x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

First glimpse of Louvre's treasures

First works acquired for the Louvre Abu Dhabi go on display at the Emirates Palace and send clear signal of intent.


The first artworks acquired for the Louvre Abu Dhabi represent a clear signal of intent even if, on the surface, there are no obvious links between the pieces. Although still in its early days, the 29-piece collection is already broad in every sense.

It comprises paintings, sculptures, ceramics and carvings, representing Islam, Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism. The oldest item, an amphora (a type of vase), dates back to 520BC while the newest, a photograph, is from 1989. The countries of origin are as diverse as the items themselves - Greece, China, Egypt, Italy, Zambia and Benin are all represented. There is also, perhaps unsurprisingly, a strong French presence.

All will be on show to the public at the Emirates Palace hotel until July 2. After that, it will be four years until they, and many, many more artworks, go on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The artworks' diversity, and the exchange of cultures they represent, provide an indication of the direction in which the museum is heading. The curators have intentionally picked pieces that, much like the new museum itself, signify a confluence of cultures.

Laurence Des Cars, the chief curator and scientific director of the project, said: "We are imagining a universal museum with the spirit of the Louvre, but we are imagining it for Abu Dhabi, and the exhibition is a symbol of what Arabia has always been - a crossroads between east, west, north and south." The works on show from today, said Mrs Des Cars, epitomise "the spirit of what will happen in the next 10 years, when French museums will be lending works that will be presented side-by-side with the collections of the Louvre Abu Dhabi."

For now, around half the works on show have been bought specifically for the Louvre Abu Dhabi - some, such as Piet Mondrian's Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black, for tens of millions of euros. All others are on loan from French museums, including the Musée d'Orsay, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Musée du Quai-Branly. A brief film by the museum's architect, Jean Nouvel, introduces the collection. After that, the first piece encountered by the public at the Talking Art: Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibition is, appropriately enough, a photograph of visitors to the Louvre in Paris, "showing people looking or not looking at works of art", said Mrs Des Cars. It is, she said, "a symbol of the presence of the Louvre in this project".

Next is a series of archaeological finds - the amphora, which is in pristine condition, a jewelled brooch and a Greek vase from 50BC. The vase is a Greek imitation of Roman style - an early example of one culture borrowing from another. Also on show in the same room is a Buddha's head dating from around AD 550 China. One of the first Chinese representations of the Buddha, it reveals a shift from traditional Indian interpretations to more Chinese iconography.

A section of the Quran dating back to the Mamluk dynasty in 14th-century Egypt or Syria boasts Mongolian influences, signifying, curators said, "artistic exchanges between two cultures". As well as paintings by, among others, Mondrian, Giovanni Bellini and Paul Cézanne, comes one collection that Abu Dhabi can truly call its own. Les Gitanos, an 1862 etching by the French painter Edouard Manet, served as the inspiration for another of his paintings, which the artist later cut up into several pieces.

Two of the cut pieces of the final painting, The Bohemian and Still Life with Bag and Garlic, have now been reunited in the collection, along with the original etching, for the first time. "Its presence here makes a very, very strong statement," said Mrs Des Cars. "It is a very strong signal [Abu Dhabi] are making to the world that they are very serious about their acquisitions policy and that they want a museum that is at the forefront of its kind in the world."

The collection can be viewed until July on one of two daily tours, at 11am and 6.30pm. Places must be booked at www.artsabudhabi.ae or by calling 02 690 8207. @Email:rhughes@thenational.ae