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Art of the Ice Age has a lot to teach us—it’s time the British Museum dedicated a gallery to it
June 26, 2024

The art world was abuzz when reports emerged in April that the Mona Lisa is being relocated to a more suitable space within the Louvre. But there is one problem: such a move would cost hundreds of millions of euros—and the French state’s coffers are empty.

Nevertheless, the idea is on the museum director’s wish list. Laurence des Cars confirmed a report published in the newspaper Le Figaro that she raised the idea during a staff meeting at the Louvre. “We are thinking about it”, she told Radio France. “We must discuss how the Mona Lisa is displayed,” she added, admitting that “today, visitors who want to see it are not well received”. She believes that Leonardo’s masterpiece deserves its own space, instead of sharing a room with works from the Venetian painting gallery, which is flooded with 20,000 visitors a day, all jostling to take a selfie. “It’s not a problem to have nine or ten million visitors to the museum per year, but we must welcome them properly,” she said, suggesting that the Louvre might also consider opening a new entrance.

Around 80% of Louvre visitors go to the museum to see the Mona Lisa, and most of them leave unhappy. Tourist polls regularly dub the portrait “the world’s most disappointing attraction”. The museum suffers from overcrowding: at the end of the past century, it was extensively rebuilt to cope with four million visitors annually, half of today’s numbers. From 2014 to 2016, a complete renovation of the entrance hall under I.M. Pei’s pyramid was undertaken to improve conditions for the swelling crowds. But more radical solutions have also been explored, including a new entrance and a special circuit for the famous painting. By combining the two, Des Cars hopes to create a more attractive offer for potential funders.

According to Le Figaro, the Louvre has estimated that a new underground entrance, under the Cour Carrée and leading to a special space for Leonardo’s portrait and an exhibitions’ gallery, would cost around €500m. However, a source at the culture ministry, which would have the final say on such a plan, tells The Art Newspaper: “This is only an idea, put forward by Des Cars. And if it ever becomes a project, the state will not participate in the funding.”

The timing is not great for the Louvre, with the French government due to make €10bn in budget cuts, including €200m slashed from the culture ministry. And, even if the Louvre were to raise such a colossal sum on its own, the construction effort would take a decade or more before Leonardo’s lady was able to move into her new lodgings.

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