Musée d'Orsay: The digital worlds of Orsay

The digital worlds of Orsay

The digital worlds of Orsay: a connected history of the collections

Historical research has been at the forefront of the Musée d'Orsay’s identity since the very beginnings of the museum: while it is an art museum, its diverse collections showcase a time of political, economic, social, media, artistic revolutions. Building up on the legacy of this connection between history and art history in the aim of providing an account of this extraordinary period, the Musée d'Orsay has invited the historian Pierre Singaravélou to conceive the digital program “Les mondes numériques d'Orsay” (“The Digital Worlds of Orsay”), as a prelude to his research and lecture program “Les mondes d'Orsay” (“The Worlds of Orsay”, spring 2021), which offers to engage with the museum's collections in a global context.

Three times a week (on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) during the time of the second lockdown, Singaravélou will offer a new text on famous or unknown works, according to the method of world history. It therefore becomes clear that the great movements of history took place in a world that is much more connected than we thought - yesterday and today.

Pierre Singaravélou, Professor of History at King’s College London and the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, has mainly worked on the history of colonization and globalization in the 19th and 20th centuries. He recently published Pour une histoire des possibles (Towards a History of Possibilities, Seuil, 2016, with Q. Deluermoz), Tianjin Cosmopolis (Seuil, 2017), Le Monde vu d'Asie (The World Seen from Asia, Seuil, 2018), and co-edited with S. Venayre L'Histoire du Monde au XIXe siècle (The History of the World in the 19th century, Fayard, 2017) and Le Magasin du Monde (The Shop of the World, Fayard, 2020).

Laure, the black model

Edouard ManetOlympia© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
"You needed a naked woman and you chose Olympia, the first one that came to you […] you needed black spots and you placed a black woman and a cat in a corner. What does all this mean? You hardly know, and neither do I. But I know that you have succeeded admirably in making the work of a painter, of a great painter. That is: to translate energetically and in a particular language the truths of light and shade, the realities of objects and creatures."
Thus Émile Zola described in these words the mysterious genius of Olympia, the painting made in 1863 by his friend Édouard Manet, that escaped the racist clichés of his time.

For a long time, no one paid attention to the young black woman standing next to the naked body of Olympia, the new Venus of Urbino. People had almost forgotten that the name of this young woman was to be found in archives and in a text from the beginning of the 20th century: her name was Laure and she lived in the 9th arrondissement of Paris.
Manet did not caricature her, did not sexualize her: there is no exoticism in his image, but a beauty, which we had to wait for many years to see through Manet's eyes.

In 1848, in Brazil, at barely the age of 16, he was outraged by the spectacle of a slave market. Many painters around the world drew inspiration from this famous painting. Paul Gauguin copied it, and went to Tahiti with a reproduction of it; the Swiss painter Félix Vallotton inverted the relationship of domination between mistress and servant in La Blanche et la Noire (1913); the Congolese artist Aimé Mpane reversed the roles of the two women in Olympia II (2013); the African-American artist Glenn Ligon made the first name "Laure" shine across the nave of Orsay with his work Some Black Parisians (2019).

For further information:
- Denise Murrell, « Olympia, Laure dans le contexte du Paris noir », in dans Cécile Debray, Stéphane Guégan, Denise Murrell et Isolde Pludermacher (éd.), Le Modèle noir. De Géricault à Matisse, Paris, Musée d’Orsay /Flammarion, 2019.
- Isolde Pludermacher, « Olympia au salon. De la guerre de sécession au contexte parisien », in Cécile Debray, Stéphane Guégan, Denise Murrell et Isolde Pludermacher (éd.), Le Modèle noir. De Géricault à Matisse, Paris, Musée d’Orsay /Flammarion, 2019.
- Adolphe Tabarant, Manet et ses œuvres, Paris, Gallimard, 1947.

An intimate portrait of a superstar

Louise AbbemaPortrait of Sarah Bernhardt© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay ) / Hervé Lewandowski
At the twilight of her life, Sarah Bernhardt, 76, was painted in 1921 by her friend Louise Abbema. She still has her incomparable profile, recognized around the world. And yet, she now seems alone and tired of her extraordinary journey.

