Tourism for the photo’s sake: seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre By Ivy Ivanova

This is a story about a museum visit, a priceless painting, and… soup. I recently visited Paris for the first time in my life, and I happened to be in the Louvre on the day activists threw cans of soup at the Mona Lisa. This article won’t be centred around the soup incident, though - instead, I will tell you about the non-surprising, but still rather disappointing experience of seeing the Joconde in real life.

I say non-surprising, and I mean it - my expectations for seeing the painting weren’t very high. The first reason for it is personal - it’s not my favourite painting in the world, but I still wanted to go and see it and appreciate da Vinci’s art. The second reason has to do with my awareness of how the Louvre visit would go - I went on a Sunday, I knew it was going to be busy; it took me a good 40 minutes to find the room with the painting, meaning that it was around lunchtime when I got to it (even busier!); I knew that the queues to see it are massive because at the end of the day, it is a very famous painting; and I was also aware that even though it is a very famous painting, it is not a big one (a common misconception which disappoints many!). So, suffice to say, the bar was in hell. But somehow, the experience turned out to be even worse than expected.

I got into the room, and even though there were a lot of beautiful paintings around me, there wasn’t much space for people to appreciate them properly because of the queue in the middle of the room. Don’t trust me to count, but I would say there were over 100 people queuing to see the Joconda. The experience felt like being in a concert crowd, but minus the music and the unquestionable good time. Surprisingly, the line was moving fairly quickly - I was in for maybe two minutes before I got to the front (which was still 15 feet away from the painting). And aside from the very expected view of people trying to take a photo of it or with it, what I was surprised to find was a member of staff who was standing in front of the crowd and shouting “Take one picture and keep moving!” every 15 seconds or so. I managed to take not one but three photos of it, and I even took my extra BeReal with it (because of course I did) before I decided to exit the queue, in fear that the staff member at the front would have a go at me.

Ivy's BeReal from that day

I headed for one of the corners of the room where there was more information about the painting - some very interesting facts, actually. And then, as I was reading the information, it hit me - I didn’t actually look at the painting properly, I was more concentrated on trying to take a good photo before I got shepherded away. Now, I am not an art expert, but I like appreciating art, so I figured it won’t hurt to try and have a proper look at it. I didn’t join the line this time round, instead I went to the side near one of the exit points, and I just spent some time looking at it from a distance. It’s an alright painting; as I said, not my personal favourite, but it has a lot of interesting history behind it, and it’s certainly more beautiful than anything I will ever be able to paint.

I didn’t actually look at the painting properly, I was more concentrated on trying to take a good photo before I got shepherded away.

And with that, I headed out to see the rest of the exhibitions at the Louvre. But before that, I decided to sit down for a couple of minutes and rest. I had just opened my phone and was scrolling through my messages when I got a BBC news notification that activists had thrown soup at the Mona Lisa. This was shortly followed by texts from my friends asking me if I had seen it. The answer is no, I didn’t, I missed it by 5, maybe 10 minutes. I was pretty shocked by it, actually - I couldn’t believe that this was happening at the exact day I got to visit the Louvre. I was so surprised by the whole thing that I ended up walking up to a member of staff to double-check if this had actually happened. We ended up having a conversation and, bless him, he had some very interesting thoughts.

Things like that happen often, so he wasn’t particularly surprised at the activism act. However, he was still disappointed - he was telling me that many people come to see the painting, and some travel from very far, so acts like this one would ruin their experience. Which is fair, and I did sympathise with him, but there was also a part of me that was wondering if we were talking about the same experience. I personally didn’t feel like the whole “seeing the Mona Lisa” experience was set in a way that would allow people to enjoy and appreciate the painting. Instead, it felt like a race against the others at the queue, a box-ticking exercise where you have to snap a pic or take a selfie before your time at the front is up. And while I understand that the staff need to do everything they can to avoid massive crowds forming, it’s really sad that the procedure around the Joconde experience is what it is - a mere encouragement of the “pics or it didn’t happen” attitude.

... it’s really sad that the procedure around the Joconde experience is what it is - a mere encouragement of the “pics or it didn’t happen” attitude.

Don’t get me wrong, the rest of my visit at the Louvre was nice - I particularly enjoyed the sculptures and Greek antiques. But if you’re wondering if I’ll go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa again, the answer is probably no. I would go with a friend who hasn’t been and is eager to see it, but other than that I am happy to leave it at that - an article, a memory about a can of soup, and this slightly blurry photo I took: