The French culture minister has defended plans to help the oil-rich city of Abu Dhabi build its own version of France's most famous museum, the Louvre, saying that the project would enhance France's image abroad.
The project, criticised by art historians and derided in the press as a "Louvre in the sands", is expected to raise more than $647.7 million for France and follows comparable, though smaller arrangements in Shanghai and Atlanta.
Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, France's culture minister, said on Thursday in a senate debate that the policy of taking the Louvre outside France was "a way of enhancing the image of our country".
Donnedieu de Vabres said: "There is no question of changing the fundamentals of French cultural policies or museums. Above all, there is no question of changing the inalienable character of the works of France's heritage.
"It is about making sure they circulate and spread their influence through the world with a limited period of exhibition."
World class museums
The Abu Dhabi project would see a museum carrying the prestigious Louvre name set up in a luxury island development that will also incorporate two golf courses and marinas for 1,000 boats as well as museums and exhibition spaces.
Vabres said that only five per cent of the holdings of French museums were actually on display at one time and there was ample scope for works to be loaned.
"We are in a win-win situation," he said. "There may be some moaners around but the strength of our cultural policy is to ensure that our influence is spread."
The project fits with the trend for big museums, like the New York Guggenheim, to create global brands by creating foreign annexes. The Guggenheim is also to create an Abu Dhabi branch.
According to the daily Le Monde, negotiations between French officials and Abu Dhabi authorities are at an advanced stage and a deal could be sealed before presidential elections in April.
It said use of the Louvre name was a key part of any deal but it said its use would be restricted for a limited period.
The 24,000 square metre site, designed and set up with the help of French museum experts would be stocked with works loaned from French museums while the new institution made acquisitions of its own.