By Roxana Azimi

Posted at 12:19 a.m. yesterday, updated at 11:39 a.m. yesterday

President Georges Pompidou facing the “Harlequin” at the inauguration of the “Picasso au Louvre” exhibition, October 21, 1971.

This morning of Thursday, October 21, 1971, a crowd gathered at the Louvre Museum. At 11 a.m. sharp, Georges Pompidou and his wife, Claude, in a Chanel pantsuit, climb the great Daru staircase, dominated by the Winged victory of Samothrace, to join the Great Gallery, already crowded with people. The President of the Republic comes to inaugurate an exhibition dedicated to Pablo Picasso. Eight works only, from the figurative to the most cubist, chosen from the French public collections.

Without looking at the demons, cherubs and virgins, without considering the paintings of Poussin, Watteau or Raphaël, the Head of State poses in front of the Woman sitting, a canvas dated 1909, before coming to a standstill facing theArlequin, classic in the 1920s. The tenant of the Elysée, who has already launched the project of an art center in Beaubourg, is in his element. Modern art is his business, his passion. When journalists assail him with questions, the normalien used to writing his own speeches knows how to find the words to celebrate the star of the day. In front of the ORTF camera, he flatters “A bubbling volcano still in activity, a real transformer, a sacred monster of art”. According to him, “There are the others and there is Picasso!” ”

Read also the 1971 article: The Picasso exhibition was inaugurated by Mr. Pompidou Happiness and concern

The praise is commensurate with the appointment: the most famous artist, the painter of Guernica and Ladies of Avignon, celebrates its 90th anniversary in the most visited museum in the world. And not just anywhere, in the circuit of universally recognized masterpieces, where tourists flock today, portable in hand, to strafe the gems of art history. No creator living before Picasso was entitled to this honor.

Then there was Chagall, in a room in the Pavillon de Flore, less prestigious than the Grande Galerie. Pierre Soulages celebrated his centenary in 2019 at the Louvre, but in a room allotted to him, without confronting the masters of the past. The event is evoked in the exhibition “Les Louvre de Pablo Picasso”, which recounts, from October 13 at the Louvre-Lens, the artist’s passion for the museum. The 1971 hanging is also the last tribute paid by the public authorities to the painter, who died a year and a half later, on April 8, 1973.

An event that has been forgotten

As short as it was — barely ten days — the 1971 exhibition should have gone down in history. A Sofres poll conducted a month later reported that almost 80% of French people had heard of it at the time. Fifty years later, though, almost no one remembers it. The Louvre Museum itself admits that it did not have the attendance figures of the time. Even Edouard Balladur, then deputy general secretary of the Elysée, who had timed the presidential move, forgot everything.

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