Artwatch UK

Barbarism at the Louvre

“A few days ago I was in Paris again after a few years’ absence and visited the Louvre, excited to see my beloved Nike of Samothrace, the masterpiece from Antiquity which I always considered to be the pinnacle of achievement of Greek sculpture. It is on exhibition again after its recent restoration which had kept it from public view for several years.”

Euphrosyne Doxiadis continues:

The Louvre without its greatest treasure, the Nike, was to me inconceivable; so I waited impatiently for the restoration to be completed and for her to be returned to the place where she belonged. The placing of the winged Victory on the prow of her ancient ship at the top of the staircase in the Denon section of the museum was an inspired placement in museum strategy.

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She was the rewarding apparition in store for visitors and the experience was no less than magical. The statue took your breath away as it progressively came into full view as you approached the monumental staircase from the large sculpture hall. Every time I would visit the museum I would ritually walk through this hall slowly in order to savour the upward unfolding of the miracle placed at the top, the winged Victory coming into full view. A woman with spread wings fixed in time; giving the viewer the impression that she had only just landed on her blue-grey marine pedestal. Like no other work I know, looking at her gave one a feeling of elation and liberation from gravity which its ancient sculptor had intended. He captured the fleeting moment when she had just landed from her flight, the moment of balance between weight and weightlessness, between stillness and movement, silence and the sound of wings fluttering in the wind. A total wonder. She was a powerful emblematic figure.

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No longer. The recent restoration of the sculpture has reduced the Nike of Samothrace to a white ghost of her former self. Looking at her now is like looking at a modern copy of the great masterpiece we so adored. What has happened is a tragedy. Lost forever is the wonderful statue that we knew. Gone irrevocably is the fleeting moment of its greatness. What we now have, after the cleaning, is what looks like a plaster of paris replica of what we had before. Devastating and unbelievable. Who would have thought that this could ever happen?

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A foretaste of this permanent disaster was seeing a poster a few years ago pasted around Paris of the Nike painted an ultramarine blue by the modern artist Yves Klein. Although shocked by the insensitivity towards its great prototype, I was comforted by the fact that these were only copies of the original that Yves Klein was playing around with. He had hoped perhaps that the wings of the Victory would carry him to higher fame and fortune. Now this “game” is no longer harmless; toying with fame and infamy; it is for real. The restorers of the Nike have robbed it of its top layer, its patina which gave it much more than the sum of its parts of bruises and stains; it gave it its magical quality. The Victory we knew is alas, no longer here. What is left now is a white sculpted stone resting vicariously on its spanking clean pedestal. The Victory has flown away. Forever.

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Euphrosyne Doxiadis, 23 October, 2016

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