Master Class

Like generations of painters before them, artists from around the globe go to Paris to copy the masterpieces at the Louvre

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“Caroline Rivière died at 14, about a year after she posed for Ingres,” says Dagher. “I believe he was trying to present an idealized vision of her. She is almost an Italian Madonna, and the challenge here is to achieve the form that he gave her, making her seem to float above the background.” Despite his many years of copying, Dagher admits to feeling a sort of stage fright every time he faces a blank canvas. “That’s a good sign,” he says. “If you’re too satisfied with yourself, you can’t improve.”


Dagher also values the Louvre for the access it gives him to the public. “Not many people passing through actually buy my copies,” he says, “but often they will ask me to do something else for them.” Some want him to make copies of portraits of their ancestors so they can give them to other family members. One American visitor asked him to paint a reproduction of a Versailles ceiling fresco at the visitor’s home in Connecticut. “The gold-leaf molding alone cost nearly $60,000,” Dagher recalls. “That was a lot more than I asked for doing the painting.”


But not everyone wants to sell their copies. Gilles Malézieux is interested only in creating his own collection. Malézieux, 45, knows the Louvre better than most. He works there as a security officer. When not keeping an eye out for pickpockets, he returns to the museum with brushes and paint. “I take days off from my vacation time to do this,” he says. “I’d rather copy than go to the beach.” Malézieux began copying six years ago because he loved paintings but couldn’t afford to buy them. Self-taught, he does four or five copies a year. He’s currently working on a rendering of The Ferry by 17th-century Dutch landscape painter Salomon van Ruysdael. “I chose this one because it’s a seascape—a glaze without much detail,” he says. “That lets me dream a little, and that’s enough vacation for me.”


Not far away in a room given over to 17th-century Dutch painters, Tsutomu Daitoku is hard at work on a copy of Jan Vermeer’s The Lacemaker, with its assiduous young lady bending to her delicate handiwork. Tall, thin and earnestlooking, the 25-year-old Japanese amateur taught himself to paint by reading books and studying works in museums. “I came to Paris just so I could copy here at the Louvre,” he says. “I plan to become a professional artist when I return to Japan, moving around the country and doing all kinds of paintings. This one by Vermeer is very difficult, especially the”—he consults a Japanese-English pocket dictionary—“‘coloring.’”


In order to copy at the Louvre, non-French artists like Daitoku must attach a photocopy of their passport and a recommendation from their embassy or consulate to their application, but otherwise the procedure is the same as for French citizens—a simple form specifying the desired starting date and the painting to be copied. No samples of work are requested. Permits are good for three months, and the museum provides each artist with an easel and stool. Except for the requirement that copies be one-fifth smaller or larger than originals and that the artist’s signature cannot be reproduced, the Louvre imposes very few rules on copyists, though it further protects against any temptation to produce a forgery by affixing an official stamp to both sides of each copy and carefully inspecting the works before they leave the museum. “But this is not a problem we have here,” says Ferrier. “If someone really wants to make a forgery, it’s much simpler to work from a good color photograph in the secrecy of their own studio.”


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