It has recently been announced that the office of the French president has named Laurence des Cars to take over at the Louvre museum in Paris. Des Cars, who is currently the director of the Musée d’Orsay – also in the French capital – is the first woman to have been appointed to the role, widely considered to be among the most prestigious directorships in the global museum sector. According to the Élysée Palace, where the president’s spokesperson made the announcement, des Cars will take over at the world’s largest museum at the beginning of September.
Des Cars, who is in her mid-fifties, will go on to replace the Louvre’s current incumbent as director, Jean-Luc Martinez. In place since 2013, Martinez began his career at the world-famous museum as its curator of Greek sculpture back in 1999 before going on to land the top job. In April this year, Martinez was named as the Louvre’s interim director while a decision was taken at the top level of the culture ministry as to whether he would remain in the director’s role. This was a temporary move that was, in part, down to the effects of the pandemic on the museum sector and also a reaction to a row that broke out concerning the museum’s so-called modernisation strategy, something that has upset many traditionalists. Martinez, 57, had been very vocal about his desire to remain in his role for the third and final term its rules allow for. However, this is no longer going to be the case following the appointment of des Cars.
In fact, the choice of des Cars means that the granddaughter of the famous novelist, Guy des Cars, will have seen something of a stellar career in the French museum sector by the time it comes for her to move on from running the country’s premier museum. After all, this is being viewed as a big promotion for the curator since it comes just four years after she was the first female to be appointed to run the Musée d’Orsay. Des Cars, who is a chevalier of the Legion of Honour and National Order of Merit, as well as being an officer of Arts and Letters, is an academic who has spent much of her early career writing and lecturing about the art of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was during her time spent as a teacher at École du Louvre that she first became professionally acquainted with the institution.
A Wide Remit
Once she takes over as the director of France’s top public museum, des Cars will also be responsible for running both the Chateau de Versailles and the Pompidou Modern Art Museum, both of which come under the French president’s choice of appointee for the top Louvre job. Seen as a safe pair of hands, des Cars has already won many plaudits for her work to augment the Musée d’Orsay’s exhibition rooms during her tenure in the directorship of that museum. However, she has not merely expanded the gallery’s capacity but has also introduced a greater level of diversity into its exhibitions.
For example, des Cars was behind the decision to run a show called ‘Black models: From Géricault to Matisse’ back in 2019. This exhibition broke plenty of new ground by focussing on the often forgotten black subjects of art, especially artists’ models, who were the inspiration behind many of France’s avant-garde artists from a century or so ago. This exhibition won much critical praise and des Cars has admitted that this will stand out as a particularly noteworthy highlight from her time at the museum. According to an interview des Cars gave to the French press about her time at the Musée d’Orsay, the director thinks that it is through such exhibition programming that galleries and museums will be able to remain relevant in societal debates with something to say that is ‘in touch’ with the modern age. Des Cars thinks this is the way to reach out to new generations, an attitude that appears to have been instrumental in the decision to appoint her to the most prestigious museum job in the country.
However, there is more to des Cars’ career than her proven track record with putting on engaging and enlightening temporary exhibitions that the public seems to enjoy. For instance, earlier in 2021, the current Musée d’Orsay director was able to push for a painting by Gustav Klimt to be returned to its rightful owners despite the artwork having been in the gallery’s possession for decades. It turned out that the provenance of the painting was such that it had been part of a forced sale in the Nazi era. Des Cars was at the forefront of seeing that the Klimt was restored to the rightful heirs of the Jewish family that had lost it in 1938.
Breaking New Ground
It is worth noting just how extraordinary des Cars’ career has been thus far. When she took over at the Musée Orsay in 2017, she was – at that time – the second female curator to be at the helm of a major Paris museum. Only Sophie Makariou held a similar position, as director of the Musée Guimet. Now all eyes are likely to see how her career progresses at the Louvre, especially considering the difficulties faced by the incumbent as well as the reduced visitor numbers and revenue the museum has seen as a result of the pandemic.
The Louvre is substantially larger than the Musée d’Orsay which means that everything the new director is likely to be scrutinised much closer than she has been used to in her career thus far. After all, the museum was the most attended institution in the world before the pandemic struck, seeing over 10 million visitors each year on average. Perhaps setting the tone for her tenure, des Cars has already said she considers the Louvre to be at the heart of Paris life, one in which she thinks more voices need to be invited into.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.