The mystery of AE911 Cryptic code scrawled on Delacroix’s vandalised masterpiece

Woman held after scrawling message in marker pen on work that inspired Les Misérables
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One of France’s most iconic paintings has been vandalised by a woman who scrawled a mysterious combination of letters and numbers related to 9/11 conspiracy theories across the canvas, before being tackled by security.

The unnamed 28-year-old woman used a black marker pen to write on Eugene Delacroix’s painting, Liberty Leading the People, on Thursday evening. The work, which portrays a bare-breasted woman at the head of a revolutionary charge and was not permanently damaged, is the star exhibit in a northern subsidiary of the Louvre which opened in December in Lens in the Pas de Calais.

The woman wrote “AE911” on the bottom right-hand corner of the painting before she was challenged by a security guard and a visitor.

A Louvre conservation expert cleaned off the writing yesterday and the unharmed painting will be on show to the public once again this morning.

“AE911Truth” is the name of a website for Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, a group which claims that the official version of the terrorist attacks on Manhattan and Washington on 11 September 2001 is a cover-up.

The 10in-long scribble was placed just under the image of a flat-capped boy taking part in a charge on a barricade during the 1830 revolution in Paris. Delacroix’s painting, dating from that year, was one of the starting points for Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables, published in 1862. The boy in the flat cap was the direct inspiration for Gavroche, a spirited but finally doomed street child in the novel and in its musical and movie spin-offs.

Louvre officials said that the writing was “superficial” and had been cleaned off in less than two hours by a restorer without damaging the original 187-year-old brush-strokes.

The public prosecutor for the Lens area, Philippe Peyroux, said: “We don’t know yet whether this was someone acting on an impulse or someone who was making some kind of political point.” The woman was still in custody yesterday but has not been named.

Anne-Laure Beatrix, the Louvre’s head of communications, said: “The painting is whole and has not been damaged in the least. The writing was superficial and remained on the varnish without damaging the painting itself.”

The Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth claims, amongst other things, that the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York were demolished by explosives on 11 September 2001, and not hit by civilian airliners hijacked by Al Qa’ida terrorists. As evidence for their theory, the site points to the “rapid onset of collapse” to alleged “sounds of explosions at ground floor” and “foreknowledge of collapse” by the media and the New York police and fire departments.

Liberty Leading the People is usually exhibited at the Louvre in Paris. It is one of the “star paintings” to have been shipped north for a year to adorn the walls of the Louvre Lens, which opened in December. The museum, in the depressed former coal-mining town of Lens, just south of Lille, is part of an attempt to regenerate struggling areas of France by sharing out the vast art collections held by the Louvre and other Paris galleries.