The executive director of the American Friends of Blérancourt, Larry Horne, is preparing for the big day in his office, located on the fifth floor of a Renaissance building in Manhattan. Some 70 American dignitaries and 150 French figures are expected to attend the museum’s inauguration on Sunday, June 25. “The French Minister of Culture will be at the ceremony,” says Larry Horne. “Emmanuel Macron and his wife are both from the region, and we hope to see them there, too.” The telephone suddenly rings, and Larry Horne excuses himself. “Sorry, Miles Morgan is on the line.”
The great-grandson of the banker J.P. Morgan is one of the 500 to 700 “active members” of the American Friends of Blérancourt, which was originally founded in 1985. The charity’s generous donators also include Sonja Tremont-Morgan and her daughter Quincy Adams Morgan, Countess Dorothea de La Houssaye, former American ambassador to France Jane Hartley, landscape designer Madison Cox, and lawyer George Sape. The association also has French members; industrialist Pierre Bergé and former curator of the Louvre, Pierre Rosenberg, are longstanding members.
“Our charity is a magnet for people with a passion for Franco-American relations,” says Larry Horne, who has directed the American Friends of Blérancourt since September 2016. “Blérancourt is one of the rare places in Europe where two such opposing cultures can create a dialogue and look towards a shared future.”
A Museum of Franco-American Cooperation
The Château de Blérancourt was used as a headquarters for the American Committee for Devastated France during World War I. The organization was made up of American women directed by the banking heiress Anne Morgan, and offered assistance to civilian populations affected by the conflict. After the war, Anne Morgan bought the 17th-century château, financed its restoration and founded a museum of Franco-American cooperation. The site was donated to the French government and became a national museum in 1931.
The château was given a new lease of life during the 1980s with the creation of two charities – one French, one American. On both sides of the Atlantic, a number of patrons began making donations. One of the pavilions was restored, two new gardens were planted, and the museum was expanded to enlarge its permanent collection of American art.
Despite these efforts, the château was still majorly dilapidated and was forced to close in 2005. The cost of the necessary renovation work was estimated at five million dollars. As the French government was unable to cover the entire cost, the Blérancourt patrons one again came through. “But it’s hard to find money for a French museum that has been closed for more than ten years,” says Larry Horne. “We tried to appeal to our members through a variety of artistic and cultural themes.”
Gala Events in New York and Palm Beach
The charity’s patrons have a whirlwind social calendar, with receptions at the French Consulate in New York, dinners at the French ambassador’s residence in Washington D.C., and annual galas in New York and Palm Beach, Florida. Alongside these events, the charity also offers its members private tours of the Frick Collection, the Whitney Museum and the Met Breuer in New York, as well as “prestige” trips to explore the fortified castles of the Somme or to retrace the footsteps of the Marquis de Lafayette in Paris.
In an effort to renew its patrons, the American Friends of Blérancourt also target the “philanthropists of tomorrow,” including heirs of wealthy families, fashion designers and business people between the ages of 20 and 40. June even saw the creation of a “junior committee,” whose members include Turkish fashion designer Peyman Umay, and the heir of French luxury brand Hermès.
Over the last five years, the American Friends of Blérancourt have raised almost two million dollars. As a result, the Franco-American Museum is set to reopen to the public on July 4, 2017 – American Independence Day. “A new era of opportunity is dawning,” says Larry Horne. “What can we do next?”