This week the Louvre launched a cohesive online catalogue of 485,000 objects, including those held in storage, for the very first time. The major revamp has come in the wake of the museum’s intensive provenance research project.
“It’s a step that has been in preparation for several years with the aim of serving the general public as well as researchers. Accessibility is at the heart of our mission,” declared the Louvre’s president director Jean-Luc Martinez.
Object records drawn from dozens of existing internal databases formed the basis of the free catalogue. On the former databases, members of the public were only able to access around 30,000 works that had already been exhibited. Martinez explained that “the Louvre is dusting off its treasures, even the least-known.” The new catalogue encompasses the Delacroix museum and sculptures from the nearby Tuileries Gardens as well.
Curators at the Louvre also began a huge provenance research project in 2020 to root out any Nazi and colonial looted artworks in their collections. Following accusations that the museum was unwilling to investigate its own collection, the Louvre appointed France’s first museum provenance researcher, the scholar Emmanuelle Polack, in the same year.
“The Louvre has nothing to hide, and the reputational risk is enormous,” revealed Martinez. “When the next generations want to know where these collections came from, how do we react? By doing the historical work and establishing the facts.“
During the Nazi occupation of Paris, the Louvre continued to acquire artworks while the French art market grew with the influx of looted objects from Jewish families. Around two-thirds of the 13,943 works acquired by the museum throughout World War II have so far been checked for problematic sources. There are an additional 1,700 works, which were recovered from Germany and consequently entrusted to the museum for safekeeping, that have yet to be repatriated to the heirs of their rightful owners. All these artworks can now be found in the Musées Nationaux Récupération (MNR) section of the new catalogue.
Martinez concluded that examining the provenance of the Louvre’s collection is “undoubtedly the main question museums have to deal with in the coming years to maintain their credibility.”