Hiding behind Mona Lisa

80 per cent of visitors to the Louvre only go to see the Mona Lisa, but a treasure hunt can change all that

Photo via Stocksy/Chris Martin

“I’ve been here for 10 years and I didn’t come on purpose,” says Daisy de Plume. A graduate in art history, Daisy was working in New York when she decided to trip across the Atlantic – and she never left.

“I rented an apartment for three months in The Marais, and I hate The Marais. I didn’t know at the time how intense it is – it’s like the Louvre; you can’t get away from the tourists.”

Yet it’s within the heaving, fanatical crowds of the Louvre that Daisy has found her place in this city. Over the past two years she’s been entertaining visitors and locals alike with treasure hunts at the renowned museum, taking people to all nooks and crannies of the museum – not just the Mona Lisa. Aptly titled THATLou (short for Treasure Hunt At The Louvre), participants race around the museum with clues that will lead them to unexpected ‘treasure’. Each hunt has a theme and off the back of her success, Daisy now runs two other treasure hunts: THATd’Or (at the Musée d’Orsay) and THATRue (on the streets of Paris).

During her first 10 years in Paris, Daisy took on many guises: English teacher, freelance scout for Condé Nast Traveller and she even helped launch a classical music website.

“After that, I took the American Chamber of Commerce directory and I applied to 250 jobs,” she laughs. “I wrote all of them saying, ‘I have nothing to offer you other than my English language…’ I got probably like 240 rejection letters!”

After landing a gig as a communications manager in a real estate consultancy, Daisy slowly began to feel at home. By 2011, she had really begun to set her foundations firmly in Parisian soil. But in a city that’s home to the world’s most famous museum, Daisy’s childhood was never far from her mind. Growing up, her mother, also an art historian, would dream up games for Daisy to play in museums. “She would try to bribe me, essentially, to learn [about art]…One time I earned US$21!” recalls Daisy.

It was when Daisy started to remember the joy of racing through museums on a quest that she had the idea to bring the game back to life – just on a grander scale, at the Louvre. The only problem was that it was the Louvre.

“The Louvre was too big for it to be a traditional treasure hunt where you find one clue and it leads to another,” she explains. It needed to be “really straightforward and simple” for travellers who don’t have time to read swathes of preparatory material, and flexible enough to allow for changes in the art on display.

Plus, hunting down artworks needs to be fun.

“You’re going to take a photograph of the painting, but a photograph of just a painting is never going to be as good as a postcard,” she explains. “But if you have a funny memory with it, it adds to it.” That’s why Daisy decided that participants in the hunts would seek out as many works of art listed in their treasure hunting booklet and take silly pictures of themselves as they go.

But then to seek permission from the Louvre.

“I found an intellectual property lawyer who specialised in museum law and ran my business plan by him, asking if I could hire him to be my voice and ask the Louvre for permission to start my company,” says Daisy. “He laughed at me and said, ‘You Americans really do like to give lawyers money.’ He refused me based on the simple fact that I didn’t need [the Louvre’s] permission.” But Daisy was insistent, and now has a long legal document to prove the fact. (Although she’s never had to use it.)

After registering as a business, her next challenge was “figuring out this thing called social media! I’d never had a Facebook or Twitter account and I thought blogging was some maverick’s version of wannabe journalism.” But the online world – and the Paris blogging community in particular – has been one of her biggest allies, with readers taking part in her very first hunt at the end of March 2012.

During the first year, Daisy held a public hunt almost every month with participants paying €20 plus their general museum admission.

Word spread and in January 2013 she was approached by the American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay (AFMO) to design a treasure hunt for the famed impressionist museum. Unlike the Louvre, photography is prohibited and supplementary information on the art is minimal.

“They give you the little tags with the name of the painting, the artist, the dates, and then they always give who donated the art but they don’t give you anything about the painting itself,” she says, hoping her hunts will fill in the knowledge gaps and inspire return visits to museums the world over.

She’s currently working on a kids pack and is almost ready to make THATLou her full-time vocation, adding: “I find that the busier one is, the more efficient and productive one is.”

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