Tinco Lycklama, and the birth of the municipal museum of Cannes

By George Homs, Tinco Lycklama Foundation


Few museums in the world can claim a double nationality. This is, however, the case of the Musée de la Castre in Cannes.

Musée Lycklama - Tinco
Tinco Lycklama à Nijeholt (1837-1900)

It started in 1871 as a “Museum of antiquities and oriental art”, in the Dutch town of Beetsterzwaag – the home town of its creator, Tinco Lycklama à Nijeholt (1837-1900). In 1873, it opened in Cannes, France, where Tinco Lycklama had resettled. A few years later, he donated his collections to the City of Cannes.

On April 14, 1878 the first municipal museum of Cannes opened its doors under the name Musée Lycklama. In this article, we retrace the circumstances of this donation and celebrate the 140th birthday of what is, today, the Musée de la Castre.

When a village becomes a city, it needs a museum

Prior to the arrival of Tinco Lycklama in Cannes (in 1872), there had been many talks about providing the city with a museum. And, actually, there was already one.

In 1834, the British Lord Henry Brougham had ‘discovered’ Cannes, which was still a fairly small fishermen’s village. After he decided to build a stately home there and move to Cannes for the rest of his life, some of the statesman’s influential friends followed. Soon, Cannes was attracting aristocrats, royalty and rich industrialists from all over Europe.

Musée Lycklama - Vue de Cannes 1869
Cannes in 1969. Photography by Walburg de Bray.

Between 1834 and 1872, in barely thirty-eight years, the city grew from 4,000 to 10,000 inhabitants. It became the prime Mediterranean destination for those who could afford the luxury to spend the winter season there, away from the cold and increasingly industrialised north. For the benefit of comparison, by the time the Musée Lycklama opened, Cannes counted 14,000 inhabitants; when he died in 1900, there were 30,000.

Visitors to Cannes enjoyed many distractions. Of course, people came for the climate, but they were also keen to socialise with others. In the 1860s, the Cercle Nautique became the meeting hub for the rich and famous, and members enjoyed a library, restaurant, concerts and theatrical performances.

In 1868, Cannes also created the “Société des sciences naturelles et historiques, des lettres et des beaux-arts de Cannes et de l’arrondissement de Grasse”, which goes today by the far easier name of Société Scientifique et Littéraire de Cannes. This was a club for the more cerebrally inclined. They were interested in science, and would hold weekly meetings to debate a broad variety of topics, inspired by the knowledge of its members. Tinco Lycklama was invited to this club in 1873.

One of the first initiatives of the Société was to install a museum, focused on natural history and regional archaeology. However, its location at the Rue du Bivouac Napoleon 7 was increasingly insufficient. In 1873, when the city council announced its decision to build a new and monumental city hall, it was agreed that the Société would be welcome there with its museum and its fast-growing library.

In the meantime, a private collection is born in The Netherlands

In January 1871, Tinco Lycklama opens his “Museum of antiquities and oriental art” in his native Beetsterzwaag, in The Netherlands. It was a quite heteroclite collection of archaeological finds, Islamic art, ethnographical objects, and simple souvenirs – collected through the voyage that the young nobleman made, at the age of 27, through Persia, Mesopotamia, Assyria, and the Levant.

Musée Lycklama - Eysingahuis
Eysinghuis in Beetsterzwaag (NL) – first museum of Tinco Lycklama

The 1871 catalogue written by Tinco’s secretary Ernest Massenot has 700 entries and totals some 1,200 individual objects, spread over eighteen big cabinets but also scattered throughout the museum: oriental sofas, medieval weapons, carpets, etc. It must have been quite an unusual sight – not just for Friesland but for visitors from anywhere. The Dutch National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) in Leiden existed since 1818, but was largely concentrated on Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilisations. Tinco Lycklama was simply the first Dutchman ever to dig his hands in the sands of old Babylon and Nineveh – and only a couple of dozen other Europeans had come before him in the Middle East.

However, Tinco’s private museum in Beetsterzwaag was short-lived. Though it is only speculation, we have good reasons to believe that it was never his purpose to permanently keep the museum in his home town.

