Macron Gives the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia a Very Private Tour of the Louvre’s Delacroix Show

The French President showed the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, the artist's politically loaded painting "Liberty Leading the People."

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman upon his arrival at the Elysee Presidential palace for a meeting on April 10, 2018 in Paris. Photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images.

As a treat at the tail end of a diplomatic visit to France by the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, the French President Emmanuel Macron took the de facto Saudi leader on a VIP tour of Paris’s most talked about art show, the Louvre’s first Delacroix retrospective in half a century.

The two leaders also had a private dinner in the museum’s restaurant on Sunday evening, April 8, where they spent two hours in talks. It’s not known what the subject of their conversation was, as the museum was closed specially for the tête-à-tête. But Macron tweeted an image of the pair standing in front of Delacroix’s famous Liberty Leading the People (1830), a surprising choice, given the Saudi royals’ conservatism.

The painting depicts the bare-breasted rebel Liberty leading the people over the barricades and was inspired by the brief “Second French Revolution” in 1830, when the people overthrew the monarch Charles X.  Liberty is brandishing the tricolor, now France’s national flag, and the painting has since become a symbol of the French republic.

Regime change in France’s history in 1830 may have resonated with the new Saudi ruler, who is leading moderate social reforms in a country where 70 percent of the population is under 30. He has recently stripped the country’s religious police of many of its powers, taken action against corruption, and from June women will be able to drive cars in the oil-rich Gulf kingdom.

In a press conference on Tuesday, April 10, Macron announced a visit to Saudi Arabia at the end of the year, and addressed those critical of the Saudi prince, saying it is too easy to critique his efforts at reform as purely superficial. “We can stick to our traditional positions and decide that the first acts of modernization of his society are cosmetic,” he said. “But if we do that, then we are leaving Prince Mohammed to face those around him that think the opposite and decide to go backwards and keep to a political Islam or terrorism.”

Macron later tweeted that he hears concerns raised about human rights, but, “If there is a chance that his project succeeds, then it’s France’s responsibility to accompany him.”   

The Delacroix show will travel on from the Louvre to the Met in New York, where it will run from September 17, 2018, through January 6, 2019, the first  comprehensive retrospective of the artist staged in North America. Liberty Leading the People, however, along with several other large-scale canvasses including Dante, Scène des massacres de Scio, and La Mort de Sardanapale, will not be included in the show. Artnet News reached out to the Louvre for comment but did not hear back by time of publication.

Meanwhile, French-Saudi Arabian cultural partnerships are blossoming, with Saudi Arabia’s minister of culture announcing after a meeting with French counterpart Françoise Nyssen that Saudi short films will be entered in the Cannes Film Festival for the first time this year. On Monday, the Paris Opera also signed on to help Saudi Arabia set up a national orchestra and opera.

France is about to sign a deal to help Saudi Arabia turn its World Heritage Site at Mada’in Saleh into a mega cultural destination in a $20 billion project, The Art Newspaper reports. As well as archaeological digs, conservation and education projects, the cooperation could include building a museum of Arab civilization “two to three times bigger than the Louvre Abu Dhabi.”

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