Vandal Strikes Louvre's Lady Liberty

Lens, Pas-de-Calais, France - What is it with art vandalism these days? First there was the Picasso at the Menil Collection last summer, then the Rothko at the Tate Modern.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett are distressed about the recent spate of art vandalism.

Now a woman has defaced Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” at an outpost of the Louvre. Is this some kind of weird, terrible trend?

Located in an industrial former coal-mining city in Northern France, this Louvre satellite museum displays objects from the collections of the Musée du Louvre that are lent to the gallery on a medium or long term basis. The Delacroix has resided there since early December.

Sometime late in the day on Thursday, a young woman tagged the iconic French painting with a black permanent marker.

She wrote “AE911” on the bottom right corner of the work, in an area measuring 30 inches long by 6 inches high, according to the AFP. The total work measures 8 1/2 feet wide and nearly 11 feet high.

The strangest part of the story is what “AE911” means, or might mean.

Some are speculating that the abbreviation might refer to a group of 9/11 truthers, “Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth,” who believe that the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11 could not have been caused by the terrorist planes alone.

AE911 has a website and an online petition calling for Congress to conduct a “truly independent investigation” into 9/11, but at the moment — perhaps because of the news reports about the Louvre painting — the site appears to be down.

What a 9/11 conspiracy theory has to do with Eugène Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” isn’t at all clear, if that even is the intended meaning of the vandalism tag.

The painting, done in 1830, is a canonical work of art which is often misconstrued to commemorate the French Revolution. However, it actually represents a minor Parisian uprising which occurred at the time of its painting directed against the restored monarchy {see today's Featured Video}.

An allegorical stand-in for Liberty, who notably appears as a fairly realistic, flesh-and-blood woman, leads revolutionaries from all social classes as she raises the tricolor flag, and as they step over a mound of dead bodies, which suggest that victory is hard won and not to be taken lightly. Delacroix was an affirmed royalist who feared the rabble rousing masses.

While Louvre officials were still waiting on museum experts to determine the extent of the damage, yesterday's reports suggest that the vandalism is “superficial” and that the painting, which was hanging at the Louvre’s recently opened satellite museum in the city of Lens, should be cleaned fairly easily. The vandal is under arrest.

By the time Delacroix painted Liberty Leading the People, he was already the acknowledged leader of the Romantic school in French painting.

Delacroix, who was born as the Age of Enlightenment was giving way to the ideas and style of romanticism, rejected the emphasis on precise drawing that characterized the academic art of his time, and instead gave a new prominence to freely brushed color.

The painting has been seen as a marker to the end of the Age of Enlightenment, as many scholars see the end of the French Revolution as the start of the romantic era.

Before France switched to the Euro Delacroix's painting featured on the 100 franc banknote.