This work presents an intimate, private portrait of the first international superstar: with an eyeglass in front of her, a teapot, cushions to support her back, she could well fit the pattern of the many depictions of lonely women at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.
Yet this is different. Until the end, she remained the prototype of the "sacred monster" (Jean Cocteau).

Of Dutch descent with a slight English accent, the tragic actress was the first artist to tour the five continents. After resigning with a bang from the Comédie Française in 1880, Sarah Bernhardt traveled the world until 1917 with the company she founded.
In 1881, the young playwright Anton Chekhov described the triumphant tour in Russia of "the one who visited the two poles, who swept across the five continents with her train, who crossed the oceans, who more than once rose to the heavens.”

Between two distant destinations, Sarah Bernhardt would take took the train at the Orsay station to rest in her sumptuous Belle-Île estate. Everywhere, she was idolized by her many fans. Everywhere, she wanted to promote theater – which was, according to her, “the most direct mouthpiece for new ideas (…), a necessity for all nations, of all peoples, of all beings”.

For further information :
- Olivier Bara, “Vedettes de la scène en tournée : première mondialisation culturelle au XIXe siècle ?”, Romantisme, 1, 2014.
- Sophie-Aude Picon, Sarah Bernhardt, Paris, Gallimard, 2010.

 

From one empire to another: Empress Eugénie’s Chinese collection

Pierre-Ambroise RichebourgInterior View of the Chinese Pavilion of the Empress at Fontainebleau© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Two scepters, a gilded stupa adorned with precious stones, the Qing Emperor's war armor, daggers, halberds, rifles, an enamel chimera, numerous porcelains, rolls of silk, stones and jades, bronzes from the Ming period, etc.: more than 400 precious objects have been exhibited at the Chinese Museum of the Château de Fontainebleau since 1863.
Empress Eugenie took care to arrange the rooms herself, choosing the decor and the scenography of the cases She created an interior that became a place for imperial life and imperial collections, manifesting the era’s interest in “chinoiseries”.
This decor is immortalized here by Pierre-Ambroise Richebourg, “official photographer to the Crown” under the Second Empire.

Most of these artefacts were diplomatic gifts from the Siamese Embassy in 1861 or came from the sack of the Yuanmingyuan – Emperor Xianfeng’s Summer Palace.
In October 1860, the Franco-British expeditionary force waged the Second Opium War, aiming to impose their trading conditions on China. The war ended with the sacking and burning of the Summer Palace, a masterpiece of Chinese architecture. About a million objects were stolen by European soldiers.

They are now partly preserved in forty-seven museums around the world, including the Chinese pavilion at the Château de Fontainebleau, where the display designed by Empress Eugenie has remained the same as it was in 1863.

For further information:
- Che Bing Chiu, Yuanming yuan : le jardin de la Clarté parfaite, Paris, Editions de l’imprimeur, 2000.
- Pierre Singaravélou, « Scènes de pillage au Palais d’été », L’Histoire, 467, janvier 2020.
- Louise Tythacott (ed.), Collecting and Displaying China's “Summer Palace” in the West. The Yuanmingyuan in Britain and France, London, Routledge, 2018.

 

Winter sport, a new idea in Europe

Painting
Cuno AmietSnowy Landscape© M.u.D. Thalmann, CH-3360 Herzogenbuchsee
The snowflakes landed one by one, endlessly, by the millions, in much silence that the blossoming flowers make more noise; and a forgetting of life and of the world, a sovereign peace, came from this moving multitude,” wrote Émile Zola in A Love Story.
In 1904, the Swiss painter Cuno Amiet, trained in Munich, Paris and especially Pont-Aven, translated this silence into the white alpine wilderness, barely perturbed by the discreet foray of a newcomer into the European mountains: the skier.

The taste for snow was not entirely new to the West. Already in the 16th century, Flemish illuminations had represented the playful appropriation of the white meteor for snowballs and snowmen.
But it was not until the end of the 19th century that skiing, a sport practiced by the Scandinavians, was adopted by a few pioneers in the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Switzerland then played a decisive role in the development of international tourism by intensively exploiting the mountains. They became the new playground for tourists fascinated by snow: the painter here methodically attempted to deconstruct all its tones. The tiny ski tip cuts across Deep Winter in the splendor of a pictorial matter that reconciles us with emptiness.
The fire of Amiet’s palette and the ashes of the seasons lie beneath the snow he painted.

