The Musée de l’Elysée is one of the world’s leading museums entirely dedicated to photography. Since its establishment in 1985, as a museum "for photography", it has improved public understanding of photography through innovative exhibitions, key publications and engaging events.
Recognized as a centre of expertise in the field of conservation and enhancement of visual heritage, it holds a unique collection of more than one million phototypes including complete photographic archives, in particular those of Ella Maillart, Nicolas Bouvier, Charlie Chaplin, Sabine Weiss, Jan Groover and René Burri. By supporting young photographers, offering new perspectives on the masters and confronting photography with other art forms, the Musée de l’Elysée experiments with the image.
Based in Switzerland, it presents four major exhibitions in Lausanne each year and an average of fifteen in prestigious museums and festivals around the world. Regional by character and international in scope, it seeks to constantly develop new and exciting ways to interact with audiences and collaborate with other institutions.
The Musée de l’Elysée is housed in what was once an elegant mansion in the area known as the Little Ouchy. It was designed by the architect Abraham Fraisse and built between 1780 and 1783 for Henri de Mollins (1729-1811), a Swiss officer serving the Dutch Royal family and a Major of the regiment stationed in Lausanne. The end of the 18th century saw the construction of a number of impressive homes in the countryside on the outskirts of Lausanne which were used mainly during the summer and autumn months. The building was named L’Elysée in 1834. With its splendid park, it stands on an exceptional site overlooking the lake. Famous guests who stayed at the house included Madame de Staël, who gave performances in 1807 of Andromaque with Benjamin Constant and Madame Récamier. Two important previous owners were the banker William Haldimand (1784-1862) and Victor de Constant (1814-1902), brother of the well-known local photographer Adrien de Constant de Rebecque, better known as Constant Delessert (1806-1876).
In 1971, the building was bought by the state. It was completely restored and in part equipped as a museum. Between 1980 and 1985, it housed the Canton of Vaud’s Collection of Prints, later transferred to Vevey following the foundation of the Musée de l’Elysée, as a museum for photography, by Charles-Henri Favrod in October 1985. The wealth of its collection and the various loans deposited in the museum provide a comprehensive picture of the historical and aesthetic development of photography from the first images in the1840’s to the digital photography of today. Over a period of 15 years, the museum has held some 350 exhibitions and has organized more than 100 elsewhere, developing progressively into an internationally renowned institution.
Initially, the focus was primarily on classical photography and the history of the medium but nowadays the museum increasingly emphasizes contemporary work. As an institution, the Musée de l’Elysée is responsible for preserving and restoring work that is part of the heritage of photography. It must also promote the significance of this heritage and encourage collectors to deposit the photographs they possess in a secure environment. The museum enhances the value of the collections it receives and transfers some of the pictures it inherits to the permanent collection. At the present time, much of the work deposited in the museum, as well as many of the images in its own collection, have been scanned and computerized.