15.000 daily visitors less for Louvre: director hopes hard cap solves crowd problem

Critics fear museum could 'alienate' potential visitors, or should Mona Lisa find a new home?

A familiar sight for many Louvre visitors, if they can see anything at all. Image: Victor Grigas/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

‘Less is more’ appears to be the new credo of the Louvre. Director Laurence des Cars decided that the French museum will limit daily entries from 45.000 to 30.000 to provide ‘a more pleasurable viewing experience.’ While the museum has been struggling with long queues and striking staff, others fear the measure might ‘alienate’ people from visiting. Or is a certain Italian lady from the 16th century causing the capacity problem?

According to director Des Cars the measure is necessary to ensure “the visit would be a pleasurable experience, especially for first-timers to the museum who make up 60% of entries”, the Art Newspaper wrote. The museum also won’t plan any major shows or exhibitions, even as Paris is set to receive around 10 million visitors during the Olympic Games in 2024.

Crunching the numbers

After a ‘low’ number of visits of 2.8 million in 2021, mainly due to the pandemic, the museum got back on track in 2022 welcoming 7.8 million visitors, an increase of 170%. Although visitor numbers are still 17% lower than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019 (9.6 million visitors), Des Cars feels it’s necessary to lower the daily attendance from 45.000 to 30.000 to improve the visiting conditions. The Louvre has become almost notorious for its long queues outside the glass pyramid or in front of the Mona Lisa.

Louvre visitor numbers between 2010 and 2022 in millions. Data: presse.louvre.fr

With the new policy in place, the Louvre expects attendance to stabilize at around 7.5 to 8 million visitors for 2023, a similar number of visitors the museum attracted around 17 years ago. That is a remarkable gap with the record year 2018 when around 10,2 million people paid a visit to the museum.

Worried workers

Apart from limiting queues and providing visitors with a less cramped experience, Des Cars hopes the introduction of a visitor cap will also “ensure optimal working conditions for museum staff.” In recent years, Louvre employees have gone on strike over “unprecedented deterioration of conditions.”

A spokesperson from the employees union pointed out that ‘the Louvre does not have the means to realise its ambitions’ during a strike in 2019: “The Louvre is suffocating!” Members of staff faced several problems caused by overcrowded conditions at the museum: an aggressive and impatient public, jostling crowds and inadequate emergency evacuation measures, NPR reported.

‘Mona Lisa problem’

Despite the prospect of making one of the most famous museums in the world more accessible, not everyone is happy with the new policy. Former Louvre curator of Spanish and Latin American art Guillaume Kientz is critical of the cap, The Collector reported. “In an ideal world, it is not good to put limits on museum attendance, since going to a museum should be spontaneous and natural and not require so much effort. Adding another barrier is not a good idea.”

There is plenty to see in the Louvre, besides the Mona Lisa, argues James Gardner. Image: Daniel Ferreira-Leites Ciccarino/Canva

American art critic James Gardner notes that the Louvre does not necessarily have a visitor problem but a ‘Mona Lisa problem.’ “Limiting the number will improve the experience of visiting the Louvre”, he told the New York Times. “Now, we have a lot of people trying to see the Mona Lisa and the congestion can be unbearable.”

Putting the Mona Lisa in a private gallery could help solve the Louvre’s overcrowding problem once and for all, Gardner reckoned. But whether the museum wants to move the crown jewel of its collection seems highly unlikely.

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