Could France sell off its art to pay the debts?

Art aficionados might be appalled at the idea of France flogging artworks from its museums’ collections, but a recent parliamentary report could open the door for unprecedented auctions.

Could France sell off its art to pay the debts?
The Louvre, which is home to thousands of artworks that are gathering dust. Photo: ZoetNet/Flickr

Hundreds of thousands of artworks are clogging up the backrooms of museums across France, the report says. Many have never been put on show and are often in a state of total disrepair.

Guillaume Cerutti, the head of Sotheby’s France, was consulted by the authors of the report for his opinion. He argues that France should move closer to a model used in the United States, where institutions like the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) sometimes sell unused parts of their collections to free up resources for the acquisition of more relevant artworks.

Cerutti said something needed to be done to tackle the “grotesque waste” seen in national collections. In the Louvre alone, for example, some 250,000 works are currently hidden away in overflow rooms.

Museums should be given the option of selling works that have been in public collections for at least 50 years, pending a green light from an expert commission, according to Cerutti.

With a new heritage law in the offing this spring, business news site BFM says France should at least consider the prospect of going a step further and selling art to plug gaping holes in the public coffers.

Though undoubtedly controversial, it wouldn’t be the first time France had sold off treasures to prop up its finances.  

In 2013 the Elysée Palace, the official residence of President Hollande, announced it was to flog 1,000 bottles of fine wine to fund renovations. 

Last summer France said it was letting go of a fancy apartment it owned on 5th Avenue in New York, just months after the government sold off its luxurious 18-room ambassador’s residence on Park Avenue for $70 million (€52 million).

In what was perhaps the most divisive transaction of this kind, last month the government faced accusations of treason when it announced plans to sell half of Toulouse’s airport, the country’s fourth largest and home of aircraft maker Airbus, to a Chinese-led consortium. 

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New guide to Paris museums – showing only the nudes

There are lots of guides to the visual splendours of Paris' museums and art galleries - but for those with a short attention span comes a new one, showing only nude or erotic artworks.

New guide to Paris museums - showing only the nudes
Find your way straight to the most erotic works in Paris galleries. Photo: Guiseppe Cacace/AFP

The online guides to the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay museums are produced by the porn website Pornhub and provide a list of the best erotic artworks in each museum, plus directions of how to get there – so you don’t need to waste your time looking at paintings of people in clothes.

The Classic Nudes series has been ruffling some feathers since it was posted online earlier in July, with the Uffizi museum in Florence threatening to sue. Bosses at the Louvre have said only that they are ‘dismayed’, while the Musée d’Orsay has remained silent on the subject.

The guide for the Musée d’Orsay lists 11 erotic artworks, together with a tongue-in-cheek commentary, and a location for each piece within the museum.

The Sleep by Gustave Courbet. Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP

Among the works featured are;

  • Le déjeuner sur l’herbe by Edouard Manet (1863) – which features a group having a picnic in which the woman has lost her clothes (the men remain fully dressed in three-piece suits and ties).
  • Un combat des coqs by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1846) – a nude couple watching a cock fight (that’s cockerels fighting, just to be clear).
  • L’origine du monde by Gustave Courbet (1866) – more than 150 years after it was first painted, the intimate close-up of female genitalia is still making waves. In 2019 Facebook had to pay damages to a French teacher whose account was closed when he posted a picture of the famous artwork.

The guide for the Louvre includes:

Nude young Man by Hippolyte Flandrin. Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
  • Portrait of Madeleine by Marie Guillemine Benoist (1800) – groundbreaking in several senses, this painting is one of the few on the list by a woman, and shows a topless black woman, painted just six years after the abolition of slavery in France’s colonies. 
  • Diane sortant du bain by François Boucher (1742) – one of many paintings on the list showing women having a bath, this features the Greek goddess Diana and her favourite nymph apparently surprised by the artist in the process of drying off after a bath. 
  • Le Jeune homme nu by Hippolyte Flandrin (1835) – most of the flesh shown in both the galleries is female (because that’s the patriarchy for you) but here we have a more rare male nude, a study of a young man sitting and looking rather sad and pensive.

As is hopefully clear, the Pornhub guides are explicit in nature and not suitable for children.

Both museums, however, form a great day out for all the family and contain a lot of fully-clothed artwork too. At present both are operating reduced visitor numbers due to health rules, so advance booking to recommended.

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