Laurence des Cars Appointed Louvre’s First Female Director
May 26, 2021
Laurence des Cars, president of the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, has been named director-president of the Louvre by French president Emmanuel Macron. Des Cars, who will succeed departing leader Jean-Luc Martinez on September 1, will be the first woman to head the institution since its founding 228 years ago.
The choice of des Cars, who has proved adept at mounting challenging and popular exhibitions, is pathbreaking but in one way represents a return to form for the Louvre, which—until the appointment of Martinez, an archaeologist from a working-class background, as leader in 2013—was typically helmed by blue-blooded art historians. Des Cars is descended from nobility and specializes in nineteenth-century painting. She got her start as a curator at the Musée d’Orsay in 1994 and in 2007 became head of Agence France-Muséums, the governmental organization then overseeing the launch of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The $12 billion project was beset by delays, and when Martinez took over as Louvre chief, he replaced her with curator and archaeologist Jean-François Charnier. The following year, des Cars was named director of the Musée de l’Orangerie; in 2017 she became head of the Musée d’Orsay, where she presented a widely lauded 2019 exhibition on Black female subjects in nineteenth-century Western painting.
Martinez’s campaign for a third term was hobbled by accusations that he was cheapening the museum’s brand through merchandising partnerships and by a lawsuit launched by the Cy Twombly estate over changes to a gallery containing a site-specific work by the American artist. Under his leadership, the institution’s youthful and international audience broadened considerably, with about half of the museum’s visitors—which in 2018 totaled more than ten million—being under the age of thirty and three-quarters of them coming from outside France. Des Cars, who strongly emphasized the social role of the Musée d’Orsay, has already announced that she will extend the Louvre’s weeknight hours beyond the typical 5:30 p.m. close in order to attract younger visitors, putting in place an initiative planned by Martinez. Besides continuing to expand the museum’s audience, she is additionally expected to “create a dialogue between ancient art and the modern world,” according to a French cultural ministry press release. Martinez on his departure will become a special ambassador for international cooperation on cultural heritage.