A woman will helm the Louvre for the first time in its 228-year history

A version of this article was originally published by The Art Newspaper, an editorial partner of CNN Style.

For the first time since its creation in the wake of the French Revolution, the Musée du Louvre in Paris will be headed by a woman. Laurence des Cars, 54, the current president of the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie, was appointed on Wednesday as the new president-director of the Louvre by French President Emmanuel Macron.

On September 1, Des Cars will replace the museum’s leader of eight years, Jean-Luc Martinez, who had been seeking a third term but had recently come under fire while seeking reappointment. Martinez, a trained archaeologist from a working-class background, became director in 2013 after a long reign by upper-class art historians. Des Cars’ nomination appears to be a return to this tradition. Descended from a French noble family of writers, she is a specialist in 19th-century painting.

Des Cars started her career as a curator at the Musée d’Orsay in 1994, before taking charge in 2007 of Agence France-Muséums, the French government body responsible for delivering the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The 965 million euro ($1.1 billion) project was hindered by serious delays and growing exasperation from the United Arab Emirates, and when Martinez took the Louvre directorship, he replaced Des Cars with the curator and archaeologist Jean-François Charnier.

Laurence des Cars, who will be the new president-director of the Louvre, is pictured here at an exhibition at Kunsthalle Muenchen in Munich, Germany, in September 2017. Credit: Matthias Balk/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

Des Cars became the director of the Musée de l’Orangerie in 2014, followed by the Musée d’Orsay in 2017, where she has emphasized the social role of the museum. Under her leadership, the Orsay held an acclaimed 2019 exhibition on representations of Black female figures in 19th-century Western painting. Earlier this month, the museum reopened following coronavirus restrictions with a show on the impact of Darwinism on the arts of the time. In March, the Orsay was also the first French museum to voluntarily restitute a painting looted by the Nazis.

Des Cars immediately pledged to extend the opening hours of the Louvre, which currently closes its doors at 5:30 p.m., in order to attract younger visitors, a move that Martinez previously told The Art Newspaper he had also planned. According to a statement from the French culture ministry, the new director’s priorities will include fostering a “dialogue between ancient art and the contemporary world” and broadening the museum’s audiences with particular attention to young people. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Louvre depended on international tourists who, according to a museum press release, accounted for around 75% of visitors in 2019.

On Wednesday, Macron also appointed Martinez as a special ambassador for international co-operation on cultural heritage. In 2015, after the destruction of museums and sites in Mosul, Iraq, and Palmyra, Syria, Martinez authored the report on the fight against terrorism, archaeological looting and trafficking, which was submitted by France to the G7.

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