Wednesday, February 08, 2012

What’s in that crate?

What they were hoping would be there was the Mona Lisa which had been in storage and this photo shows a relieved Louvre staff member unpacking the priceless painting which been removed from the famous museum for safe keeping during World War II. On its return the Mona Lisa remained quietly on that Gallery's walls (except for the stone throwing incident in 1957 which knocked off a bit of paint) until Jacqueline Kennedy stepped in.

The thing is that JK was a Francophile and when she had the opportunity to have a word with cultural commissar Andre Malraux, she whispered into the great Frenchman’s ear that it would be neat if the Mona Lisa could come to the States. The great man gathered himself together and reportedly replied, ”I’ll see what I can do.” After some bickering, Malraux forced the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, against all professional advice, to stop arguing and get on with it. Not good news for the conservators and staff of the two museums.

In the end it was the Louvre’s Madeleine Hours who “had to create a new type of packing case which could minimize as far as possible any vibration which would render fragile the preparatory layer of paint.” Nothing was left to chance. “If the liner France were to catch fire or to sink, the packing case would have to be tossed over the side, so we had the French flag painted on it, to show that it was French property.”

On 14 December 1962 the painting was laid inside a special, high-tech traveling case and sealed in a large wooden crate. It was then loaded onto the S.S. France, where it was bolted to the floor of Cabin M-79 and covered with a thick blanket. The Mona Lisa arrived in New York on 19 December and was such a hit that the Met was unable to keep track on the small hand counters they used to assess audience numbers. You can read a fuller version of this incredible story here.

Image: The Mona Lisa is taken from its crate on its return to the Louvre after World War II. The next time it was to go back into one would be for its voyage to the USA in 962.