After a 16-week shutdown and a loss of more than 40 million euros in revenue, the largest and most visited museum in the world threw open its doors. The museum restricted entry to the 7,400 people who had bought tickets in advance and others lucky enough to come when the lines were short—dramatically lower than the 30,000 on a day in July in normal years.
Jean-Luc Martinez, the museum’s director, lowered the white rope line himself to welcome the first visitors. As they entered the building through I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid, staff members applauded and cheered.
“Personally, it has always been a joy to come here, and it is a joy to be here today, a moment of emotion—with the sun shining on us,” Martinez told me. “Professionally, to see people lining up once again to enter the museum, to have our galleries and our offices open, well, it’s a psychological boost for all of us.”
Seventy percent of the collections are open, including the galleries of French and Italian paintings, the ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, the Egyptian antiquities with their mummies and Sphinx, the sculpture courtyards, and the newly-restored Galerie d’Apollon with France’s crown jewels. Only 500 people are allowed in every half hour. That means the museum belongs to those who came, many visiting the museum for the first time.
Fewer than 100 people were lined up in the grand, recently renovated Salle des États to see the Mona Lisa, which hangs on a freestanding wall painted Prussian blue. Even before the reopening, the museum installed retractable barriers like those used in airport security lines to control the crowds. The guards abandoned their usual habit of rushing people through.
“It is a very special day, amazing,” said Gleidy Montnor, who drove to Paris with her husband and two daughters from Amsterdam and was a first-time visitor. Because her two-year-old daughter was in a stroller, a guard allowed the family to cut the line and pass in front of the crowd barrier and see the Mona Lisa up close. “I had goose bumps when I saw her,” she said. “I still have goosebumps—and an everlasting memory.”
Her six-year-old daughter Jolene found the Mona Lisa “beautiful and so serious.” She was more impressed by the “angel of the wind,”—the Winged Victory of Samothrace. She said she would record her impressions and post them on a YouTube channel she just started (with the help of her parents).
In the near-empty Galerie d’Apollon, Alexandra and Thibaud Fadin also were visiting the Louvre for the first time, even though they live not far from Paris. “I never thought I’d come here because I was afraid of the crowds,” said Alexandra, a government official, who uses crutches to walk, as she gazed at the crown of Louis XV. “I don’t know where to look first,” said he husband, a chocolate salesman. “I feel like a little kid at Christmas.”
There were so few people in the museum that many of the museum’s masterpieces were gloriously easy to see. I had the third century B.C. Great Sphinx of Tanis, the mummies, Jacques-Louis David’s The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine ,and Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa all to myself. And I walked alone in Emperor’s Napoleon III’s apartments and the royal furniture galleries.
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In a good year, the museum welcomes 10 million visitors, three-quarters of them foreign tourists; this summer, the borders of France have opened to the European Union and countries like Canada, Japan and Australia; but not the United States and China, because of the high number of new cases of the coronavirus there. (1.5 million visitors a year are American, 800,000-900,000 Chinese.)
The museum has put in strict rules for reopening. All staff and visitors must wear masks. Museum cloakrooms are closed; motorcycle helmets, and suitcases are banned. New audio guides in nine languages will be available for rent on July 15. Many galleries, including French sculpture of the Middle Ages and Renaissance and the art of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas remain closed.
Martinez estimates that the Louvre could lose between seventy to eighty percent of its visitors this summer, and predicts it could take the Louvre three years to return to normal visitor levels. But he hopes this will be the year that the French people themselves discover and rediscover this national treasure.
Happily, the museum is in the unusual and enviable position of being owned by the French state, which gives it 94 million euros a year.