The French President Has Named Museum Director Laurence des Cars as the First-Ever Woman to Lead the Louvre

The current president of the Musée d'Orsay will replace Jean-Luc Martinez at the helm of the world-famous institution.

Laurence des Cars will take over the Louvre Museum on September 1. Photo by Matthias Balk/picture alliance via Getty Images.

The French president Emmanuel Macron has nominated Laurence des Cars, currently the president of the Musée d’Orsay, to helm the Louvre in a major shake-up at the world-famous Paris institution.

The decision marks the first time a woman has been named for the top job at the Louvre. Des Cars will head across the Seine river to replace its current president Jean-Luc Martinez, who was unsuccessful in his campaign for a third term.

The director will take up her new position on September 1, after beating out candidates Martinez, president of the Picasso museum Laurent Le Bon, and president of the Guimet museum Sophie Makariou. The 54-year-old expert on 19th and early 20th century art is well-respected in the museum world, and oversaw the Musée d’Orsay’s landmark exhibition in 2019 “Black models: from Géricault to Matisse,” which focused on overlooked Black subjects and themes in major paintings.

The news came from the Elysée Palace this morning, May 26, just one week after museums were officially allowed to reopen in France. In an interview with the radio station France Inter, the incoming director said that she hopes to build “a museum of the present,” and that she wants to focus on attracting younger generations. “This will be central to my work,” she said.

Des Cars took care to emphasize her respect for the Louvre’s current president Martinez, who has helmed the museum since 2013. He has been acting head since April 13 while lobbying for his re-hiring as his prospects seemed increasingly tenuous. The two will overlap for several weeks to ensure a smooth transition.

For her part, Des Cars has enjoyed a glittering career. Before she joined the Musée d’Orsay in 2017, she had helmed the Musée de l’Orangerie. She was previously the scientific director of the France-Muséums agency where she worked on the development of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

During her time at the Musée d’Orsay, Des Cars was engaged in major art restitution cases, including the return of Gustav Klimt’s Rosebushes Under the Trees. The work had been at the Musée d’Orsay ever since it was looted by the Nazis in Vienna in 1938. She also emphasized diversity, social issues, and programming that had an intergenerational appeal, and initiated the Orsay Grand Open project, aimed at expanding the institution’s programming and spaces.rticle reserved for our subscribers

Steering the Louvre out of choppy financial waters in the midst of a pandemic will be crucial to her brief. Both the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay are heavily reliant on income from tourism, which has been all but non-existent as Europe’s borders remain largely closed. Under her watch, the museum saw a record 3.7 million  visitors in 2019, and it was largely financing its own activities.

The Louvre is substantially larger portfolio: In 2019, the museum was the most attended in the world, with 10 million visitors.

“The Louvre is the heart of Paris,” she told France Inter. “We need to invite more voices in.

Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that des Cars was the first woman to direct the Musée d’Orsay. It was actually Françoise Cachin, who was its first director between 1986 to 1994.

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