A date with Mona Lisa? A painting by Soulages? Louvre's fundraising auction offers all to the highest bidder

Online sale seeks to support a new space for art education and outreach that will open in the autumn of 2021

The online auction will benefit outreach projects at the Louvre © Musée du Louvre

The 100-year-old French artist Pierre Soulages has donated a painting worth hundreds of thousands of euros to help the Musée du Louvre raise funds for its education and social outreach projects. The 1962 work will be the highlight of an online charity auction from 1-15 December, in collaboration with Christie’s and Drouot's. Other artists in the sale include JR, Xavier Veilhan, Johan Creten and Jean-Michel Othoniel, as well as sponsors such as Cartier, Vacheron Constantin and Christian Dior.

Exceptional experiences are also going under the hammer such as attending the "annual examination of the Mona Lisa" along with a guest and Jean-Luc Martinez, the president and director of the Louvre. The opportunity to visit the Louvre by night is also available for a mere €10,000-15,000.

The charity sale is a first for the Louvre. Hit by the collapse of its attendance and the closure of its restaurants and bookshop, the museum wants to improve its accessibility and appeal to French audiences. A recent study, based on a sample of 9,200 people, found that 71% of French nationals did not visit a museum or an exhibition in 2018, a figure similar to that of 1973. Worse, social inequalities have deepened: the number of executives who visited a museum or historical site increased by 17% over the same period, while workers and employees were down by 27%.

Pierre Soulages donated this 1962 painting to the auction © Musée du Louvre

Due to the Covid-19 crisis, many institutions are seeking to attract more local visitors, especially from more disadvantaged sectors of the population. The Louvre has already revived projects in schools, prisons, factories and supermarkets. The museum's director is also planning to open a workshop at the museum next year, “directly connected to the permanent galleries”. In a 1,200 sq. m space, the director wants to create a space where visitors can practice painting, drawing or sculpture, followed by a visit to a related gallery. He insisted that access should be free, which means he had to find the funding.

“I thought that we should call all the artists who have worked with the Louvre in the past and I was amazed by their positive response,” he tells The Art Newspaper. The initiative is part of a new programme intended to emphasise the collaboration with these artists, many of whom are regularly invited to set up shows, paint decors, produce photographs for catalogues or illustrations for children’s books. The Louvre, Martinez says, has never kept a record of these collaborations and wants this to change. He has asked that all contracts from now on include a mention of these exchanges so that the museum can keep a trace of their work.

“This, he says, will help us to maintain a living relationship with contemporary art and give a sense of its presence in the historical palace".