The brainchild of writer and politician André Malraux, who was Georges Pompidou’s culture minister, the first so-called artothèque (art library) was founded in 1961 in Le Havre, Normandy and the first permanent dedicated art library appeared seven years later in Grenoble.
Today, there are around 40 public art libraries in towns and cities across the country, while a number of private businesses have also sprung up offering similar services.
It opens up art to more people and some artists have even set up their own smaller operations with others to “stop their work getting dusty in a storeroom” as one phrased it.
Working like a normal book library (bibliothèque), artworks are available for a relatively moderate fee to members of the public as well as businesses, organisations and schools. Works such as paintings and sculptures are available to be displayed in offices, classrooms or homes.
Borrowing two pieces from the Médiathèque François Mitterrand in Poitiers for 60 days will cost from €45 while Artothèque à Montpellier offers two works for €25 a month.
Once the loan period ends borrowers return the works to replace with others.
The website at artotheques-adra.com has more information and a map of many of the libraries.