'Unbalanced' woman vandalises famed Delacroix painting

08 February 2013 - 17:06 By Sapa-AFP
Liberty Leading the People
Liberty Leading the People
Image: Eugène Delacroix

One of the most iconic paintings in French history, Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People", has been defaced by a woman who is being held by police.

The 28-year-old woman, who allegedly suffers from psychiatric problems, is accused of using a black marker to deface the masterpiece at a recently opened satellite branch branch of the Louvre in Lens, northern France.

She scrawled "AE911" on the painting but it was not immediately clear if the slogan had any particular significance.

The museum said it was temporarily closing the wing in which the painting was displayed.

The Louvre said it believed the damage was not significant and could be repaired.

"It seems that the mark will be fairly easily removed," the director of the Louvre-Lens branch, Xavier Dectot, told journalists after experts had examined the about 30-centimetre (12-inch) mark on the bottom right of the painting.

"We have already conducted tests and see that the mark can be completely removed," said the head of the Louvre's painting department, Vincent Pomarede, noting that thick varnish on the painting had prevented more damage.

Officials said the woman appeared to have psychiatric problems.

"It was the act of an unbalanced person," the mayor of Lens, Guy Delcourt, told AFP, praising security and a visitor who intervened when she began marking the painting on Thursday evening.

"She told security, in a rather incoherent manner, that she wanted to put her mark" on the painting, the mayor said.

Local prosecutor Philippe Peyroux said she was being held by police and would be brought before a judge to face possible charges on Saturday. Prosecutors have asked for an evaluation of her mental state.

"She has moments of lucidity but at other times is delirious," he said, adding that she faced up to seven years in prison and a 100,000 euro ($135,000) fine if convicted of defacing a cultural object.

The painting by Delacroix commemorates France's July Revolution of 1830.

It shows a bare-breasted woman personifying Liberty leading the people forward over the bodies of the fallen, holding the French tricolour in one hand and a bayonetted musket in the other.

The Louvre opened the new satellite branch in Lens -- a former mining town plagued by high unemployment -- in December in a bid to revive the region and boost tourism.

Dectot said security would be strengthened at the branch following the incident, with more guards expected to be posted.