‘Mona Lisa’ back at work, visitors limited as Louvre reopens

John Leicester and Catherine Gaschka

PARIS (AP) — The Mona Lisa is back in business.

Paris’ Louvre Museum, which houses the world’s most famous portrait, reopened on Monday after a four-month coronavirus lockdown and without its usual huge throngs.

The reopening of the world’s most-visited museum was a bright spot in what is otherwise shaping up as a grimly quiet start to the summer tourist season in France, with far fewer visitors than was normal before the pandemic closed borders.

Paris tour guide Katia Besnard Rousseau said she has had no groups to show around since France gradually started coming out of its strict two-month lockdown in May. On Monday, as the Louvre reopened, she and dozens of other guides demonstrated outside, forming a long line and holding up images of the Mona Lisa to highlight the hardship afflicting their industry.

“My whole season collapsed. There is no one around. It’s very dramatic,” said Besnard Rousseau. “To live in Paris and not be able to guide is horribly frustrating. I really miss it.”

Inside the museum, face masks were a must and visitor numbers were limited, with reservations required. Among the trickle of returning tourists was Zino Vandenbeaghen, who travelled from Belgium to enjoy the unusual space at both the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles.

“It’s super,” he said. “The ideal moment to visit.”

Visitors take photos of the Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Mona Lisa, in Paris on Monday. The home of the world’s most famous portrait, the Louvre Museum in Paris, reopened on Monday after a four-month coronavirus lockdown. PHOTOS: AP
Visitors at the Louvre Museum

About 70 per cent of the giant museum — 45,000 square metres of space, or the equivalent of 230 tennis courts — housing 30,000 of the Louvre’s vast trove of works is again accessible to visitors starved of art in lockdown.

“It’s very emotional for all the teams that have prepared this reopening,” said the museum director, Jean-Luc Martinez.

The bulk of the Louvre’s visitors before the pandemic used to come from overseas, led by travellers from the United States (US).

Americans are still barred from the European Union (US) that is gradually reopening its borders. The Louvre is hoping to instead attract visitors from closer to home, including the Paris region, but is bracing for a plunge in numbers.

Martinez said the museum was expecting just 7,000 visitors on reopening day. Before the pandemic, as many as 50,000 people per day toured the Louvre in the busiest summer months.

The Rodin Museum in Paris, which is dedicated to the works of sculptor Auguste Rodin, is also steeling itself for a glaring plunge in typical visitor traffic when it reopens. The museum usually attracted 2,500 people per day – again led by Americans – during the summer months and is preparing to see a drop of as much as 80 per cent.

The Rodin also expected o make a profit this year of EUR1.4 million but is now forecasting a loss of EUR3 million because of the pandemic’s impact on visitor numbers and other sources of revenue. It hopes to make up some of the shortfall by selling limited-edition versions in bronze of some Rodin works.