This room, Equivoques (Ambiguities), is a place of experimentation mixing all the techniques and styles of the very diverse artworks in the Musée d’Orsay collection, around one theme. Now on: Religion, devotion and modernity.
Ground floor, room 9
"Religion: Part of the foundations of society. Is necessary for the common people. Yet we mustn't overdo it".
(Gustave Flaubert, Dictionary of Received Ideas)
Paradoxically, France also experienced a new religious upsurge at this time, as reflected by the unprecedented development of the cult of the Virgin Mary, the proliferation of apparitions and the success of new pilgrimages (La Salette, Lourdes), the assertion of new dogmas (Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary in 1854, papal infallibility in 1870), and the splendour of ornaments and liturgical celebrations.
At the end of the century, artists combined myth and reality in their works, and chose rarer iconographies in order to better revitalise the genre. Christ appeared at farmers' tables (F. Von Uhde) or at a meal in the town (J. Béraud), and the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus took on the family features of French painter Maurice Denis. The latter, a member of the Nabis group, personified the figure of the modern Christian artist at the turn of the century, and alone infused new life into religious painting.
The exhibition compares visions of the divine and the Christian religion through some fifteen works of all kinds of techniques, produced by artists as diverse as Gustave Doré, Léon Bonnat, Jean-Jacques Henner, Maurice Denis and Paul Cézanne. Whereas the philosopher Nietzsche announced "the death of God" at the end of the century, this miniature overview, on the contrary, presents a picture of an era fascinated by the religious issue, both fervent and haunted by doubt.