Morse has also carefully rendered the walls in a deep red color. In this case, the Louvre was slightly ahead of the general practice. In the 18th century, many picture galleries opted for green walls. In the 19th century, red would become standard. At the time, and according to popular theories about color, red was seen as the most sympathetic background for classic paintings. Today, of course, museum walls are often white or cream or a light neutral tone, and again somewhat antiseptic.
Morse’s painting of the Louvre, however, differs from other similar images in ways that mark it as distinctly American. Although he has filled the room with Americans who were in Paris during his years there, it also includes a woman with a strange peaked cap, holding the hand of a child. Both figures face away from the viewer. David McCullough, whose recently published “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris” includes an entire chapter devoted to the story of Morse and his “Gallery of the Louvre,” identifies the woman’s headgear as “the traditional peaked cap of the women of Brittany,” and sees the two figures as proof of Morse’s egalitarian ideals. “She and the child serve,” writes McCullough, “as reminders that the museum and its riches are there not for artists and connoisseurs only, but for people of all kinds and ages.”