Paris Louvre asks public for help to buy painting

PARIS Tue Nov 16, 2010 2:25pm EST

1 of 2. German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder's painting entitled 'The Three Graces' is displayed during a preview of an exhibition of his work, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London March 4, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Alessia Pierdomenico

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PARIS (Reuters Life!) - France's Louvre museum is making an unprecedented appeal to the general public to help it raise the cash to buy a 16th century painting deemed a national treasure by art experts.

The Louvre has already scraped together 3 million euros ($4.19 million) for "The Three Graces," an oil painting of three nudes by German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder, but is a million euros short of the price tag set by the work's private owners.

The Louvre has until the end of January to raise the funds, without which it fears the masterpiece could go to another private collector and never go on public display, or worse, be taken out of France.

"It's an exceptional piece which needs to be part of the national collection," the Louvre's deputy general administrator Catherine Sueur told Reuters TV on Tuesday. "We'll do everything we can to get hold of it."

Painted in 1531, the work is an ironic and provocative take on the Renaissance theme of the three graces, depicting the nudes in a mildly daring pose that the Louvre believes could make it a headlining piece of its collections.

The central figure in the tableau has chosen to cap her nudity with an eye-catching feathered red hat, while the woman to her left leans nonchalantly on her neighbor, holding one bent leg up behind her buttock. All three are wearing chunky chain necklaces.

"It's a work that's amusing, disconcerting, mysterious, and very sensual...and I think it will become one of the Louvre's most popular pieces," Vincent Pomarede, chief curator in the Louvre's department of painting, said in a video on the museum's fund-raising campaign website.

But the decision by the state-funded museum to appeal to the French public's generosity has angered some people, given widespread disillusionment over recent political funding scandals and allegations of tax evasion by wealthy individuals.

"(Sarkozy) or L'Oreal's Bettencourt should buy it and give it to the Louvre so that millions of visitors can think of them when they walk past it," one reader of daily Le Figaro said in an online post.

They were referring to President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose new presidential plane cost 84 million euros, and scandal-hit L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, France's richest woman.

"Go on Francois-Marie (Banier), put your hand in your pocket, it's only 0.1 percent of what Liliane gave you," was another comment aimed at the French photographer accused of wheedling 1 billion euros in gifts from the elderly Bettencourt.

People who give donations for the painting will be listed as donors on the Louvre's website and in publicity documents.

(Writing by Vicky Buffery, editing by Paul Casciato)

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