At least three paintings at the Louvre were damaged during torrential downpours on the night of July 9 to 10 in Paris. In a statement released on Thursday, the museum revealed that two works from Nicolas Poussin’s series The Four Seasons (1660–64) — those depicting fall and spring — and Jean François de Troy’s “The Triumph of Mordecai” (ca 1736) had sustained water damage. All four works in the Poussin series as well as de Troy’s painting have been removed for restoration.
Several sections of the world’s most-visited art museum were temporarily closed to the public because of the storms, which dumped more than two and a half inches of rain on Paris overnight — including nearly two inches in the span of a single hour. Rooms devoted to Islamic art and Roman artifacts from the eastern Mediterranean sustained water damage, and a false ceiling in the latter gallery was damaged and is undergoing repairs. Several back-of-house spaces were also affected, including a coat room and the employee locker rooms. Some works were preemptively removed after traces of water appeared on the walls of the gallery devoted to French paintings from the 17th century, including three paintings by Georges de La Tour and Eustache Le Sueur. In spite of the flooding, the majority of the Louvre opened to the public on the morning of July 10 at 9am, as per usual.
The Louvre wasn’t the only Parisian cultural institution to take on water in the deluge. A storage room for medieval manuscripts at the National Library of France suffered an infiltration that damaged some 143 books, according to Le Monde. As of Monday, all but nine had been dried out, though the library’s director general, Sylviane Tarsot-Gillery, estimates that 14 of the manuscripts will need to be restored. Meanwhile, one of the Ministry of Culture’s main storage facilities, on the Rue Saint Honoré, was so badly flooded that it had to be evacuated. According to Le Monde, between 5 and 10% of the ministry’s archival materials pertaining to national monuments and archaeological sites were damaged.
The risks presented by flooding have been well known to Parisian cultural institutions for many years, especially those with underground storage facilities near the Seine river. Indeed, when the river flooded in June of last year, both the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay shut down so that works could be moved from below-ground spaces to safety on upper floors. An institution about 80 miles south of Paris, the Musée Girodet, suffered a “cultural catastrophe” in the same floods.
The Louvre has long planned to build an off-site storage and conservation facility near its northern outpost in Lens in order to safeguard its collection from these risks. It even selected a winning design for the project two years ago, but has yet to build the facility. Now, with back-to-back years of dramatic flooding — after more than half a century without having to evacuate its storage vaults — it may be time to fast-track the plan to build a high and dry storage facility.
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