New museum opening: Louvre Abu Dhabi will feature Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh and more

After a 5-year long delay, the world’s first Louvre-branded museum outside of Paris is set to showcase a wealth of iconic post-impressionist masterpieces and historic artefacts to the public this November.

Sep 19, 2017 | By Pameyla Cambe

When marking out the art capitals on the world map, one’s eyes might involuntarily veer towards the west. There lie the cities of Florence, Rome and Venice, bursting with the richness of Italian heritage as crafted by the masterful hands of Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Raphael. If we’re going by size instead, one might then point to Paris, where the world’s largest art collection is currently housed within the iconic Louvre pyramid.

However, art aficionados might soon find themselves touring the other side of the globe — the Middle East, to be exact. A decade in the making, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will open its doors to the public in November this year. Originally slated for a debut in 2012, the “complex, ambitious project” is part of a 30-year partnership between France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). To commemorate the event, the museum’s inauguration will be attended by French President Emmanuel Macron himself.

Pegged as “the first universal museum” in the Arab world, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will showcase 600 works of art at its opening. Half of these have been loaned by 13 of France’s top museums, including the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay and the Palace of Versailles. “At a time when culture is under attack… this is our joint response,” said French Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen at a news conference.

Museum visitors will get a chance to marvel at a wealth of historic masterpieces through a refined selection of paintings and sculptures spanning across several eras, from the pre-Bronze Age to Pop Art. Some of the famous works set to make a special appearance are Leonardo da Vinci’s “La Belle Ferroniere”, Picasso’s “Portrait of a Lady” and Vincent van Gogh’s self portrait. You can also expect the likes of Paul Gaugin, Rene Magritte and Rodin to make their debut in the region.

“This will be the first time many of these works will travel to Abu Dhabi or even the Middle East, and a rare opportunity to see important art from French museums,” said Sultan bin Tahnoon al-Nahyan, chairman of the organisation behind the project.

Only five percent of the Louvre Abu Dhabi is dedicated to contemporary and modern art, however. Instead, at the heart of the museum lies a desire to shine a spotlight on world histories and religions. “We (the UAE and France) have a goal that is exactly identical: we both want to tell the world how our history is connected. Through culture, the world can become a better place,” said Mohamed Khalifa al-Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.

Over a space of 6,400 square metres, the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s 23 permanent galleries will feature historic art and artefacts acquired by the UAE, stretching from as far back as the earliest Mesopotamian civilisations to the present day. The gallery of world religions features a thought-provoking set-up: a sixth century Koran, a gothic Bible and a Yemeni Torah face each other, open to verses that give similar accounts. “To send that message of tolerance is really important for our time,” said Mubarak.

It may be housing a vast collection of some of the world’s most important artworks, but the façade of the Louvre Abu Dhabi is just as impressive. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel of France, the museum is enveloped by a latticework silvery dome that is part arabesque, part futuristic. The latticework is composed of eight superimposed layers through which sunlight streams to create an intricate “rain of light”.

Located on the low-lying Saadiyat Island, the world’s first Louvre-branded museum outside of Paris will be just one of the many promising highlights of Abu Dhabi’s “museum city”. As part of a “major cultural strategy” to promote the city as a patron of the arts in a region increasingly focused on soft power, the island will also be the home of the upcoming Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, which is still under construction. The Zayed Museum, the national museum dedicated to the country’s eponymous founder, is also located on the same island.

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