 1805, Louis Hugot studied law in Paris, then enrolled in the École Nationale des Chartes, graduating as an archivist-palaeographer.
In 1837, the mayor of the city of Colmar, Dr Morel, offered him the post of city archivist. In 1841, he was given control of the library, and went on to add considerable numbers of literary and scientific works to the collections. Louis Hugot was a great scholar and heavily involved in local associations. He decided to create a literary society in 1839, then a few years later, in 1846, founded a circle of scholars that became known as the “Martin Schongauer Society” in 1847. The society was set up to establish a collection of prints with an associated drawing school.
The influence of the society was felt all across the department. It also expanded its activities to encompass the safekeeping of objects confiscated during the revolution, which were stored in the attic of the city’s secondary school, which is now the Lycée Bartholdi.
It was on the initiative of Louis Hugot that these rescued works were exhibited to the public for the first time in the former Dominican church, signalling the creation of the Musée Unterlinden. In 1860, he published the new museum’s first catalogue.