Backstage at the Louvre
- Photography by Yuji Ono
- Coordination by Izumi Fily-Oshima
- Editing & Text by UNIQLO
- Special thanks to the Musée du Louvre
Behind the scenes at this museum, you’ll find the whole history of beauty. Starting this spring, UNIQLO will partner with the Louvre, sharing the pleasures of art far and wide through original apparel and supporting free admission programs at the museum. Time for a peek backstage.
Musée du Louvre
The glass pyramid designed by architect I. M. Pei, today an indispensable symbol of the Louvre. Thirty years since its construction, it welcomes over 10 million visitors annually, from all over the world. With seven out of ten visiting from other countries, this is a truly international museum.
Shrine to beauty, pride of France, and home to the singular Mona Lisa—with a history spanning over eight centuries, the Louvre is known above all as the foremost art museum on earth. Though only a portion of the museum’s vast 360,000 square meters is open to the public, most guests are unable to see everything in a single day.
Indeed, becoming a regular visitor is perhaps the only way to get to know your way around.
The museum has 403 exhibition rooms, lengthy hallways, basement spaces, libraries, studios, and at least 10,000 stairs. Step foot inside the grandiosity that is the Louvre, and you cannot help but feel your curiosity come alive. It makes you wonder: what’s on the minds of the people who keep this palatial institution alive? How do they spend their days? First we’ll enter through the glass pyramid, taking the stairs down into the Hall Napoléon, the lobby of the museum.
“We have such a variety of guests that when we lend out audio guides, sometimes I’m shown an ID from a country that is new to me,” says Servane de Landsheer, deputy director of guest relations, which has over 1,200 agents. To maintain an ideal experience for visitors from all over the world, museum security is always ready to respond. “We recommend not setting a number of works to see. Just enjoy the work you happen to run into.” The enormity of the Louvre may be dazzling, but a look behind the scenes puts things in focus.
Archaeologist, Art Historian
After working in research as an archaeologist and art historian at dig sites in Egypt, Daniel came to the Louvre in 1988. Currently, he works in mediation at the Louvre (promoting relationships between visitors and the museum), where his tasks include planning workshops and tours and producing publications. Pictured here in the Grande Galerie, which houses his beloved North Italian paintings.
Everyone has the right to enjoy the museum
“Unless you come and take a look around, it’s hard to feel like the museum belongs to you.”
At home among the halls, Daniel Soulié could rightfully be called a walking encyclopedia of the Louvre. Most visitors have probably passed him without realizing. Daniel spends his days moving about the museum, like a fish swimming in a sea of art. As a student of art history in France, he had long cherished the idea of working at the museum and finally realized his dream in 1988, when the pyramid in the courtyard was still under construction. Over thirty years later, he now draws from his scholarly knowledge and astounding memory as a member of the “mediation” team, connecting the museum with its visitors. Simply put, his role involves reviewing all written and audio-visual information presented to visitors. This description may conjure up images of someone at a desk, editing materials throughout the day, but Daniel never stays in one place for long. To gather information, he firmly believes you need to see things for yourself, just like in archaeology and art history.
“I’ve been coming to the Louvre several times a week since I was a student. Even today, I never stick around the office very long. I’m always moving through the halls. My colleagues sometimes ask, ‘Out for a walk?’ But I say ‘No, I’m doing my job.’ Specifically, I’m paying close attention to how the visitors are experiencing the museum. Spend an hour sitting in a room, and you get a sense of what people are looking at and reading, or what they’re not reading for that matter, as well as where they tend to stop. This is the basic principle of mediation, something you can only learn by spending hours upon hours in the museum. I’m proud to say that this has given me a fairly good idea of how our visitors engage with the collections.” Going beyond pamphlets and signage, Daniel’s work requires a three-dimensional, multifaceted approach. One aspect of this is creating and testing new visitor routes. People have asked him for a way to see the whole museum in an hour and a half, but Daniel shakes his head decisively. “No way. It’s physically impossible. That’s not even enough time to start off on the first floor of the Denon Wing and loop around the building to the French paintings on the third floor of the Richelieu Wing. But the only reason I can offer a response like this is that I know the building in and out.”
The Louvre’s treasure trove of art is truly oceanic; if you try to have it all, you’ll end up drowning. What’s the best way to break the experience into manageable pieces? As the author of multiple books for newcomers, Daniel recommends “taking advantage of one of the nights with free admission.” Best not to try to cover every piece of art in the museum in a single go. Instead, he says, it’s good to make a number of short trips. Plus, the beauty of the Louvre at night is an experience all its own, like coming to another world. Generally closing at 6:00 p.m., as of January 2019 the Louvre has offered Free Saturday Nights, where the museum stays open until 9:45 p.m. to give even more people a chance to enjoy the collections. Sympathizing with the idea of sharing art with a wider audience, starting this spring UNIQLO is partnering with the museum to support them in their outreach efforts. Roman glass sparkling in the evening, the mosaic tiles of the Islamic art collection thrown into relief under the lights. Spend time engaging with the paintings in dignified stillness, and the afterglow will follow you as you exit the museum, like when you step outside a movie theater after a long movie.
