France considers sale of national art treasures

24th October 2007, Comments 0 comments

24 October 2007, PARIS (AFP) - Could the Paris Louvre one day auction off the Mona Lisa? The question is out there since the government Tuesday asked a committee to explore whether museums should be allowed to sell French national treasures.

24 October 2007

PARIS (AFP) - Could the Paris Louvre one day auction off the Mona Lisa? The question is out there since the government Tuesday asked a committee to explore whether museums should be allowed to sell French national treasures.

Culture Minister Christine Albanel announced the launch of a study mission on "the possibility of relinquishing ownership of works in public collections", due to report back to the government early next year.

Since the 16th century, any work that enters a French national museum collection has been considered legally "inalienable" -- meaning it can only be sold or given away after a lengthy procedure to delist it.

Earlier Tuesday the culture ministry invoked the law to block the return to New Zealand of a mummified Maori warrior's head given to a French museum in 1875, arguing the work must first be struck from national heritage lists.

The French art world -- already up in arms over plan to build a branch of the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, to receive travelling exhibits from French museums -- is deeply suspicious of any change to the current system.

But President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for the question to be examined afresh, "naturally without jeopardising the nation's heritage, but as part of efforts to make the most of it."

The culture ministry mission has been asked to look at the possibility of renewing parts of public collections, "to increase their overall richness" and allow them to "breathe".

Albanel said it hoped to strike a compromise between complete free circulation of artworks, and the indefinite stocking of works, "mechanically increasing their number regardless of any overall assessment of collections."

The report is to look at current practices elsewhere in the world by consulting museums and art world players.

The question has been in the air for some time, with a law proposal recently filed by a deputy from Sarkozy's right-wing party to allow the sale of French national artworks.

"To question the principle of inalienability would be a catastrophe," Jean-Pierre Cuzin, former head of the Louvre painting department, told the French magazine Journal des Arts.

A museum was not a business, he said. "Either you sell secondary works and you raise little money, or you sell your major works -- raise lots of money -- but you have mo museum left."

For Thomas Grenon, head of the RMN national museum body, "It may be possble to sell pieces without impoverishing our collections, but the current system has got us through troubled times.

"The history of art is full of sudden reversals that suggest we should tread carefully."

AFP

Subject: French news

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