For further information:
- William Hauptman, La Suisse sublime vue par les peintres voyageurs, 1770-1914, Lugano-Milan, Fondation Thyssen-Bornemisza-Éd. Electa, 1991.
- George Mauner, Cuno Amiet, Zurich, Orell Füssli, 1984.
- Franz Müller, « Cuno Amiet », SIKART dictionary and database, Swiss Institute for Art Research, 1998.
- Laurent Tissot, « Le tourisme en Suisse ou l’avènement d’un modèle d’excellente (19e-20e siècles), Le Globe. Revue genevoise de géographie, 144, 2004.

Henri Ottmann (1877-1927)
 La gare du Luxembourg à Bruxelles [The Luxembourg Station in Brussels] 
 1903
 Oil on canvas
 H. 80; W. 110 cm
 Gift of the Société des Amis du Musée d'Orsay, 1989
 RF 1989 19
 25620
Henri OttmannThe Luxembourg Station in Brussels© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Gérard Blot
Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Lord Byron, Marx and Engels, Hugo and his partner the actress Juliette Drouet, Dumas, Schœlcher, Edgard Quinet, Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Verlaine, Apollinaire, a thousand communards… The capital of the small kingdom of Belgium welcomed many political exiles and artists in the second half of the 19th century, mainly thanks to the railways which developed rapidly from the 1840s onwards.
The Luxembourg station in Brussels – here painted in 1903 by the young Henri Ottmann – was the symbol of this technological modernity. He was born in 1877, precisely at the time when Émile Zola invited artists to "find the poetry of stations, as their fathers found that of forests and rivers," because "painting is there today, in these modern frames of such a beautiful expanse."

Unlike Claude Monet’s interior views of Saint Lazare station, Ottmann shows the many tracks and switches that connect Brussels to the rest of the world.
In the 20th century, this cosmopolitan city gradually became a world city, now welcoming the second-greatest number of different nationalities (after Dubai), congresses (after Singapore) and international organizations (after New York).

For further information:
- Georges-Henri Dumont, Histoire de Bruxelles. Biographie d'une capitale, Bruxelles, 2005.
- Michel Ragon, L'architecture des gares, Paris, Denoël, 1984.

“The 19th has just lost its pilot”

Gustave CourbetPierre-Joseph Proudhon© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
Two self-taught natives of Franche-Comté, an artist and a philosopher, changed the way politics is thought of around the world. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, born in Besançon in 1809, theorized anarchism, which, from the 1850s onwards, inspired revolutionaries from Russia to Colombia.
Proudhon’s great friend was Gustave Courbet, a native of Ornans, who stood for the 1848 revolution and painted for the socialist cause. As early as 1861, he defined realism as in essence a "democratic art": "I express my ideas with my brush"!

This portrait is Courbet’s posthumous homage to Proudhon, painted a few months after the philosopher’s death in 1865.
“The 19th century has just lost its pilot, the man it made. We are left without a compass, and humanity and the revolution, adrift without this authority, will fall back into the hands of soldiers and barbarism.”
These are the words with which Gustave Courbet, in a letter to Gustave Naudet written on January 24th, 1865, described his immense discouragement and his great dejection at the death of Proudhon, which had occurred four days earlier.
Courbet ends his letter by expressing his personal concerns: “I can't understand why you have left his head in the dirt when I need it so badly. Have a mask made of it as soon as possible and send it to me in a tin box: I want to make not only a portrait of it, but also a sculpture .”

This painting brings together two major left-wing figures, whose influence extends around the world: one helped define libertarian thought, the other was at the origin of social realism. The two were born twenty-five kilometers from each other.

For further information:
- Valérie Bajou, Courbet, la vie à tout prix, Paris, Cohen & Cohen, 2019.
- Ségolène Le Men, Courbet, Paris, Citadelles et Mazenod, 2007.
- Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Lettres inédites à Gustave Chaudey et à divers comtois, Besançon, Droz,1911
- Thomas Schlesser, « Le réalisme de Courbet. De la démocratie dans l’art à l’anarchie », Images Re-vues [En ligne], 1 | 2005.

The Rise and Fall of Athens - the cradle of "European Civilization"

James D. Robertson, Felice BeatoAthenes© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
In 1852, in Constantinople, the Briton James Robertson, then chief engraver of the Ottoman Imperial Mint, discovered photography. In 1855-1856, during the Crimean War, he introduced his brother-in-law Felice Beato, originally from Corfu, to this technique.
Thanks to the new rail and sea transport network, the two men were able to exercise their talents in the cradle of "Western civilization."

Thus, at the end of 1857, after having stayed in Jerusalem and Egypt, they went to Greece where they photographed the Acropolis at the heart of the capital of the young Greek state.
The majesty of the remains of the ancient city contrasts strikingly with the torpor of the contemporary town that the publicist Antonin Proust described in these terms: “In short, when we had toured all of Athens and seen all its facets, from Lycabettus to the rocks of the Areopagus, from Hymettus to Pendeli, we came to the conclusion that Athens, with its 45,000 souls, is a large common village, without any personality. "

For further information:
- Myrto Dimitropoulou, Athènes au XIXe siècle: de la bourgade à la capitale, thèse d’histoire, Université Lumière Lyon 2, 2008.
- Luke Gartlan, “Felice Beato”, in John Hannavy (ed.), Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Londres, Routledge, Taylor & Francis, 2008.
- Antonin Proust, Un philosophe en voyage par Antonin Barthélémy, Paris, Charpentier, 1864.

The benefactor of Humankind is French

Alfred Le Petit, Creil et Montereau (Manufacture)Plate "The Marigold: Pasteur"© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
In the 19th century, ornamented plates - displayed in the china cabinet, hung on the walls or used at the table by diners for dessert - were one of the major media.
This earthenware plate, produced by the Boulangist cartoonist Alfred Le Petit in 1889, offers one of the last examples of the attacks against Louis Pasteur who, after discovering the vaccine against rabies in 1885 and founding the Institut Pasteur in 1888, was consecrated in his own lifetime as a “Grand Homme” of the Republic.

The inscription alludes to the failed experiments during his research: "Has this scientist succeeded in saving us from rabies? I don’t know, but I bet his dead burden his forehead with huge worries." Pasteur, overwhelmed, dull and empty eyed, scratches his beard, under the umbrella of a medicinal marigold. He leaves behind him the macabre wake of countless skeletons.

These criticisms did not have an effect on the scientist who was soon to enjoy worldwide renown, in particular thanks to the Instituts Pasteur created in almost all the colonies and beyond: in Saigon, Antananarivo, Brazzaville, Dakar, Algiers, Tunis, Tangier, Casablanca, Hanoi, and Noumea, as well as in Iran and Greece.
Pasteur’s disciples were becoming one of the most effective tools of French expansion.



For further information:
- Guillaume Lachenal, “1891, Pasteuriser l’Empire”, in Patrick Boucheron (dir.), Histoire mondiale de la France, Paris, Seuil, 2017.
- Bruno Latour, Pasteur. Une science, un style, un siècle, Paris, Perrin, 1995.
- Alexandre Sumpf, « Pasteur, héros de la santé publique », Histoire par l'image, avril 2020.

Alice in Colonial Land

Alice BoitteCarte d'Algérie et de Tunisie© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Alexis Brandt
It’s April 10th, 1889, and Alice, a 14-year-old teenager, has just completed her latest drawing. She has a good legacy to uphold: her mother Zélia Lenoir is a painter, and her father, Louis Boitte, the chief architect of the Palace of Fontainebleau.
The fifty or so works by this young girl in the Musée d’Orsay exclusively comprise descriptions of rural buildings and maps of France. With one exception – this map of Algeria and Tunisia.

Inspired by a school textbook, this drawing reveals in great detail the ports and maritime routes that link Algeria to the rest of the world.
There is no rose tint here as on the maps of the French colonies, because the primary objective is to show the three departments of Oran (yellow), Algiers (green) and Constantine (red), created in 1848.

The colonizers invented a new formula at the time: the administrative assimilation of this overseas territory to mainland France, all while excluding the native population from French citizenship. This original discrepancy holds one of the main contradictions of the republican colonial project.

For further information:
- Hélène Blais, Mirages de la carte. L’invention de l’Algérie coloniale, Paris, Fayard, 2014.

