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Danger lurks in Dufy masterpiece

PARIS, France -- One of the world's largest paintings is coated in cancer-causing asbestos and plans are underway to remove the fibre, Parisian curators have said.

Removal of the mineral fibre from the back of Raoul Dufy's 1930s masterpiece La Fee Electricite will begin in December, The Museum of Modern Art in Paris told Reuters news agency.

"No other artwork has been found to contain asbestos so this procedure has no precedent and has had to be carefully planned down to the last detail," museum officials said.

The fibre will be removed from the back of the 250 wood panels that make up the 6,450 square foot masterpiece.

"An art restorer will be on hand to oversee the work of the industrial asbestos removal team in order to ensure they are sensitive to the particular demands of this delicate job," officials added.

Asbestos was a popular insulation and fire retardant in the building industry after World War II.

French law requires the removal of all asbestos since it has been identified as a cause of lung disease and cancer.

Whether Dufy and his team treated the panels with asbestos themselves to protect them from fire or if the work was done after the oil painting was moved to its current location in 1964 is not known.

The painting poses no risk to those who come in contact with it, the museum said, however they are obliged to remove the asbestos.

"All tests done showed the level of airborne asbestos was well below danger levels," officials said.

The panels of the painting are a tribute to the thinkers and scientists who contributed to the discovery of electricity and what it represented.

The intricate process is expected to last seven months and an estimated 50 panels will have to be removed from the wall, according to the museum.

Le Parisien newspaper said the procedure would cost seven million francs.

Each panel will have to be individually treated in the display room which will be closed to the public while work is in progress.

Fauvist painter Dufy, who died at the age of 75 in 1953, painted La Fee Electricite for a Paris electricity company as decoration for its Hall of Light at the 1937 world exhibition in Paris. It took four months to complete.

• Raoul Dufy - global gallery

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