The 28-year-old woman was immediately seized by a guard and another visitor, then handed over to police, according to a statement from the Louvre-Lens on Friday. It said the painting should be easily cleaned.
The Louvre-Lens opened in December in Lens, a struggling coal town with an unemployment rate nearly three times the national average.
The Delacroix work is among the artist’s most famous. It shows a bare-breasted woman (Liberty) holding aloft the French flag as she urges on a crowd of revolutionaries. According to Le Figaro newspaper, the woman wrote “AE911″ in six centimetre-high letters in indelible felt-tip marker near the bottom of the canvas.
AE911 is the name of a website for crazy conspiracy theories about the 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and New York’s World Trade Center.
A specialist restorer was rushed to the scene and the Louvre believes that the inscription can be removed.
Liberty Leading the People (French: La Liberté guidant le peuple) is a painting by Eugène Delacroix commemorating the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled Charles X of France. A woman personifying Liberty leads the people forward over the bodies of the fallen, holding the flag of the French Revolution – the tricolor flag which is still France’s flag today – in one hand and brandishing a bayonetted musket with the other.
By the time Delacroix painted Liberty Leading the People, he was already the acknowledged leader of the Romantic school in French painting. Delacroix, who was born as the Age of Enlightenment was giving way to the ideas and style of romanticism, rejected the emphasis on precise drawing that characterised the academic art of his time, and instead gave a new prominence to freely brushed colour.
Delacroix painted his work in the autumn of 1830. In a letter to his brother dated 12 October, he wrote: “My bad mood is vanishing thanks to hard work. I’ve embarked on a modern subject—a barricade. And if I haven’t fought for my country at least I’ll paint for her.” The painting was first exhibited at the official Salon of May 1831.