When he embarked on his trip through the Orient (1865-68), he was living in Paris where he studied and met with the most famous orientalists and scholars of that time. He returned home to Beetsterzwaag from the Middle-East in October 1868, but soon went back to Paris. A year later, he leaves again for Sidon, Jerusalem and Egypt, and returns early 1870 to Paris. There, he takes a long-term lease on an apartment, opposite the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Political events must have shaped his next decisions. In the summer of 1871, the Franco-Prussian war broke out, rapidly followed by the revolutionary time of the Commune of Paris. Paris was definitely not safe. He must have been reluctant to leave – but that’s what he did prior to the start of the war.

In retrospect, these events didn’t last that long – but that is something Tinco couldn’t foresee. He just didn’t know when he could return to the French capital. Thus, his decision to return to Beetsterzwaag and setting up his museum there made total sense.

A Dutch museum moves to France

However, soon after the end of these tumultuous times, and as early as 1872, Tinco moves to Cannes. By the end of the year, he closes the museum in Beetsterzwaag, and takes along his Frisian carpenter Johannes Mook to Cannes to install his museum in the Villa Escarras, a beautiful manor with leafy gardens, close to the beaches.

Villa Lycklama - Escarras
Villa Escarras, Cannes

His new “Musée d’antiquités et d’art oriental” opens on March 24, 1873, with Tinco’s secretary Ernest Massenot as keeper. Visitors are invited to come and admire his collection on Mondays and Thursdays, from 1 till 3 o’clock, by appointment. There was a charge of 1 Franc, of which 50 centimes were generously donated to the hospital of Cannes. The purpose was definitely not to make money, but rather to be somewhat ‘selective’ with visitors.

Over the next months, things change between Tinco and his secretary. Massenot had played a vital role in setting up the museum in Beetsterzwaag, where he also drafted its first inventory. But, by 1874, the two men fell out for reasons that are not completely understood. In any case, Tinco lets Massenot go and finds himself without a museum keeper – and he doesn’t hire a replacement. Thus, by the end of 1874, the museum’s opening schedule changes: visits are only possible on Saturdays, between noon and 3pm.

A museum too big to handle

In the meantime, the museum had grown substantially, for a number of reasons. One was that, after the second voyage to Sidon, Jerusalem and Egypt (early 1970), many new objects had been stored in Beirut and had remained there, simply because of the war situation. In 1872, the first crates finally arrive, followed by other shipments early 1874. Another reason was the acquisition, shortly before Massenot’s departure, of the collections of a deceased French explorer, Edmond Ginoux de La Coche (1811-1870). This included a substantial number of ethnographical objects from Oceania.

It is doubtful that Tinco ever had the time (or the space) to set this up in his museum, certainly when facing this task alone in 1874. But, Tinco’s ambitions seem to have been formidable. He clearly had the intention to build a grand European museum of ethnography and archaeology.

Musée Lycklama - Massenot
Ernest Massenot, Tinco Lycklama’s secretary and museum keeper

The falling out with Massenot must have short-circuited this ambition. But, there is more, another event was going to have serious impact on Tinco’s life. In August 1875, he married the wealthy Dutch Baroness Juliana thoe Schwartzenberg en Hohenlansberg (1845-1914). That marriage was two years in the making, and kept him busy and travelling – especially early 1875.

One can only conclude that, by that time, the museum did no longer get his undivided attention. Visitors to the Villa Escarras found the doors more often closed than not.

After the marriage, Juliana joins Tinco in Cannes. The question of the museum must have been a regular topic at the kitchen table. In fact, it is important to know that the Villa Escarras was not Tinco’s property. And, back in 1872, after taking a long-term lease on the elegant manor, he acquired another villa in Cannes – the Villa Bressane, which he subsequently renamed a few times (Villa Lycklama, Villa Eritia…). This villa was located on the Chemin des Tignes which was said to be ‘outside town’ but can be located close to the city centre on the current great thoroughfare, the Boulevard Carnot.

Villa Lycklama - Chemin des Tignes Bld Carnot - 3Fi501
Villa Eritia, Cannes

So, Tinco and his wife alternated between the two villas. In fact, Tinco used Escarras primarily as a museum and as a place where he could receive guests and organise parties. But, the cost of upkeep and staff must have been significant. In a letter to his brother Augustinus, in April 1877, Tinco writes that he’s in the middle of a move and leaving Escarras to finally settle in the Villa Eritia – quoting the high humidity of at Escarras as a main reason. The humidity probably did no good to Tinco and Juliana, but was probably detrimental to the fragile objects in the museum, too.

Tinco tells us that the Villa Eritia had ample room to house the museum, so the museum found a new location. But, it remains pretty doubtful whether it ever re-opened to the public.

Especially because of what follows…

Tinco donates his collections to the City of Cannes

On December 27, 1877, Tinco Lycklama meets his friend the mayor Jean-Baptiste Girard (1820-1897) at the new city hall. They sign a well-prepared document in which Tinco donates his collections to the City of Cannes. Four days later, Mayor Girard presents this agreement to the city council, which unanimously votes to accept the agreement.

Musée Lycklama - Hotel de Ville
Cannes city hall, built in 1876

What was the donation about? Tinco simply hands over all the “oriental antiquities and curiosities” that were exhibited at his private museum. He also donates his portrait in Albanian costume, painted by Emile Vernet-Lecomte. But, he is keeping a few things for himself: a copper tobacco pot and pipe, a goblet, a bowl, a sterling silver coin wallet, and some wooden pedestals. (One wonders why these exceptions had to be specified.) The eight Qajar paintings that are till this day the treasure of the Musée de la Castre, were also not included but became part of a separate donation, specified in his final will in 1885.

How important was this donation? The value of museum collections is usually very difficult to establish, especially when it concerns archaeological finds. But, for some reason, perhaps to amplify the generosity of Tinco and trophy for Cannes, the amount of 400,000 francs was leaked to the press – the approximate equivalent of 1,5 million euros today.

On New Year’s day, 1878, Tinco writes to his brother Augustinus : “I have donated my collection of antiquities to the City of Cannes, and they have accepted with pleasure, because a couple of years ago a new and big city hall was built, which has big rooms but few antiquities, so my gift will serve them well.” (translated)

The coincidence of timing

One may wonder why Tinco Lycklama and Mayor Girard would meet two days after Christmas, at a time when most people were celebrating the season. On top of that, the city council is convened a few days later, on New Year’s Eve, to endorse the agreement. Was someone in a rush?

Perhaps so. In November 1877, the Société des Sciences Naturelles had made the decision to finally move its own museum of natural history – and  library – over to the new city hall. Besides that, Tinco’s friend Auguste Macé (1819-1877) had died in September. Auguste Macé had been the founder of the Société and he was an influential figure and city councillor in Cannes, who had presided over many important initiatives, especially in the arts and sciences.

Municipal politics were about to be shaken up. New municipal elections were scheduled for January 1878, and the rumour was that the traditional majority would lose its grip and that a new generation of councillors would take over.

Musée Lycklama - ElectionsTinco must have realised that, in the future, he would not be able to tend to his museum. He must have felt that the sustainability of his collections could be assured by handing them over to the city, thus ensuring a permanent legacy. If he tried to stick to his prized possessions, he risked that the work of a lifetime would sink into oblivion.

A new municipal majority might thwart this new scenario, and it may explain Tinco’s eagerness to make this arrangement with Mayor Girard. And, Girard himself may have wanted to keep forever his name associated with the noble creation of the first municipal museum.

Indeed, after the elections of January 6, 1878, a new majority was ushered in and would stay in power till 1895.

Honour to a generous benefactor

The agreement with Girard not only specified the object of the donation, but also how the agreement would be executed.

Musée Lycklama - Detail vitrinesFirst of all, it was decided that the collection would be installed in the new city hall, close to the rooms where the museum of the Société des Sciences Naturelles, would be installed. (It would take until 1892 to integrate this museum into a single municipal museum with the name Musée Lycklama). The city of Cannes would guarantee the maintenance of the objects and their conservation for eternity. The objects were to be kept in closed cabinets, and we assume that these were the same cabinets that Tinco had in his own museum.

