The mayor of the northern French town of Amiens is appealing to pop star Madonna to loan them what they believe is a missing 200-year-old Neoclassical painting that disappeared from their museum during World War I.
But is Madonna’s version the genuine article, or a copy?
Brigitte Fouré, the mayor, says in a video that the oil painting the singer reportedly owns, called Diana and Endymion, was “probably a work that was lent to the Amiens museum by the Louvre before the first world war after which we lost trace of it,” according to a report in The Guardian.
Now Fouré wants the “Material Girl” singer to provide the artwork as a loaner to help Amiens’ bid to become the European capital of culture in 2028.
The painting, which depicts the Roman goddess Diana falling in love with Endymion, is thought to have been painted by Jérôme-Martin Langlois, and dates to 1822. After being commissioned by Louis XVIII to hang in the Palace of Versailles, it was acquired by the French republic in 1873, and was exhibited in Amiens at the Musée des Beaux-Arts – now the Musée de Picardie – beginning in 1878.
The Langlois went missing after the Germans pounded Amiens with bombs and artillery fire for 28 days in March 1917, destroying much of the city including part of the museum. The paintings were taken to safety, but after the war the Langlois was listed as “untraceable” and later deemed to have been “destroyed by the falling of a bomb on the museum,” the Guardian reports.
The painting — or one nearly identical to it — reappeared in 1989 at a New York auction where Madonna paid $1.3 million for it, more than three times its estimated price, says French newspaper Le Figaro.
Madonna is an avid art collector known to have a collection worth an estimated $100 million, People magazine has reported. It includes Frida Kahlo’s My Birth (1932), one of only five painting she created while in Detroit; an extensive collection by Polish Art Deco painter Tamar de Lempicka; and Pablo Picasso’s Buste de Femme à la Frange (1938), which she paid almost $5 million for at Christie’s in 2000.
In 2015, a sharp-eyed curator from Amiens spotted the Langlois painting in the background of a photograph of Madonna at her home that was published in Paris Match magazine.
The painting Madonna bought is reportedly one inch (three centimeters) smaller than the artwork that disappeared from Amiens and was unsigned and undated, leading experts to wonder if it is the original — or a copy.
The museum has lodged legal action against “persons unknown” for the theft of the painting, the Guardian reports. But Fouré, the mayor, says the town doesn’t dispute that Madonna acquired the work in a “perfectly legal auction.”
The singer “bought it and she owns it,” the mayor says. “I’m not asking her to give it to us but to allow us to borrow it for just a few weeks so people here can see it.”
Fouré would welcome a visit by Madonna to Amiens, a town best known for textiles and its gothic cathedral, and as the birthplace of French President Emmanuel Macron.
“It would be amazing to have her come here but I can’t imagine it happening,” she says. “Still, now everyone is talking about Amiens!”