«Selling the Mona Lisa to save the culture»: the idea dividing France


The Mona Lisa is the “tree hiding the forest”, a totem of heritage, which does not help the new creation, an “object 79.4 centimetres tall, 54,4 centimetres wide and only 14 millimetres deep” which “overshadows hundreds of other masterpieces (even the huge “The Wedding at Cana” by Veronese, hanging next to it, goes unnoticed). It causes bickering with the Italians, who with a Pavlovian reflex cry “Give us the Mona Lisa back!” at every diplomatic disagreement, but its presence at the Louvre is the trace of an ancient grandeur whose disappearance, when masks and swabs are lacking, France should eventually resign to. For all these reasons and others, says Stéphane Distinguin, the time has come: let’s sell the Mona Lisa. Let’s give it away for at least 50 billion Euros to some Arab prince, or let’s make it the guarantee of a new virtual currency, or let’s send it on tour in Puglia to boost tourism. An iconoclastic idea in the strict sense, but not so wacky, which has been causing discussions since, a few days ago, it was launched on the Usbek & Rica magazine by the founder of the company Fabernovel, specialized in digital innovation consultancy (many clients, among which: Le Monde, the Parisian taxicabs G7 or Canal Plus).

Mr Distinguin, do you really want to sell the Mona Lisa?

“I think that might be a good deal, from an economical, and also cultural, point of view. To extraordinary times, new answers. The pandemic and the lock-down authorize a new boldness. The sector is in pieces, the famous French cultural exception risks collapsing, the only ones having the means to resist and to attempt some reaction are the Americans giants, like Netflix that since some days offers on its platform even Truffaut’s movies.”

And then?

“We sell the family jewel. Certainly not to make cash but to finance the relaunch of the world of culture that otherwise might not survive the Coronavirus”.

To deepen

What kind of reaction has your proposal collected?

“The most varied, from the nostalgic of the monarchy who are horrified, to the conservatives who shake their heads and point out how the heritage coincides with the identity of a people, and to progressives who understand my desire to look towards the future. Then I had Italian friends telling me “The Mona Lisa is ours”, even though, unlike other treasures to be found in the French or British museums, the Mona Lisa is not a booty of war or the result of a theft: as it is widely known, it was purchased by the French king Francis I”.

You give the example of the “Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo da Vinci, put up for auction in New York in 2017 and sold to a Saudi billionaire for $ 450 million. But isn’t the Mona Lista priceless?

“I would not say that, there are criteria to take a stab at price guessing. Shall we say as a minimum of fifty billion or a hundred times the Salvator Mundi of Leonardo? It is estimated that two million tourists a year go to the Louvre especially to see the Mona Lisa. We can estimate then that the Mona Lisa gives the Louvre and indirectly the French economy (including merchandising, hotels, and airline tickets) a profit of roughly three billion Euros per year. A 50 billions auction basis sounds reasonable to me. On the opportunity to give a value to the family jewels in difficult times, there is the precedent of Detroit, the city that when filing for bankruptcy in 2014, asked Christie’s to assess the masterpieces in its museum obtaining a 866,9 million dollars figure”.

And who would buy it?

“I think there won’t be shortage of buyers. Jeff Bezos spent just a little less for his recent divorce. Or you could think of a sponsorship, or still imitate what’s already done in the world of contemporary art to monetize the works of some artists using non-fungible tokens and the blockchain. The Mona Lisa as the guarantee of a new virtual currency. In short, once you accept the principle of exploiting in a different, more modern way, the value of the Mona Lisa, many perspectives open up to you”.

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