“You have a right to come to the museum. This place belongs to you. Since the Louvre is a national museum, its collections are coowned by the 67 million people of France, but it’s our pleasure to welcome visitors from all over the world to partake in the same ultimate experience. Here I’ll add that everyone has the right to like a piece of art or not, which means it doesn’t really matter if somebody tells you ‘this piece is important’ or ‘pay close attention here.’ All that matters is finding something that brings you joy. It could be any piece of art in the museum. The most important thing is that the artwork gives you a transcendent feeling, a sense of peace or happiness. Museums give us an opportunity to replenish the soul.”
La Belle Ferronnière, a painting by da Vinci which Daniel says that he prefers to Mona Lisa. Asked why, he points to the delicate brushwork characteristic of fifteenth-century paintings, the expressive model, and the story behind the work, which was part of the French royal collection long before the Louvre was a museum.
Egypt is in the Louvre and The Louvre for Dummies, both authored by Daniel.
After an education in upholstery and furniture restoration, she studied gilding and obtained a certificate of professional aptitude (CAP) in the craft. While training at the Palace of Versailles, she was awarded Meilleur Apprenti de France, the top order of merit given to apprentices. In 2018, she passed the civil service exam for art technicians and was hired by the Louvre. Pictured before The Raft of the Medusa, whose frame Alexandra and her team helped to restore.
Unchanged Methods, Changing Museum
In 1824, the Louvre acquired The Raft of the Medusa, masterpiece of genius Théodore Géricault, who died before his time. The canvas vibrantly depicts a group of life-size figures, the man stretched out in the foreground being well over two meters in stature. Perhaps this gives the painting its awesome power, making those who view it feel as if they’re party to the actual event. On the wall for nearly two centuries, in November 2018 this massive painting was taken down, at which point the frame was restored.
With the help of a carpenter, three gilders got to work. Mending not the canvas, but the gold frame that surrounds it, through their esoteric methods. One of the gilders on the team was Alexandra Yernaux. After studying at the only gilding school in Paris, she underwent apprenticeship at the Palace of Versailles before moving to the Louvre. Named a best apprentice by the government of France, a distinction bestowed on superlative artisans twenty-one and under, Alexandra has this to say about her museum.
“The space is truly enormous, which means a lot of variation in the workday. When I was at Versailles, I only worked on art from the days of the French royalty, but at the Louvre I work on the frames of paintings from Spain, Italy, and France, and my task as a gilder changes quite a bit with each individual work.”
The word painting is easy enough to say, but to put things in context, The Coronation of Napoleon is about 6.3 m tall and 9.8 m wide, for an area of nearly 60 ㎡, bigger than the average one-bedroom apartment. The Louvre is home to many other paintings too large to wheel back to the studio, as well as works of art whose fragility makes transportation complicated, posing challenges to restoration of the frames. A single frame can take as long as a month for a team of several people to restore. Artisans also occasionally make adjustments to a frame using watercolors, careful to match the exact color of the gold.
“At the Louvre, our goal isn’t to make the gold frames look all shiny and new, but to create an era-appropriate finish that shows the natural passage of time. Actually, the techniques haven’t changed much since gilding was first used in France during the reign of Louis XIV, back in the seventeenth century.”
Handy from an early age, Alexandra learned to appreciate old things from her grandmother, which naturally led her to become an artisan. What awakened her to the beauty of gilding was an encounter with an old mirror, at the studio where she was studying furniture restoration. “There was this mirror with a gold frame, in pretty bad shape. When I asked how to restore it, I was told that ‘we can fix the wooden part here, but the gold part needs to be fixed by a gilder.’ So I started studying gilding, and found it so interesting I became a gilder, which brings me here today.”
As unforeseen events alter the way that people feel about the world, museums undergo a metabolic process, moving forward to connect the history of beauty and thought. Meanwhile, masterpieces are preserved for the next generation through the careful transmission of tried and true techniques. In a sense, the Louvre is one massive work in progress. Which brings us back to something Daniel said, in reference to mediation. “A museum that has stopped developing is already dead. The only thing that doesn’t change here is the fact that we hang paintings on the walls of a historic building. We have a mission to remake, rethink and devise, all the while maintaining respect for the site and the collection.”
Watercolor set that Alexandra uses when she does “makeup” for the collections, retouching frames throughout the museum. “Having a frame is what brings the work to life.”
The Louvre × UT
This UT collection is part of our partnership with the Louvre. The men’s collection was designed by legendary British graphic designer Peter Saville. Control numbers used at the Louvre (Mona Lisa is INV 779) are incorporated for a one of a kind design.
- W’s Louvre Museum Short Sleeve UT
- W’s Louvre Museum Long Sleeve Sweatshirt
- Louvre Museum Short Sleeve UT
- Louvre Museum Sweat Long Sleeve Hoodie
Musée du Louvre and UNIQLO
To support the Louvre in its mission of attracting a broader range of people to its collection of historic masterpieces, UNIQLO is sponsoring its free admission program. A whole list of collaborations and various programs are in the works.