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Explained: Who is Laurence des Cars, the first woman head of the Louvre in its 228-year history?

Des Cars specialises in 19th and early 20th-century art, and is a driving force behind the restitution of art looted by the Nazis during World War II.

Written by Dipanita Nath , Edited by Explained Desk | Pune |
Updated: May 28, 2021 7:42:49 am
The Louvre is the world’s most visited museum, which fits with the ideas of its new president. (AP Photo)

Art historian and curator Laurence des Cars has become the first woman to be appointed the president of Louvre – the world’s largest art museum, based in Paris — in its 228-year history. The competition for the post was close and fierce, with one of the contenders being the current president Jean-Luc Martinez, who was vying for a third term. Des Cars, 54, has said ‘her heart was beating fast’ when culture minister Roselyne Bachelot broke the news to her. She will take over from Martinez in September.

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The Glass Ceiling Breaker

The daughter of a journalist and a writer, and the granddaughter of the novelist Guy des Cars, Des Cars specialises in 19th and early 20th-century art. She attended Paris-Sorbonne University and École du Louvre and also taught at the latter institution.

In 1994, Des Cars joined Musee d’Orsay, another iconic Paris museum, as curator and, in 2017, became its first woman director. It is a post she still holds. She has organised exhibitions, written papers and promoted art on a variety of platforms. Between 2007 and 2014, Des Cars was one of the leading figures who set up the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the capital of the UAE.

An eye for history

Des Cars is a driving force behind the restitution of art looted by the Nazis during World War II. One of the major works at the Musée d’Orsay was Gustav Klimt’s Rosiers Sous Les Arbres (Rose Bushes Under The Trees). It had belonged to Nora Stiasny, a Jew, until the Nazis took it from her in Vienna, in 1938. Des Cars pushed for the work to be returned to Stiasny’s family and the culture ministry of France agreed. “A major museum must look history in the face, including looking back at the very history of our institutions,” Des Cars told AFP.

Rose Bushes Under The Trees (Photo Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

Reflecting the present

The Louvre is the world’s most visited museum, which fits with the ideas of its new president. Des Cars is known to encourage programmes that engage with contemporary concerns and draw the youth into museums. At Musee d’Orsay, for instance, an exhibition, titled “Black Models: From Gericault to Matisse” was held in 2019 to look closely at racial and social issues.

For Louvre, Des Cars is thinking about changing the work hours to stay open late in order to bring in more young people. She has told The Guardian, “The Louvre can be fully contemporary, it can open up to the world of today while telling us about the past, giving relevance to the present through the brilliance of the past. We need time, we need perspective, we are coming out of a destabilising crisis, we are living in exciting but complicated times … We are all a little bit at a loss for direction. I think the Louvre has a lot to say to young people, too, who will be at the centre of my concerns as president of the Louvre.”

That other famous woman

The Louvre is home to the Mona Lisa, a classic that cultural organisations and art lovers across the world would love to exhibit. Four years ago, Françoise Nyssen, the former minister of culture, had suggested that it might be possible for the Louvre to lend out the Leonardo da Vinci painting. “No, it is a very fragile work. It’s also one of the joys of the world’s great museums to go and see certain works knowing they will not have been moved,” Des Cars has said.

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