Monday, 16 December 2013

Mind the Gaps at the Louvre

Picture: MS
Drost's Bathsheba is lonely. She used to be flanked by two of the Louvre's great Rembrandts: his version of Bathsheba on the right, and St Matthew and the Angel on the left. The St Matthew has gone to the Louvre's new branch in Lens, the Bathsheba is 'being examined'. Lots of pictures are being 'examined' at the moment; my guess is that they're being prepared for transport to Lens. Instead of an opportunity to see rarely exhibited pictures from the basement, there are great big gaps in the displays. And what can compensate for the loss of Bathsheba and St Matthew from the Rembrandt room? The Louvre has some fine Rembrandts, but it's an area of relative weakness and these are two of the three highlights; only the late Self Portrait at the Easel remains.

Other pictures have recently returned, but the captions haven't been updated. There's a sign in the Ingres room advising that Monsieur Bertin is in Lens. But previously it didn't hang in the Ingres room; it was in the large format French paintings room, to which it has now returned. Unless you know the picture you wouldn't realise, though, because the captions haven't been updated. Here he is, with his 'caption':

And here is Raphael's Baldassare Castiglione, which was removed early from the Late Raphael exhibition for its rendezvous in Lens, with a detail of its caption:

and here is Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People:

Unbelievable that the Louvre would fail to give Liberty Leading the People its caption!

The Louvre used to be the greatest encyclopaedic museum in the world. Now it's a brand, selling merchandise and shipping art between its branches. Coherent groups of objects are being broken up to satisfy political and economic imperatives. The Louvre has acquired most of Fragonard's series of Fantasy Portraits, which look fantastic as a group. But now the most famous of them all, the portrait of the Enlightenment encyclopaedist Denis Diderot, has been separated from its companions and sent to Lens. 

The main reason for my visit was to see Raphael drawings, and I'm pleased to say that the print room remains an oasis of culture and civility. I look forward to some more upbeat posts about the drawings by Raphael and his school that I saw.


  1. A very sad state of affairs. I really can't believe the Liberty Leading the People one!

    What exactly is the arrangement with the Lens branch, Michael? How long is the Rembrandt St Matthew expected to stay there, for example?

  2. I know! I think the arrangement with Lens is flexible, but the Raphael was at Lens for about twelve months, so I expect it's the same with Rembrandt. But they seem to make it up as they go along. They must have known timing of transfers, and I find it astonishing that they can't even get the wall text sorted out! They even have a closed day on Tuesdays to deal with it. The NG London manages regular rehangs and updates despite being open seven days a week.

  3. Every time I go to the Louvre I end up with the same mixed feelings. Such an outstanding collection so carelessly treated. What I most dread about it is the illumination. The last time I went it was almost impossible to enjoy a single painting in the Rembrandt or Van Dyck rooms without the reflections ruining them. It seems to me that they are so assured that those who really love art will keep returning that they don't even care about us.
    Instead, teir main concern is to please the flocks of tourists that just go to do the tour Gioconda-Nike of Samothrace-Milo Venus-Souvenir shop.