LENS, FRANCE – One of the most iconic paintings in French history, Eugene Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People,” was defaced by a woman with psychiatric problems but escaped permanent damage.
The 28-year-old woman, who was being held by police Friday, is accused of using a black marker to deface the masterpiece at a recently opened satellite branch of the Louvre in Lens, northern France.
Her motives were unclear but her scrawling of “AE911″ had some wondering if she was suffering from delusions involving the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“We are leaning toward hospitalizing her immediately in a psychiatric facility given that the psychiatrist appointed by the prosecutors concluded that she is not criminally responsible,” local prosecutor Philippe Peyroux said.
The woman defaced the painting Thursday before being apprehended by a security guard with the help of another visitor.
The Louvre said the painting suffered no long-term damage and that specialists were able to “completely remove” the approximately 30-cm mark on the bottom right of the painting.
“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,” the Louvre said.
The painting by Delacroix commemorates France’s July Revolution of 1830. It shows a bare-breasted woman personifying Liberty leading the people forward over the bodies of the fallen, holding the French tricolor in one hand and a bayonetted musket in the other.
The wing housing the painting was closed Friday but was expected to reopen Saturday.
The woman would have faced up to seven years in prison and a €100,000 ($135,000) fine if found criminally responsible and convicted of defacing a cultural object.
Lens Mayor Guy Delcourt said the woman “told security, in a rather incoherent manner, that she wanted to put her mark” on the painting.
The “AE911″ mark may indicate her involvement with the Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth (AE911Truth), a U.S. group that supports a conspiracy theory that the World Trade Center collapsed as the result of controlled demolition.
Prosecutors did not release the woman’s identity, but said she was unemployed, had a master’s degree and did not have a prior criminal record.
The Louvre opened satellite branch in Lens — a former coal-mining town plagued by high unemployment of roughly three times the national average— in December in a bid to revive the region and boost tourism.
Officials said security would be strengthened there following the incident, with more guards expected to be posted.
In 2009, a woman threw a mug of tea at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre’s main branch in Paris but it bounced off the painting’s protective glass. In December, a Polish man was imprisoned for two years in Britain for defacing a mural by U.S. artist Mark Rothko at London’s Tate Modern gallery.