What do the city of Amiens in northern France and the pop star Madonna have in common? Brigitte Fouré, mayor of the city, says not much, given that the international celebrity probably has never heard of the place before. Despite this, Fouré is adamant that the two are connected by a “unique bond” in the form of a painting from the early 19th century that was displayed in the Amiens museum until it disappeared during World War I.
The mayor of Amiens has made a plea to the singer Madonna to borrow a painting by Jérôme-Martin Langlois titled Diana and Endymion in the hopes that it will help the city win the title of European Capital of Culture in 2028. “Madonna, I’m guessing Amiens isn’t on your radar… Fouré says in her video appeal, “but there is a special bond between you and our city.”
She goes on to say that it is likely that the Louvre loaned the picture to the Amiens museum before to World War I, but that it was lost during the conflict. Louis XVIII had the oil painting created in 1822 for the Salon of Diane in the Palace of Versailles, and the French republic bought it in 1873.
From 1878 until the city was devastated in 1918, it was on display at the Musée des Beaux-Arts (now the Musée de Picardie) in Amiens. In 1989, the painting resurfaced at an auction in New York, where Madonna paid $1.3 million for it, more than three times its projected price, according to a recent report in the Le Figaro newspaper.
A curator from Amiens recognised the painting by Langlois in the backdrop of a 2015 Paris Match magazine portrait of Madonna at her house, even though no one in France at the time appeared to recognise it as painted by Langlois.
The Germans bombarded Amiens with shells and bombs for 28 days and nights in March 1918 as they attempted to break through allied lines, destroying much of the city including a portion of the museum (from which paintings were rescued).
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The Langlois was not among the items brought back to Amiens after the war. One source said it was “destroyed by the falling of a bomb on the museum,” while another said it was “untraceable since the return of the 1918 removed pieces.”
In light of the fact that the painting Madonna purchased is 3cm smaller than the one that vanished in Amiens, art historians are debating whether or not it is a replica and whether or not the signature and date were intentionally removed.
The museum has filed suit against “persons unknown” for the theft of the painting, but according to Fouré, Madonna has nothing to worry about in this case. Fouré writes to the singer, “Obviously, we don’t question in any way that you have acquired this material legitimately.”
Would it be possible for you to loan us this piece so that the local community can rediscover and enjoy it as part of our ambition to become the European capital of culture in 2028? That’s my hope and prayer for you, the gift I’m offering. In December, the EU will announce which city will serve as the European Capital of Culture in 2028.
According to the Guardian, Fouré revealed that she had just recently discovered the possibility that Madonna owned the long-lost picture. “My first goal was to produce something lighthearted to get people talking about my city, especially now when the pre-selection for European Capital of Culture is taking place.
I figured the video would get some attention, but I didn’t anticipate this level of interest,” she said. It occurred to me that it could be a good idea to ask her if we might temporarily borrow an artwork that has been in storage since before World War I. She now legally owns the painting because she paid for it at a legitimate auction.
I’m not requesting that she donate it to us, only that she lend it to us for a short time so that people in our area can enjoy it. Today, Amiens is best known as the birthplace of French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte. When asked if Madonna should visit the city, Fouré responds yes. A visit from her would be incredible, but she doesn’t see it occurring any time soon. “Yet, here we are, with Amiens being the topic of conversation amongst all.”
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