The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne by Leonard da Vinci
One of the world\'s largest art museums is facing accusations that it carried out a bodged cleaning job on a Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece following rows between the French and British over its restoration
The two French experts have quit their roles at the Louvre in Paris, where the painting was hung, in protest at the restoration of the Renaissance painter\'s iconic The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne.
And in what might be a case of cross-channel buck-passing, the French blame the British for being too \'pushy\' to have the oil painting restored, which has now ended up significantly brighter than the original.
Sources inside the Louvre claim that two English experts from the National Gallery in London - who were among 20 on an international committee overseeing work at the Parisian museum - were overly-keen for the painting to be deep cleaned.
A year earlier French and English specialists had a \'row\' about the type of cleaning fluids that were to be used in the process. It is claimed the English officials said the solvents used in the process were safe, but the French weren\'t so sure.
The subdued tones of the original are understood to have been transformed into garish bright colours.
Louvre committee members Segolene Bergeon Langle and Jean-Pierre Cuzin are said to have been horrified after the restoration of the work.
Bergeon Langle had been director of conservation for all of France\'s national museum and was regarded as the country\'s leading expert on the science and restoration of paintings.
\'I can confirm that I have resigned from the international consultative committee, but my reasons for leaving I am reserving for a meeting with the president-director of the Louvre, Henri Loyrette,\' Bergeon Langle told the Guardian.
Cuzin, who had been the Louvre\'s former head of paintings, confirmed his resignation but refused to give details about the painting.
It is understood that a mixture of solvents were used to clean the historic painting, which was created in 1508. Over time, oil paintings often darken as dirt gathers and the protective varnish layer begins to yellow.
Colour and detail that had previously been obscured can sometimes be detected again with the right use of alcohol mixtures and delicate brushing.
However, the two experts believe that the restoration had gone too far without adequate tests, according to a senior museum source. The resulting brightness is not what the painter had intended, they claim.
Based on the £1.5bn insurance cost to insure nine da Vinci paintings at the National Gallery exhibition, the value of the Virgin and Child is thought to be around £166m.
The painting is hung permanently in the Louvre, however it was taken down for the restoration work. The work is owned by the French and the international committee of 20 experts was created to advise on art projects.
The source said that two British members of the Louvre committee from the National Gallery in London, Larry Keith and Luke Syson, were \'pushy\' in the restoration process.
An exhibition of da Vinci\'s work has opened recently at the National Gallery which includes two precursors to The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne - The Burlington House Cartoon and Sketches for a Virgin and Child with Saint Anne. However, there was no explanation as to why the final piece had now been left out.
The Louvre source said: \'The English were very pushing, saying they know Leonardo is extremely delicate but \'\'we can move without any danger to the work\'\'. There was a row a year ago about solvents because they said they were safe and Bergeon Langle said they\'re not safe.
\'It took a long time before the committee really had explanations on the chemicals used on the picture. Details were asked for [by critics of the committee] but didn\'t come for months.\'
Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, has repeatedly criticised the National Gallery for \'overzealous\' painting cleanings.
He said the resignations were a \'vote of no confidence\' in the National Gallery\'s cleaning policy as the most active members of the Louvre committee have been from London.
He added: \'The restored Virgin and the Child is quite garish now. Leonardo never wanted his painting to be like this mess.
\'Traditionally the Louvre has been much more cautious in its cleaning but that policy\'s beginning to crumble now.
\'We are very concerned that an increasing number of paintings are being subjected to this kind of harsh treatment. There are clear commercial and promotional pressures to restore a painting that are having a detrimental effect.\'
The National Gallery declined to comment.