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The French art historian and Old Master drawings collector Louis-Antoine Prat, the chair of the Friends of the Louvre membership group, has been accused of slandering a respected art dealer with antisemitic stereotypes he published in a new book.

Prat’s short story Les Allées du salon, a reference to the Paris drawings fair, Salon du Dessin, comes from a collection published by Editions El Viso in September. The story sets up an unflattering comparison between a drawings collector with a “pure heart” and an art dealer named Nicky Schwarz who is “motivated by greed”. The latter is characterised by his poor personal hygiene, “repulsive” appearance and manipulative behaviour with collectors and journalists.

The story also contains passages that have been interpreted as homophobic and misogynistic, regarding an “effeminate young man” groped by Schwarz at the Salon du Dessin’s opening party and “single ladies, cursed by age”.

The book includes a disclaimer that any similarity between a work of fiction and real people, living or dead, is purely coincidental. But details of the fictional Nicky Schwarz’s clothing and published catalogues have led art experts to identify him with a leading Old Master drawings specialist and dealer based in Paris, Nicolas Schwed.

“It is very easy for anyone in the field to identify Nicolas Schwed in this story,” says George Goldner, the former head of the drawings departments of the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The journalist Carole Blumenfeld says that Prat himself confided in her privately that the character of Nicky Schwarz was indeed Schwed.

The academic and author Claudine Sagaert has studied antisemitic stereotypes in French literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In a 2013 anthropology paper, she noted how degrading representations of Jewish people’s physical appearance were commonly associated with immoral character traits, like greed and dishonesty.

The language used in Prat’s story “is borrowed from the old antisemitic tradition” of French literature, comments the collector and patron Pierre Morin. “Maybe the author is not even aware of it.” The Parisian art dealer Hubert Duchemin condemns the book’s “freely slanderous and nauseating” passages.

“This vocabulary is definitely part of the language defining hatred of the Jews around 1900 and onwards,” says Schwed, who adds: “It is not the role of any museum representative, and especially the chairman of the Friends of the Louvre, to slander art dealers.” Morin and Duchemin point out that Schwed is considered a professional rival by Prat, an avid collector of master drawings.

Prat’s perceived attack on Schwed is “totally inappropriate”, Goldner says. “The author, with whom I have no personal issues, has crossed the limits of decency. He should also be aware that he has a responsibility to preserve the reputation of the Louvre and its Friends.”

Prat did not respond to a comment request but told Le Monde newspaper he was “horrified by the accusation of antisemitism”, claiming that a “cabal” wanted to jeopardise his re-election as chairman of the Friends of the Louvre next June. “This is grotesque,” he protested. “I have a number of Jewish friends.”

The former Louvre director Pierre Rosenberg, who oversaw a 1995 exhibition of Prat’s collection at the museum, has come to his defence, saying, “I can testify he is not an antisemite.” Prat’s publisher at Editions El Viso, Nicolas Neumann, says he “did not see an ounce of antisemitism in his text”.

The controversy prompted the art historians Jean-Christophe Baudequin and Alexandre Gady, the director of the Musée du Grand Siècle, to withdraw their contributions from a forthcoming book of tributes to Prat.

The current Louvre director, Laurence des Cars, declined to comment, saying she cannot interfere in the independent association of the Friends of the Louvre. However, a spokesperson says Des Cars “disapproves of Prat’s outpouring of all kinds” and “is always saddened by anything affecting the reputation of the Louvre”.

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