After a group trip to Europe for a comic festival, mangaka Jirô Taniguchi stops in Paris, hoping to visit the museums of the capital. Struck by an intense fever, he is instead confined him to his hotel room and, when he finally feels better, he decides to spend the remaining days of his holiday visiting the Louvre.
This is more or less the plot behind the latest graphic novel - Guardians of the Louvre (NBM Publishing) - commissioned by the Louvre to prominent artists (The Museum Vaults by Marc-Antoine Mathieu; On the Odd Hours by Eric Liberge; The Sky Over the Louvre by Jean-Claude Carrière and Bernard Yslaire; An Enchantment by Christian Durieux; Glacial Period by Nicolas De Crécy; Rohan at the Louvre by Hirohiko Araki; Phantoms of the Louvre by Enki Bilal, and Cruising Through the Louvre by David Prudhomme).
Yet there is more than just the Louvre in these pages: as Taniguchi joins the anonymous crowds of tourists visiting the museum, something mysterious happens to him. While walking around the lower ground floor of the Denon Wing he meets the Winged Victory of Samothrace, represented by an ethereal vision of a woman in a pink costume.
Victory reveals him the museum is protected by very special guardians, the souls of the artworks preserved here. The woman represents a Virgil-like figure, while Taniguchi is a sort of reinvented Dante Alighieri, but, rather than descending to Hell to rediscover Paradise, Victory escorts Taniguchi in a journey through time and space, first allowing him to see the most touristy spots in the Louvre such as the gallery where the Mona Lisa is displayed, then taking him to the labyrinth-like bowels of the museum to show him the air conditioning system that preserves the artworks.
The journey quickly turns into a hallucinatory trip through art: Taniguchi enters the parallel world of "Recollection of Mortefontaine" by painter Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, admired in Japan after 1897, and talks with a Japanese artist who was deeply inspired by him, Asai Chū.
Taniguchi highlights this connection between Japanese and French art, almost to remind his readers that his style, drawings and use of colour, place him in this tradition (in a way this book is also a discovery of the artists and works that inspired Taniguchi and this is the main reason why this volume is more personal than previous books about the Louvre).
From the Louvre, Taniguchi is transported to the Takanodai Gallery in the Ueno district of Tokyo where he admires Asai's western style paintings, and listens to Japanese novelist Natsume Sōseki analysing them; then he moves on, reaching Auvers-sur-Oise where he meets Vincent Van Gogh, witnesses some of his most famous paintings in progress and visits Daubigny's beautiful home study.
Some of the most interesting pages of the graphic novel tell a story from 1939: before the Nazi entered Paris, artworks were packed and taken away. The operations of evacuation were overseen by Jacques Jaujard, director of the French National Museums, who protected the artworks (the stories about how the Mona Lisa and "The Raft of the Medusa" were packed and taken away are fascinating).
Towards the end, the history of the Louvre is intertwined with Taniguchi's story: the author faces the grief caused by a personal loss, finally finding the strength to get on with his life.
Published by NBM in a larger hardcover package and in colour, Guardians of the Louvre is an elegant mangaka characterised by intricate details and poetic views and vistas (check out the astonishing architectural renderings) that at times turn each page into a canvas.
This volume is dedicated to art fans, illustrators, and travellers (yes, you could even take it with you on a trip to Paris), but also to all those lost souls who, trapped in the French capital for fashion events such as the current menswear shows, may feel the need to rush away from the superficiality surrounding them in search of something more inspiring that may nourish their minds with beautiful, positive and uplifting thoughts (and if you want a further connection between this artist and fashion, well, a while back Taniguchi did the Louis Vuitton Travel Book about Venice, but that, as they say, is another travel story).
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos