Paris became the showcase for these radical changes, with the redevelopment and the embellishments commissioned by Napoleon III and subsequently by the Republic. The magnificent setting for an age that worshipped progress and science, the French capital hosted a number of universal exhibitions where boldly innovative inventions and constructions competed with the imagination of decorative artists.
It was in this context of renewal that the first flashes of aesthetic tension appeared between the official art of the Académie des Beaux Arts and that of innovative artists. Impressionists, Neo-Impressionists and Nabis, as well as artists working on their own, championed new forms of expression, breaking free from the dogma of the Academy. By the turn of the century, this conflict had given rise to a new classical order promoted by Cézanne.
The creative artists of the time constantly observed bourgeois society, its elegance, its ordered domesticity, its leisure activities and its pleasures. The male perspective produced a range of forms and interpretations based on desire and the representation of the nude. The pendulum would constantly swing between vice and virtue.
A third way also opened up enabling the collective imagination to reconcile images of a timeless Golden Age with the turbulent nature of the times. The Arcadia of Corot’s nymphs was transformed into a bright haze of sunlight. The ancient world moved aside, making way for a new man in an idealised natural landscape, a world where pleasure and order are in complete harmony.
CuratorsCaroline Mathieu, chief curator, Musée d'Orsay
Isabelle Cahn, curator, Musée d'Orsay
Exhibition organised by the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, and the Museo Nacional de Arte (MUNAL), Mexico.