Louvre Unveils Sublime New Galleries

THE Louvre Museum takes another step toward completion of itsT ambitious $1.1 billion, 12-year renovation project with the inaguration of 39 new exhibition rooms, open to the public today. The galleries house 700 French paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The paintings as well as about 100 pastels and drawings will be exhibited on the second floor of the Cour Carree built by Kings Louis XIII and XIV, an area previously used for offices, storage rooms, and restoration.

The 700 paintings include 150 works that were previously confined to storage due to lack of space. The size of the exhibition halls varies from intimate spaces to large rooms that can comfortably house giant masterpieces, including Rostout's "Pentecost" and Vincent's "Zeuxis" that have never been previously exhibited.

But the major innovation of the new wing, which took five years to build at a cost of $18.8 million, is the use of natural light, the marvelous light of Paris that has attracted painters for centuries.

"We had only one objective, to put all the paintings in the line of natural light, even if certain masterpieces suffer from glare," says Pierre Rosenberg, the Louvre's director of paintings.

In order to achieve the goal, Italian architect Italo Rota installed a series of movable partitions set in the ceiling. These can be opened to allow the light to stream inside or closed during particularly bright summer days to protect the paintings. Mr. Rota also built rows of wide windows that look out on the cobblestoned Cour Carree and the River Seine.

"It is not useful to use artificial light during the day, even during gray days in winter," Rota explains. "The light of day is more honest with paintings, less joyful but more truthful."

One particularly unusual area of the new exhibition is a 99 foot long by 9 foot wide space known familiarly as "the corridor of the chickens." Looking out towards the Church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois and the Seine, it houses 18th-century miniatures and pastels in a cozy, secluded atmosphere.

The collection itself is magnificent. Most of the paintings have been restored during the past several years and placed in their original frames. As the visitor moves through rooms with walls painted in greens, grays, caramel, and terra-cotta colors, the entire spectrum of 17th- and 18th-century French painting unfolds in chronological order.

Here are the major works of the period, including Watteau's "Pilgrimage to the Island of Cythere (Plerinage l'ile de Cythre)," Fragonard's "Figures of Fantasy (Figures de Faintaisie)," and "Deby d'Epsom" by Gricault. Other works are by Boucher, De Troy, Restout, and David.

"There are museums that are sublime," the poet Paul Valry once said. "There are none that are delicious."

With all due respect, the architects and restorers working on the Louvre are trying to prove just how wrong the great man of letters could be.

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