The Watchdogs of the Louvre
It is known that to protect its basements from rodents, the Hermitage Museum keeps cats that were once present even in the exhibition rooms. Unfortunately, I have not found any evidence of such a practice at the Louvre, but guard dogs once protected it from intruders. This is a detail that is not directly relevant to the history of the Egyptian collections, but may have had some impact on the rooms of the department.
The case in question is detailed in a file from the National Archives1 and a number of press reports.
Let us briefly recall the first dog to have marked the history of the Louvre Museum in the 19th century. Initially anonymous2, he gradually became known as Médor3. His master had died during the July Revolution and was buried in the common grave in front of the colonnade of the Louvre. Médor quickly attracted the attention of the neighbourhood: he did not leave his master’s grave and became an attraction.
Much later, in the 1900s, the image of the Louvre suffered in several scandals that gave rise to virulent press campaigns: the presence of forgeries in the collections (for example, the famous tiara of Saïtapharnès), accusations of negligence and carelessness on the part of the curators and guardians, break-ins and thefts, and finally, the theft of the Mona Lisa in the summer of 1911, which justified a radical takeover.
Following an attempted break-in in the Apollo Gallery in January 1908, the idea of adding dogs to the museum guards was raised4. This project seems to have met with some hostility among the staff5, for reasons of cleanliness and the alternation of staff, which the dogs would find difficult to get used to. Théophile Homolle, director of the national museums, explained this to the press by describing a dual system: “’We have two kinds of galleries in the Louvre,’ said Homolle, ‘on the ground floor, the paved rooms where the large, massive objects are placed, and on the first floor, the parqueted rooms that contain the most delicate collections. In the first, we will have dogs with strong necks whose role, if necessary, will be that of serious defenders; in the second, we will have “roquets”, fox terriers, whose sense of smell is very well developed and which, by their barking, will give the alarm if there are criminal attempts.’”6 These words were quickly mocked:
On the ground floor, where heavy objects are, we will put dogues with powerful necks. They will make their niche in the sarcophagi and sleep in the beds of the delicate mummies. A hound will dream, during the day, on the icy bed where some of Cleopatra’s attendant slept their last sleep, the only one that can be called innocent. The administration of Fine Arts relies on big dogs so that no one comes to steal august stones that depict hieratic Egyptians and bearded Assyrians. If there are any enthusiasts for these colifichets, which weigh no more than a ton, we give them the classic advice to beware of the dog. Cave canem ! On the first floor – this is Mr. Homolle’s information – will reign gentle rotters. An artistic idea presides, indeed, over these police measures. With their curly hair and no doubt their ribbons, in short a very Louis XVI outfit, the roquets will bark at the Watteau with a very knowing bark. And they will want to say in their dog language: ‘The men are determined to do nothing more. On the banks of the Seine, they are being replaced by rescue dogs. There are police dogs. And here we are, charged with replacing distracted and sleeping men.’Le Temps, 24 January 1908, « Chiens », p. 1.
At the same time, Étienne Dujardin-Beaumetz, Under-Secretary of State for Fine Arts, envisaged a primarily experimental, more limited and pragmatic use.7 The imagination of the journalists, however, had a field day:
And if barking is not enough to attract the guards, it is easy to train a dog to use an electric call specific to his abilities. The pear is not his thing, but something else could be found, if only an electric calf.Le Gaulois, 25 January 1908, « Les chiens défenseurs de l’art », p. 1
France has, until now, had hardly more than eight hundred thousand civil servants. This is not much, of course, for a republic so high up on the ladder of civilization. […] Considered as a civil servant, the dog is not only unfailingly loyal–something that is increasingly rare in these days of unionism–but he is also essentially economic, which is not to be neglected either. […] It will therefore be advisable either to put our paintings under glass and our statues under a globe to protect them from untimely watering, or else to educate the canine civil servant beforehand and not to give them tenure until they have become decent and continental.La Libre Parole, 25 January 1908, Boisandré (de), A., “Les chiens fonctionnaires”, p. 1
This enthusiasm indicates both how fashionable it was to mock the public administration and museum staff, and how foolish the project was in the public eye.
The National Archives file includes documents that nevertheless bear witness to the implementation of this project: with a view to acquiring two dogs that would be released at night in the Cour carrée, the expenses were evaluated in February 1908 for each animal: purchase (150-200 F), kennel (20 F), harnessing (leash, collar, muzzle, caparison: 20 F), food and upkeep (180 F per year), not forgetting “a small allowance for the doormen who would be responsible for taking care of the animals”8
The Under-Secretary of State for Fine Arts announced in April that the measure was taking its course and required only the agreement of Parliament: “the dogs are becoming guardians of the Louvre; tomorrow, they will be civil servants of the Republic. On this occasion, he denied that he was considering the idea, obviously even more fanciful, of employing women to guard the museum’s rooms…9 A few days later, the administration even received a proposal from an individual to establish a training facility for museum dogs (“I am convinced that by setting certain races against the picture thieves we would achieve a good result »10); there was no further development to this suggestion.
A new episode seems to have caught the attention of the press in 1911, a few weeks after the theft of the Mona Lisa, when the director of the research services of the police prefecture himself chose two dogs to accompany the night guards on their rounds11. It is obviously, once again, at a time of media crisis concerning the surveillance of the rooms that the public is wondering about the security of the museum, and that the newspapers are taking an interest in it, precisely at a time when the administration intends to give publicity to its action in this field.
This measure was not without incident, for example in the Egyptian rooms; I had already quoted Charles Boreux and his notebook on Saturday, March 15, 1913: “During the night of Friday to Saturday a certain number of objects in the Ivory display case (a Kohôl case and styles – north-east corner of the display case) fell. I found a few shards, from some of them that I did not identify, in the bottom of the display case, between the desk and the glass. The damage must have been caused either by the men on the night patrol or rather by the police dogs.”12
The documents in the National Archives bear witness to the activity of this dog brigade for at least a few years, since in 1916 the director of the National Museums proposed that “the man who gives, at Les Halles, the meat for the guard dogs” benefit from the staff’s New Year’s gifts.13. The controller of expenditure was surprised by this detail and further asked why the free granting of this food gave rise to costs, to which he was replied: “M. Pujalet, when he was Director of the Museums, had obtained from the Services of the Prefecture of Police that the guard dogs of the Louvre were treated like the animals of the Museum and that scraps of fresh meat were given to them free of charge. This benevolent measure has been continued ever since. Our guard dogs therefore cost nothing in terms of meat. But it has to be made into food, into mash. It is Mrs Valentin, wife of the porter of the Visconti Court, where the dogs have their kennels, who takes care of this preparation, into which bread, vegetable waste, etc., enter, and it is the remuneration for this care and her trouble that she charges, at the rate of 55 c. per day and per dog. The bonus given to the Halle cutter, in the form of a gift, is the reward for a distribution job that is repeated as many times as there are days in the year.”14
This post was translated into English from the French original Les chiens de garde du Louvre, 25 July 2019.
- Archives nationales, F/21/4474, file 17 h “Use of guard dogs”.
- Le Figaro, 15 December 1830, “The Louvre dog”, p. 2.
- [Anonyme], Médor, ou le chien du Louvre, Paris, Gauthier, 1831.
- Le journal, 18 January 1908, “Des voleurs au Louvre”, p. 1 .
- Le journal, 24 January 1908, “Les chiens au Louvre”, p. 2.
- L’Écho de Paris, 23 January 1908, « Des chiens de garde au musée du Louvre », p. 2.
- Le Matin, 24 January 1908, « L’ « ami de l’homme » sera-t-il gardien de musée ? M. Dujardin-Beaumetz en parle », p. 1.
- Archives nationales, F/21/4474, file 17 h, note from the head of the theatres, conservation of palaces and national furniture office to the art works, museums and exhibitions office, 29 February 1908.
- “Perhaps one day we will ask them to run the cloakroom or to look after the sale of catalogues. But a female supervisor! Never in a million years! Do you see her policing the rooms of the Louvre? Do you see her lending a hand on the watch? » Le Figaro, 24 April 1908, p. 5, Valfori (de), René, “Les chiens gardiens du Louvre”.
- Archives nationales, F/21/4474, file 17 h, letter from Mr Petitjean, 26 April 1908.
- Excelsior, 12 septembre 1911, p. 7 ; L’Intransigeant, 13 septembre 1911, Bailby, Léon, “Le coup des chiens”, p. 1.
- Archives nationales, 20144775/5, 4th notebook, Saturday 15 March 1913; cf. “The daily life of the Louvre in the 1900s”, 3 March 2019 for the original post in French.
- Archives nationales, F/21/4474, file 17 h, letter from the director of the national museums and the Louvre School to the Under Secretary of State for Fine Arts, 4 February 1916.
- Archives nationales, F/21/4474, file 17 h, note from the director of national museums to the expenditure controller, 3 mars 1916.