Ample space was reserved in the south-eastern wing of the city hall, and a sign above the door would say “Galérie Lycklama”, to honour the generous benefactor. (In practice, the collections were always called Musée Lycklama, as newspaper records show.) On a nice plaque affixed to the entrance, the following text would be engraved: “Collection donnée à la ville de Cannes, sous l’administration de M. Jean-Baptiste Girard, maire, le 27 décembre 1877, par M. le Chevalier T. M. Lycklama A. Neyeholt.” (sic).

On top of that, to demonstrate its appreciation of Tinco’s generosity, a special commission is charged with officially transmitting the gratitude of the city to Tinco and his wife. The commission consisted of mayor Girard, doctor Sève, Victor Béchard, and councillors Roustan, Conte and Gauthier – all friends of Tinco.

But, that’s not how it went – at least not completely.

The move to the Hôtel de Ville

The new municipal politics would intervene and hinder a faithful execution of the agreement.

The city architect and engineer J. P. Revellat had been instructed with the organisation of the transfer of the museum and its installation in the city hall. According to reports, Revellat was not only an engineer but also an avid researcher and writer on matters of science and archaeology. He seemed to have all the right qualities for the job. He was thus also charged with the establishment of a full inventory of the collection – in two copies, one for Lycklama and another one for the city archives.

Unfortunately, no copy was ever found of such an inventory (which is a significant blow to our knowledge about the collections). In fact, we can simply assume that such an inventory was never made.

Only a few days after the municipal elections of January 6, 1878, a new city council took office, and engineer Revellat was soon fired from his position, in a municipal purge. He lost his job over a significant scandal called the “affaire du theâtre“. A theater was being built close to the city hall, but a judicial, technical and financial imbroglio (probably not of Revellat’s doing) ensued, and it was decided to halt the works. The half-built building was finally taken down – a very costly affair to the city but, obviously, old municipal feuds were being settled.

The new city architect, Louis Hourlier, was charged with executing the transfer of the collections of Tinco Lycklama. Which he did. However, this man did not have the same qualifications as Revellat – and he certainly lacked the competence to establish a museum inventory.

Tinco probably didn’t like all this, but the records suggest that he didn’t make a fuss. Probably he preferred to remain quiet, rather than running the risk that the new city council would revoke the city’s acceptation of his donation.

Musée Lycklama - VitrinesToday, it remains unclear if the museum was installed at the exact location that was intended by Mayor Girard. The new Hôtel de Ville was always intended as a multi-purpose building, not only housing the city’s small administration but also serving other public functions: a tribunal, police headquarters, postal and telegraph services, and – of course – the library and museum of the Société. It may sound bizarre, but it also housed a “bistrot” on the ground floor; according to city records, this was part of a deal that would guarantee, through a commercial lease, that the ends of the municipal purse would meet.

It is safe to assume that the new city council revised the plans and dispositions with the building. Tinco’s collections finally found a home in rooms that were originally reserved for the sub-prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes department. The previous sub-prefect Paul David had quit his job in December, and his successor Jules-Charles de Lamer would only be installed in his new position in June 1878 – so the rooms were available. (In subsequent years, the collections were moved around several times.)

It took twelve people to move the museum, under supervision of the new municipal engineer Hourlier. On March 28, 1878, Tinco writes to his brother August that the move had finished the day before, and it had taken two weeks to accomplish this. Hourlier reported to the city council that nothing had been broken and that the move was a success.

April 18, 1878 – a grand opening?

The first municipal museum of Cannes – the Musée Lycklama – opens its doors to the public on April 14, 1878 (a Sunday). The newspapers report that over 1,200 visitors attended, “in full admiration for these rich and rare collections, the result of a life-long search by baron Lycklama in various parts of the world”. One can easily imagine that the city hall was overwhelmed by the tremendous enthusiasm for its first public museum. Tinco Lycklama must have been quite satisfied that his collections finally gained the great visibility that he had always hoped for.

Nevertheless (and this is where we understand that not everything went according to plan), a newspaper article complained that the installation at the city hall did not befit such a great collection. The rooms were crammed, and the city council should have given more space.

The same newspaper (the Courrier de Cannes) also says that the new mayor, Eugène Gazagnaire (1838-1900), and his council could have done a better job to honour Tinco Lycklama, the new great benefactor of the city. They wonder why there was no fanfare present at the opening ceremony or, alternatively, why didn’t they send one to Tinco’s residence to thank them for this wonderful donation?

