Officials closed two galleries of the Louvre museum's new satellite gallery in Lens on Friday after a woman defaced one of France's most iconic paintings.
Police took a 28-year-old woman into custody after she reportedly used a black marker to scrawl "AE911" onto Eugene Delacroix's French Revolution tribute Liberty Leading the People, a featured painting on display at the Louvre-Lens.
A patron and a security guard initially apprehended the suspected vandal and detained her for the authorities.
On loan from the Louvre's main collection in Paris, Liberty Leading the People is Delacroix's most famous work and helped inspire the Statue of Liberty (which France presented to the U.S. in 1886). It had been chosen to be the centrepiece of the recently opened Louvre outpost in former French mining town.
The suspect, whose identity has not been disclosed by authorities, "appears to be a person with mental health problems," local prosecutor Philippe Peyroux told reporters.
"We are leaning towards hospitalizing her immediately in a psychiatric facility given that the psychiatrist appointed by the prosecutors concluded that she is not criminally responsible."
If found criminally responsible and convicted, the woman would face up to seven years in prison and a fine of more than $100,000.
Optimistic about restoration
"AE911" refers to Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, a U.S.-based group that believes New York's World Trade Center twin towers collapsed because of a controlled demolition rather than the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Louvre-Lens officials are optimistic about restoring the painting, which was left with an approximately 30 cm mark on its bottom-right corner.
"The integrity of the work has not been affected, as the inscription was superficial and remained on the varnished surface without reaching the layer of paint," according to a statement from the Louvre.
The museum also said security would be improved and more guards posted at the satellite branch.
The Louvre-Lens opened in December amid some criticism, with the sleek, glittering $194-million museum a stark contrast to the economically depressed former coal-mining town, which has been plagued by high levels of unemployment. The hope was for the new art gallery to help boost tourism and revive the economy of Lens and its surrounding region.