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How the Louvre’s director saved his museum from the Nazis

On March 13, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, MoMA and the Whitney all announced temporary closures to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Two months later, more than 19,000 New York City residents have died from COVID-19 and the idea of ever going to a museum again — of jostling with tourists to get a look at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” at MoMA, or waiting in line to see the Met Costume Institute’s next fashion exhibition — seems like a distant, dangerous dream.

But a new book about another museum currently closed due to COVID-19 offers some hope.

“The Louvre: The Many Lives of the World’s Most Famous Museum,” out now, chronicles the Parisian icon’s 800-year evolution from workaday fortress to beloved art institution. And if history is any indication, the Louvre will not only survive the pandemic but emerge from it as strong as ever.

The Louvre has seen revolutions, uprisings, fires and neglect. Most remarkably, it survived the Nazi occupation of Paris, during which time its most precious pieces had to go into hiding. Its persistent, fierce resilience — in addition to the “Mona Lisa,” its crown jewel — has made the Louvre not just an extraordinary museum, but something greater.

“It occupies a symbolic stature which probably no other museum in the world does,” James Gardner, author of “The Louvre,” told The Post.

The Louvre started its life in 1191 not as a magnificent museum, but as a stolid fortress in what was then considered the outskirts of Paris. In 1546 — after many renovations — the Renaissance king Francois I decided to make it his main home, and it remained the primary residence of the monarchy until 1682, when the ostentatious Louis XIV ditched it for the more luxurious Versailles.

Louis XV decided to turn the Louvre into a kind of public museum. Artists were living there anyway — subsidized by the government — and holding annual showcases, or salons, which proved very popular. But it took years to get the museum off the ground — apparently the artists there had left it in a rat-infested, sorry state — and it finally opened during the French Revolution in 1793. That was after the rebels had executed Louis XV’s successor, Louis XVI, along with his much-maligned wife, Marie Antoinette, and in the middle of the notoriously bloody Reign of Terror, which saw 2,639 deaths in Paris alone.

Still, the opening was a success — with Parisians braving the violence to see the 538 paintings and 48 sculptures on display at the new museum.

“Apparently, a lot of people went,” said Gardner, adding that a little bloodshed had never stopped Parisians from seeking out art before. “As a matter of fact, a few weeks after the storming of the Bastille, in 1789, people went to the annual salon, and it was a big hit.”

CFD621D3 C6E5 4ACF A92C 76B76D741804The Louvre

1D99D87D 15DB 40D5 86A0 F07E13338F8CMona Lisa

 D26E8E86 099E 430D 9BFD 8846AEF84A19Alex Boyle's uncle George Cazmeze' chateau is Taussat Les Bains, Bassin D'Arachon that was occupied by the gestapo while they looked for the resistance

06B12DAA 2BB0 4379 A865 0EAAB316E295Modern day image of Alex Boyle's uncle's home supplied by local mayor. Georges joined the Foreign Legion, awarded the Legion of Honor in WW1 and was stripped of his American citizenship as a result

6B530C4A F3A7 40C4 A83A 87D86F5B2E90The obituary

Read more on The New York Post:

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