By Johnny Cotton
PARIS (Reuters) - As the coronavirus pandemic keeps visitors away, the Louvre is offering time close-up with the "Mona Lisa" and a walk along the French museum's historic rooftop at an auction to help plug a gaping hole in its finances.
The highest bidder will get the chance to witness the annual examination of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, usually only glimpsed over the heads of a crowd thronging the portrait.
Also among the two dozen lots going under the hammer is an oil canvas painted in 1962 by Pierre Soulages and held in the artist's private collection, a bespoke timepiece by watch-maker Vacheron Constantin, and a walk along the rooftop of the 800-year-old Louvre palace with French street artist JR.
"The Louvre is suffering like all big museums around the world," said Yann Le Touher, who handles relations with the Louvre's patrons.
Each year, the "Mona Lisa", perhaps the world's most famous painting, is taken down from the wall and removed from its glass case for a fleeting check. The work, from around 1503, is threatened by a crack.
Some world leaders are among a fortunate few who have in past decades witnessed the event.
Auctioneer Christie's hopes the online auction will raise more than 1 million euros ($1.2 million), including an estimated 10,000-30,000 euros for the "Mona Lisa" experience.
The Louvre received nearly 10 million visitors in 2019, but has been closed for more than five months this year during two coronavirus lockdowns. While it was open in the summer, numbers through the gate were down by as much as 75% during peak months.
Le Touher said the Louvre would lose up to 90 million euros in revenue this year.
Museums, theatres and cinemas are due to reopen on Dec. 15th if the virus has slowed sufficiently.
While the Louvre was rich in art and heritage, it was not a wealthy institution, Le Touher said.
The state is providing 46 million euros to bolster the museum's coffers, he said. Proceeds from the auction will help finance the running costs of a new studio for educational projects due to open next autumn.
(Reporting by Johnny Cotton; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Janet Lawrence)