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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Louvre Abu Dhabi: some of the world's most famous artworks will be on loan

A Vincent van Gogh and the first work by Leonardo da Vinci to be shown in the Middle East will be on display

Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) France, 1803. Courtesy Musée national des chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon
Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) France, 1803. Courtesy Musée national des chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon

When the Louvre Abu Dhabi opens in November, it will do so with displays that boast some of the most famous names in the annals of art history: van Gogh and Gaugin, Manet and Monet, Picasso and da Vinci, at least for a while.

Just like many of the museum’s visitors, a significant number of its exhibits will only be passing through Abu Dhabi, some on a brief visit while others will be on a longer tour of duty, loaned as they are from one of 13 major French cultural institutions including the Musée du Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, the Centre Pompidou, the Bibliothèque Nationale and the Musée du Quai Branly.

The length of each loan will be determined, in part, by the nature of the object in question. The most delicate and sensitive works will not only be displayed in the museum’s light, temperature and humidity-controlled Bronze Galleries, but they will only be loaned for a few months at a time.

More robust works, such as Vincent van Gogh’s self-portrait from 1887, which is being loaned from the Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais, are expected to be on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi for around a year while more substantial works, such as Balthasar and Gaspard Marsy’s Horses of the Sun, an enormous 17th century equestrian statue that currently resides in the royal stables at the Palace of Versailles, will stay for longer.

The approach has the museum’s curatorial team constantly looking to the future.

“This is not a museum that will stay the same for 10 years and it’s not a museum that will change completely like an exhibition – it’s somewhere in between and I think that is interesting,” Agence France-Muséum’s scientific director, Jean-François Charnier, told The National in 2014.

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The prospect of having to deal with the arrival and departure of paintings such as Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière, one of only five paintings by the master in the collection of the Musée du Louvre in Paris, may be daunting from a logistical and curatorial perspective, but for Charnier, that challenge is one of the things that will define the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

“We are not working on totally permanent galleries, they are semi-permanent galleries where the changes will be important year-on-year [and] this mobility, this flexibility, this volatility is a key element of the identity of Louvre Abu Dhabi.”

The Leonardo loan, which is expected be on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi for 12 months, involves several notable firsts.

Not only was it the first loan to be announced by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, Agence France-Muséums and the Musée du Louvre, but it will also be the first time that La Belle Ferronnière has left Europe and the first time a painting by Leonardo will be exhibited in the Middle East.

La gare Saint-Lazare by Claude Monet (1840-1926) France, 1877. Courtesy Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
La gare Saint-Lazare by Claude Monet (1840-1926) France, 1877. Courtesy Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

“It’s very important to have a work by Leonardo for the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi,” Vincent Pomarede, the director of mediation and cultural programming for the Musée du Louvre told The National at the time of the loan’s announcement.

“I think it’s very important to see one of the most beautiful portraits of the Renaissance because portraits are very important in the story of European art and they pose important aesthetic, political and social questions about their time.”

Other key loans that will be arriving in time for the museum’s opening include Napoleon Crossing the Alps, one of five versions of a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte painted by the French artist Jacques-Louis David between 1801 and 1805, which is part of the collection of the national museum of the Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon and La Gare Saint-Lazare, one of four surviving canvases painted by Claude Monet that represent the interior of the Parisian railway station in 1877.