THE ORIGINS OF THE MUSEUM
Shortly after Neuchâtel’s Revolution of 1848, a museum dedicated to watches and natural sciences opened in Le Locle. Later its initiators considered adding a gallery of paintings and sculpture, “where the portraits of the personalities of our country could be housed” This idea, which won immediate support, was the origin of the creation of the Society of Fine Arts in 1862 ,which gave rise to what is now the Museum of Fine Arts of Le Locle. From the beginning, the Swiss and Neuchâtel artists exposed in the museum found an attentive audience. The Confederation and the Gottfried Keller Foundation entrusted the MBAL with works by artists of national importance.
A PARTICULAR INTEREST IN PRINTS
Since 1946, the museum has had keen interest in prints and printmaking, and had a first exhibition, “The modern illustrated book” whose success was a landmark event. It was followed in 1950 by “50 years of French engraving” organized in collaboration with the National Committee of French engraving and the Cabinet des Estampes of Paris. The enthusiasm aroused in the public by prints by Bonnard, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Chagall and many others encouraged the museum to move towards a specialization in the original print and printmaking in general while remaining open to other areas of artistic creation.
To reinforce this orientation and revitalize its activities, the museum established, in 1980, an in-house print workshop that offers introductory courses and provides infrastructure for artists.
THE CREATION OF A TRIENNIAL COMPETITION for the PRINTED-ARTS
In 1992 the first edition of a triennial competition was held. It is entitled “Prize of the city of Le Locle” and is dedicated to the printed-arts. This contest was open to Swiss artists at first before becoming international following its third edition in 1998. The 2007 edition reaffirmed its importance at the national level by the constitution of an artistic committee consisting of the main curators of engravings of the country which was responsible for the selection of guest artists.
By its promotion of printmaking the Triennial is emerging as an important element of life in the museum, and also of the city of Le Locle and its region.
RENOVATIONS AND MAJOR EXPANSION
The transformations of the building undertaken between 2011 and 2014 have both helped to preserve and reveal the characteristic architectural elements of the Art Nouveau period. Fully restored, the library has regained its original colours. The Art Nouveau stained glass windows that adorn the ceiling, as well as some elements of the museum stair-cage, were classified by the Protection of Monuments and Sites, and their restoration was conducted with the aid of a grant from the Council of State of the Republic and Canton of Neuchatel. The ambitious project has also resulted in the creation of a reception area and coffee shop, a cultural mediation area as well as exhibition and modernised storage spaces, adapted to the current standards of display and preventive conservation of works. The reopening of the museum is also accompanied by extended opening hours and improved accessibility.