PARIS (AFP) - France has appointed Ms Laurence des Cars, known for promoting social issues through art, as the new head of the Louvre - the first time a woman will be in charge of the world's biggest museum more than two centuries after it first opened.
Ms des Cars currently runs the Musee d'Orsay, the Paris landmark museum dedicated to 19th-century art.
Her legacy there includes boosting young visitor numbers and giving art and guests more physical space.
During her four years at the Orsay, the 54-year-old art historian has taken a stance on controversial topics through her work, including some related to race.
Last Wednesday (May 26), she told France Inter radio that she wanted the Louvre to become "an echo chamber of society".
'I could feel fear'
She has also come out in favour of the restitution of works looted by Nazis.
"A great museum must face history, including by looking back at the history of our owns institutions," she told AFP in an interview in April.
She was instrumental in the French government's decision for the Orsay to hand back a Gustav Klimt painting, Roses, to the heirs of its previous owner Nora Stiasny. The Nazis had stolen it from her in Vienna in 1938.
Under Ms des Cars' leadership, the museum's 2019 exhibition, Black Models: From Gericault To Matisse, explored racial and social issues through the representation of black figures in visual arts.
"It was a sensitive topic for which I brought together the best historians," she told AFP.
"When I first announced it, I could feel fear around the table. But in the end, there wasn't an ounce of controversy."
A museum's shows should reflect "the big issues in society, and thus attract new generations" of visitors "of all ages and from all social-cultural backgrounds", she said.
Ms des Cars, who comes from a family of writers and journalists, will in September succeed Mr Jean-Luc Martinez, the current Louvre chief who is credited with making the museum more accessible and less elitist.
He was rewarded by a record annual visitor number of more than 10 million in 2019 before Covid-19 restrictions badly dented visitor numbers, with the museum closed for several months.
The Louvre, best known as the home of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, is the world's largest art museum.
It opened in 1793 in the aftermath of the French Revolution, with an exhibition of just over 500 paintings.
It now owns hundreds of thousands of pieces of art, with less than 10 per cent of the total on permanent display.
In March, as it was closed because of Covid-19, the Louvre said it had put nearly half a million items from its collection online for the public to visit free of charge.
The move was part of a major revamp of its online presence, and came after a huge increase in visits to its main website, louvre.fr.
Also in March, the museum announced that it would step up efforts to restore items looted from Jewish families by the Nazi regime.
It is working to complete the verification of all 13,943 items acquired between 1933 and 1945, a process it hopes to complete within five years.