The biggest news on the art scene in Paris this month was the December 12 opening of the Louvre annex in Lens. This relatively small community in the Nord-Pas de Calais is joined to Paris by the high-speed train, the TGV. Although only an hour separates them, Lens and Paris are about as dissimilar as can be. The Nord-Pas de Calais départment is the butt of French jokes, such as in the hit movie Bienvenue Chez le Ch’tis. Frankly, the post-industrial region desperately needed an economic shot in the arm. The mines have been closed since the 60s and nothing replaced them.
Built in the shadow of towers of coal mining slagheaps, the ultra-modern building was designed by Japanese architects Ryue Nishizawa and Kazuyo Sejima to reflect the sky and surrounding landscape. The interior of the building is very open and flooded with light – no mean feat given the often rainy skies in Lens.
The 205 works currently on display are mounted on partitions and pedestals that dot the floor. They were selected from the Louvre’s permanent collection to give an overview of art history from 4,000 B.C. to the middle of the 19th century, where the Louvre’s holdings end. The works reflect many cultures as well at different art forms – statues, mosaics, paintings, and sculptures are all represented. The centerpieces of the current display are the enormous symbolic painting La Liberté guidant le peuple, by Eugène Delacroix, and Da Vinci’s La Vièrge à l’Enfant avec Sainte Anne.
The verb emprunter (om-prun-tay) means “to borrow.” The core collection will be refreshed every five years with borrowings from the best of the Louvre. In addition, there will be temporary exhibits, such as the initial one featuring Old European Masters. There are two works that the Louvre-Paris will never loan, however, la Joconde (the Mona Lisa) and la Victoire de Samothrace (Winged Victory).
The Louvre: All the Paintings