'Magdalena Bay' by François-Auguste Biard, 1840
If I had to pick a lesser known painting to see in the Louvre then it would be this one. I’d never heard of Biard before and there is a surprising dearth of information about him on the web.  It first caught my eye as a superb dramatic skyscape, a little reminiscent of a Caspar David Friedrich.

But one expects to see superbly executed landscapes at every turn in the Louvre. So why pick this one? The answer is it's far more than just a pretty picture. Once your attention has been grabbed by the lights of the aurora borealis, Biard skilfully uses their orientation to drive your eye towards a small group of people in the snow.

My first reaction was a sudden stab of revulsion at the realisation---OMG they’re all dead! They’ve perished in the ice. Who’d do a painting of a pile of dead bodies in the snow!? I tried to move on to the next exhibit but despite my initial revulsion I couldn't. There were still questions that needed answering. Why have they died? I searched for an answer and came across the next heartbreaking revelation---one of them is still alive! And then... What is he doing? (And then... what do you think he’s doing, what would you be doing?) Wait. Is he dressed differently? Is that wreckage or a boat behind him? Perhaps he's just pillaging. The bodies are almost buried in the snow, they must have been dead for some time, he must be separate from the group, he couldn't possible have survived.
What the hell is going on here?? I never really got to the bottom of it. All I could find out was that Magdalena bay is probably on the northwest shore of Spitzbergen. I'd love to know more. 

Conclusion: Both mesmerising and macabre at the same time, this is one not to miss on a trip to the Louvre.