On March 2nd, 2020, Philippe Etienne, Ambassador of France to the United States, awarded Elizabeth Mugar Eveillard the insignia of Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in a ceremony held at the Frick Collection, in New York.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear Elizabeth Eveillard,
I would like to begin with a quote from an interview you once gave to the French magazine Point de vue, when asked about the drawings you have been collecting with your husband Jean-Marie for more than thirty years now: « Voir un dessin donne un grand plaisir et cela doit rester un plaisir, apporter une joie, une émotion immédiate. Nous cherchons la vie, l’étincelle. C’est comme cela que nous avons voulu collectionner ».
“Seeing a drawing gives great pleasure and it must remain a pleasure, it must bring joy and immediate emotion. We seek life, the spark. This is the way we wanted to collect.”
These words reveal your profound love for art.
From childhood when you were following your mother through Boston museums, weekends spent among family in search of a sparkling sketch, to your responsibilities today, notably here at the Frick Collection, where you have chaired the board of trustees since 2017, you seem to have always had this same enthusiasm of discovering and admiring a work of art. It is to this lasting passion that I first want to pay tribute.
Surprisingly, given your great passion, you didn’t make your career in the art world but in finance: most of your professional life was spent at Lehman Brothers and then at PaineWebber, here in New York. Art was your secret family garden – a “pleasure” for a spring getaway at the Salon du dessin, in Paris, for instance. And then, as time went by, your professional life and your passion grew closer. Starting as a brilliant banker and a weekend collector, you have since become a respected and esteemed trustee – at Glimmerglass Festival, which you helped save from financial trouble when you chaired the board; at the Metropolitan Opera ; at the Kress Foundation; or, of course, here at the Frick Collection, which graciously welcomes us today.
I will not list all the positions that you have filled in various cultural institutions over the years. I just want to say this, because of your work and commitment, these “sparks” continue to illuminate the many institutions that have benefitted from your dedication.
In addition to your great love for the arts; you are also a friend of France, dear Elizabeth Eveillard.
Once again, it is a family story, which began on a rainy evening in 1969, here in New York, when you first met a certain Frenchman, Jean-Marie, your future husband. And, in this instance as well, it is a story of passion and commitment – a story of shared commitments and contributions, for example to the Friends of Chantilly, a domaine that is home to one of the most beautiful stables in the world.
Indeed, I should also mention the contribution you made in 2016 to the Partner University Fund, a program of our Cultural Services and the FACE Foundation. Your generous gift paved the way for an exceptional grant from the Mellon Foundation. Without your support, partnerships like those established between NYU and the EHESS in the field of history or between Columbia and the Sorbonne in the crossover fields of musicology and medieval studies would never have come to life.
Not only are these partnerships opportunities to strengthen our transatlantic friendship; they are also ways of expanding what is both the foundation and the horizon of our friendship – namely the Enlightenment, the belief that the expansion of knowledge leads to harmony and happiness.
Knowledge is not an exercise for a solitary intelligence but a collective adventure – the sum of shared efforts and exchanges. Knowledge is a shared path. Dear Elizabeth, thank you for making it possible for these French and American researchers to work together to forge these paths.
Tonight, we are awarding the Legion of Honor to dear friend: a friend of the arts, a friend of France, and a friend of culture. The Frick Collection is famous for its Progress of Love Room (a little paradise: wherever you look, you see a delightful scene from Fragonard). Tonight, let’s celebrate the other great work you have been taking care of, dear Elizabeth: The Progress of Culture -which is, in a sense, another way of saying: The Progress of Love.
Elizabeth Eveillard, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous faisons chevalier de l’Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur.