In the Louvre, it can best be felt by paying special attention to the rooms of late nineteenth century art, which are in remote parts of the building, and are missed entirely by the stream of ordinary tourists. These are the Camondo Collection and the recently opened Salle Caillebotte. In relation to these, one can study French art of the early nineteenth century in Salle VIII, and of previous centuries in Salles I (La Caze) and X to XVI. Magnificent as the Italian and other foreign rooms are, they are paralleled else-where, and the traveller who is going on to other countries would be wise not to spend all his time there.
The Louvre as a whole is undoubtedly the most important as well as the largest art museum in the world, and the most rewarding to long exploration. At the same time, its superlative size and richness make it the hardest of all museums in which to find one’s way about, and in which to discover the best. For the Louvre has much that is mediocre or worse; it has not been pruned down with so rigorous a hand as have many smaller galleries. Here the mediocre too often obscures the best, by its conspicuousness and quantity. Small, delicate jewels of painting are lost on enormous crowded walls. Masterpieces that mark epochs in art history are hidden up stairways and around corners in little side rooms, to be reached only by interminable passage-ways cluttered with miscellaneous exhibits. The casual visitor, with a limited time to spend, could by no possible chance discover them without guidance. So vast is each wing that many visitors wander for hours in a single group of rooms, perhaps seeing only the French, or only the Italian paintings, then depart unaware that they have missed nine tenths of the important pictures of the Louvre. To go straight through the museum, from room to room and floor to floor, looking at everything on the way with equal attention, is nothing short of deadly. In the Louvre if nowhere else, one should decide in advance what to see first, and go directly to it. Then, after enjoying the few works of outstanding importance in a leisurely way, one can afford to roam about more aimlessly for the added pleasure of unexpected discoveries.
What is best in the Louvre? No two writers will agree exactly. But there are a few unique, world-famous pictures which, almost every critic will agree, should not be missed.. ‘What artists, and what schools of painting, are best represented here? First of all, as suggested above, is the French tradition, from the fifteenth century to the twentieth. For the last two centuries, at least, France has led the way in the art of painting, and thus a generous proportion of the highest achievements of modern art are here. Of the seventeenth century, when productive genius flamed up intensely in France, Holland, Flanders and Spain, only the last school is poorly represented; for that one must go to Madrid itself. Of the other three, the Louvre has some worthy examples, along with much that does no credit to great names. Here, too, one can see the Renaissance in its Flemish, French and German phases. Of the Italian phase, the inspiration of all the others, the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries are not shown at their best, which is often in fresco and untransportable. But the late Renaissance, Florentine and Venetian, is here in all its grandeur of statuesque modelling, monumental design and idealized humanity. Unfortunately, its colors are too often dimmed in the Louvre by murky brown films of grime and varnish, which an over-cautious administration hesitates to remove.
Many of the chief Renaissance masters, though well rep-resented here, have as good or better works elsewhere. One only, LEONARDO DA VINCI, can be studied better here than in any other museum. His famous picture of Mona Lisa is not only the most famous portrait in the world, and the first objective of most visitors to the Louvre; it presents a complex and difficult problem for critical appraisal. On the one hand, it is exalted in poetic rhapsodies as the world’s greatest picture; on the other, it is denounced as a piece of sentimental trickery, lacking in all genuine artistic value.