A mini-Louvre in Minneapolis

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Georges de La Tour, French, 1593-1652

The Card-Sharp with Ace of Diamonds, 17th century, Oil on canvas

Musée du Louvre, Department of Paintings, RF 1972-8

Photo: Gérard Blot. © Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY

There’s a lot of excitement in the air at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts this week. Its new exhibition “The Louvre and the Masterpiece” is, according to at least one curator, taking the MIA to a whole new level of museumship.

While the exhibition does not include Mona Lisa or Winged Victory, it’s not a bunch of leftovers from the storage room, either. The exhibition is the result of a multi-year collaboration between the Louvre and the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. It was just weeks after her arrival as Director and President of the MIA that Kaywin Feldman stunned her staff when she announced the Louvre exhibition would be making it’s wasy to Minneapolis, as well.

What the more than sixty works of art on display offer is an opportunity to reflect on what actually constitutes a “masterpiece.”

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The Blue Head, 20th-century forgery in the style of the late 18th Dynasty, blue glass, Department of Egyptian Antiquities, E 11658. Photo (c) 2008 Musée du Louvre/Georges Poncet.

For example, The Blue Head, shown above, was in the Louvre’s collection for almost a century before it was determined that the glass sculpture could not have possibly been made in the 18th Dynasty. But when it was “discovered” in the 1920s, Egyptomania was all the rage, and everyone wanted to believe it was the real thing. Even today, the Louvre poster featuring the blue head is one of the museum’s best sellers. So is it a masterpiece, or isn’t it?

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Leonardo da Vinci, Italian, 1452-1519

Drapery Study, 1470-1479, Brush and tempera on linen

Musée du Louvre, Department of Graphic Arts, RF 41905

Photo: J.G. Berizzi. © Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY

Then there are those masterpieces which represent a simple sketch in a painter’s notebook, but are such beautifully accomplished renderings that they make the viewer gasp. The above study by da Vinci appears almost three dimensional, so exactly does he convey the folds of the cloth. The drawing is not a “finished work” but time and artistic criticism have deemed it a masterpiece nonetheless.

The exhibition inspired MIA curators to hunt through their own departments looking for equivalent masterpieces (and pseudo-masterpieces). Their findings are on display in a side gallery, and include work by Jasper Johns, Francis Bacon, and William Blake.

“The Louvre and the Masterpiece” opens to the general public Sunday, and runs through January 10.


Check back tomorrow for an interview with Louvre Director Henri Loyrette.

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