We can only assume that the political winds had indeed changed, and the new masters at the city hall – whilst happy to have a museum that gave cachet to the city and would attract new visitors – probably thought that one should not overdo it.

Mayor Gazagnaire left office in 1895, and his successor Jean Hibert, a friend of Tinco Lycklama, would correct this wrong much later, including by giving Tinco Lycklama one of the grandest funerary ceremonies ever when he died in December 1900. But, between 1878 and 1895, the records are witness to a certain animosity between Tinco and Mayor Gazagnaire, at several occasions. Interestingly, Eugène Gazagnaire died just a month before Tinco – as if, together, they brought an epoch in the history of Cannes to an end.

Why donate a museum at the tender age of 40?

Many questions remain, and will probably remain unsolved. We must rely on what the records say, and be careful with our interpretations.

But, indeed, why did Tinco Lycklama ultimately decide to donate his collections – the work of a lifetime – to the city of Cannes?

Mayor Girard states that Tinco makes this donation out of gratitude for regaining his health in the soft climate of Cannes and for the warm welcome he enjoyed from its citizens. Indeed, Tinco always had a poor health. The harsh circumstances of his travels through the Orient had weakened him forever.

But, the noble gesture of a donation could hide a deeper motive. We speculated earlier that Tinco simply was not up to it anymore, after he let his secretary Ernest Massenot go. In his private correspondence, Tinco also hints at his desire to lead a more quiet life, with his new bride. That sounds inconclusive, as Tinco continued to travel significantly throughout Europe, with his wife, to meet friends and family. Tinco remained very active, even if his health often caused him to take a big pause. And, he remained involved in key decisions about the museum.

There is a detail in Girard’s report that may give another hint. Girard says that Tinco makes the donation “with full consent of his wife”. Why would Tinco need the consent of his wife? After all, it was HIS collection, and she had never been involved with its development.

Thus, let’s think of it differently. Living in a museum was probably not Juliana’s idea of an ideal home. She was probably thrilled by Tinco’s stories about the Orient, and enchanted with his museum where every object came with a wonderful story. But, she probably did not share his ambition about building a grand museum, where visitors would constantly perturb their privacy. The fact that they moved out of the Villa Escarras by the summer of 1877 is a first indication. The sudden decision to donate the museum to the city of Cannes, just a few months later, is no coincidence.

Musée Lycklama - Juliana
Juliana thoe Schwartzenberg en Hohenlansberg, spouse of Tinco Lycklama à Nijeholt

And, then there is the more materialistic motivation. When Tinco died, in 1900, Juliana writes to her sister-in-law, Anna Sixma van Heemstra, the wife of Tinco’s brother Augustinus, and reminds her that Tinco didn’t have much money when they married. That may come as a surprise, given that Tinco was one of the largest landowners in The Netherlands (as witnessed by taxation records). However, the landed gentry traditionally hold on tightly to their domains; even when they need money, they do not easily part with their domains. Tinco was earning some income from leasing his lands to farmers but, at that time, there was a significant economic crisis in The Netherlands, especially in his native province of Friesland. He obviously got cash-strapped. That doesn’t mean that he was poor, of course, but let’s assume that his wife was not keen on subsidizing Tinco’s museum ambitions.

In any case, they both later engage in other noble endeavours, and their substantial donations to religious works are still honoured today in both Cannes and The Netherlands.

A lasting legacy to a man’s passion

Handing over his collections to the city of Cannes gave Tinco the best of both worlds. For one, it was now in the hands of the city and they were responsible for its future – financially and structurally. And, at the same time Tinco got a permanent tribute to his passions with an official museum that bears his name.

It may be called the Musée de la Castre today, but it will forever remain the museum that Tinco Lycklama built.


Selected bibliography

  • The Archives Municipales de Cannes, as a critical source for factual details used, from municipal records and newspaper archives.
  • Fabien Blanc, L’origine des collections du Musée de la Castre à Cannes, 2005. Available on demand.
  • The personal archives of Ernst Huisman, historian, kept at the Provincial Archives of Friesland and family archives.

Specific online documents…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s