From today, the Louvre will have two paintings of the Mona Lisa, one smiling and the other crying. The new version of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece (the "Moaner Lisa"?) is part of a witty tribute to the most famous painting in the world by a celebrated Franco-Chinese artist, Yan Pei-Ming.
Some of the many parodies of the Mona Lisa, such as Marcel Duchamp's version with a moustache and goatee beard, have become almost as famous as the original. But this will be the first time that a Mona Lisa pastiche has been hung in the Louvre, only a few steps from the Joconde herself.
The new version of the 16th-century Florentine noblewoman is painted in sombre, aetherial grey. She has tears streaming down her face but preserves Da Vinci's enigmatic smile. The crying Joconde is part of a five-painting set. Two large, grey canvasses on either side are scattered with skulls copied from scans of the painter's head. They also extend the bizarre landscape behind the Mona Lisa. Two further grey canvasses show a portrait of the artist's dying father and a self-portrait of Yan pretending to be dead. The entire work, part of an attempt by the Louvre to juxtapose old masterpieces and contemporary art, is called The Funeral of the Mona Lisa.
Yan, 48, said: "It is a funeral, in the sense of a celebration or a wake, a giving of thanks for life of the most known painting in the world," he told The Independent. "It is not a burial. I am not saying the Mona Lisa is dead and should be buried. I am celebrating her life and the lives of all the different, departed generations who have appreciated her."
The five large canvasses will be on display from today until 18 May in a small room next to the gallery with the Mona Lisa. The Louvre is the most popular art museum in the world, with 8.5 million visitors a year – more than half of whom are said to make straight for Leonardo's 500-year-old masterpiece.
Yan Pei-Ming, who left China in 1980 and lives in Dijon, is celebrated for his immense portraits of icons of the 20th century, ranging from Chairman Mao to Bruce Lee. He said that the five giant Mona Lisa canvasses took him "a year to plan but only 12 days to paint. When I get started, I really get on with things. There is no point in hanging around".
The Funeral of the Mona Lisa is a continuation of a theme of his earlier paintings, a meditation on the passing of the generations. That explains, he said, why a portrait of his dying father looks out across the years at a portrait of his dead son. It is also a meditation on tourism, he said. "Tourists rush here to see the Mona Lisa. I am only a tourist in this gallery, and we are all merely tourists in this world."
Does Yan believe the Mona Lisa is the world's greatest painting? Or is she mostly famous because she is famous? He grinned. "She is a very, very beautiful woman," he said. "I don't wish to comment on her as a painting. I appreciate her as a woman."Reuse content