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France will not lend Liberty to China

La Liberté guidant le peuple by Eugène Delacroix
La Liberté guidant le peuple by Eugène Delacroix

France will not be lending Eugène Delacroix's painting Liberty leading the people to China, Culture Minister Aurélie Filipetti declared on Thursday after press reports that the loan was being considered as part of celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Franco-Chinese diplomatic relations.

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Filipetti on Wednesday confirmed a report in Le Monde newspaper that France was considering sending Delacroix's celebration of republican freedoms to China next year as part of cultural exchanges celebrating the establishment of diplomatic relations with the

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People's Republic by President Charles de Gaulle's government in 1964.

But on Thursday she changed her mind ... or rather the experts changed it for her.

"Today the curators' advice is very clear," she told France Inter radio. "This painting should not move."

A long journey would mean a serious risk of damage to the work, painted in 1830, experts at the Louvre museum, which owns it, have ruled.

It was "very badly damaged by its last journeys", Filipetti said, referring to a loan to the US 40 years ago and, closer to home, to the newly opened wing of the Louvre in the northern French city of Lens when it opened last year.

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Its condition was not helped by an act of vandalism in Lens when a woman scrawled graffiti over the painting for no apparent reason.

President François Hollande will have the final word on the loan but Filipetti made it clear that she would oppose transporting the paper to the far east.

Liberty leading the people is one of Delacroix's best-known works, presenting a striking image of France's tradition of revolt.

It has been reproduced, plagiarised and parodied and former Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal was met with widespread derision this year when she posed for a pastiche in Le Parisien magazine.

Other artworks will be sent to China in 2014, although whether any of them will feature a revolutionary call for freedom is unclear.

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