“The most Japanese of all French painters”

Pierre Bonnard 
 (1867-1947)
 Crépuscule, dit aussi La partie de croquet
 1892
 Huile sur toile
 H. 130 ; L. 162,5 cm
 Paris, musée d'Orsay, don de Daniel Wildenstein par l'intermédiaire de la Société des Amis du Musée d'Orsay, 1985
P. BonnardCrépuscule© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
"M. Bonnard, the most Japanese of all French painters, likes to render the subtleties of lines, to catch the rhythm of their arabesques": those were Charles Saunier’s words to describe the painting Twilight, also called The Game of Croquet, in his piece for La Revue Indépendante in 1892.

Years earlier, the young Pierre Bonnard had discovered the arts of Japan during an exhibition at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts organized by Siegfried Bing: "That is where I found, for one or two shillings, crepons or crumpled rice papers with stunning colors. I covered the walls of my bedroom with this naive and garish imagery. Gauguin, Sérusier in fact referred to the past. But here, what I had in front of me was something very much alive, extremely informed. I understood from my contact with these crude popular images that color could express anything, like here, without the need for relief or modeling. I realized that it was possible to translate lights, shapes and character simply with color."
David Gliem sees Twilight as a masterpiece of Japanese Zen reconciling opposites (day / night; unity / plurality; presence / absence), and therefore opening a path towards abstraction.

For further information:
- Guy Cogeval, Bonnard, Paris, Paris, Hazan, 2015
- David E. Gliem, « Revisiting Bonnard’s Japonisme », Open Inquiry Archive, vol. 1, numéro 7, 2012
- Antoine Terrasse, Pierre Bonnard, Paris, Gallimard, 1967

Taming Wild Beasts: the Polar Bear of the Left Bank

François PomponOurs blanc© RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Stéphane Maréchalle
The exploration of the planet ended with expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The explorers Matthew Henson – who was African-American – and Robert Edwin Peary, along with their Inuit guides Seegloo, Ootah Ootah, Egingway, and Ooqueah Egingway, were probably the first people to reach the geographic North Pole, in 1909, while the Norwegian Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole in 1911.

Arctic sea ice is home to the world’s largest carnivore, the polar bear, which the general public discovered in European zoos. In Paris, in the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes, François Pompon sympathized with his model, a bear captured in 1905 during an expedition to Spitsbergen.
Influenced by Egyptian and Japanese art, he decided to break with the naturalistic aesthetic that had prevailed until the early 20th century among sculptors of animals, who set out to represent wild beasts as accurately as possible and portray their ferocity.

At the 1922 Salon d'Automne, Pompon presented a stylized and pacified vision of the polar bear, which reflected a new sensitivity, a form of empathy towards animals. His iconic sculpture popularized a gentle image of the carnivore, whose stuffed version has since become beloved among children.

For further information:
- Cécilie Champie-Vinas, “Les sculpteurs au zoo. Sculpter les animaux sauvages, de Barye à Pompon”, Ligeia, 1, 2016

Governing nature

Pierre-Auguste RenoirField of Banana Trees© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
European colonizers quickly established botanical gardens in almost all the overseas territories they appropriated. This was the case in Algeria, where the Test Garden of Hamma was inaugurated only one year after the conquest of Algiers in 1830.
The garden was made for the study and cultivation of useful or ornamental plants, to disseminate them, to display the imperial mastery of nature, and to offer the public an entertaining walk.

This is precisely the subject chosen by Pierre-Auguste Renoir who went to Algeria in 1881 in the footsteps of Delacroix. "I wanted to see what the land of the sun was. I came at the wrong time, because it hardly shines these days. But Algeria is still exquisite, an extraordinary wealth of nature”: those were the words Renoir wrote to Théodore Duret (March 4th).
He painted the lush banana field, behind which we can see the white city of Algiers. This trip marked a decisive stage in his artistic career: he felt he had exhausted the potentialities of Impressionism, and he wished to explore other forms with his tactile gaze and his very peculiar quivering brushstroke.

For further information:
- Hélène Blais, “Pépinières coloniales: de la valeur des plantes des jardins botaniques au XIXe siècle”, Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, numéro 66-3, 2019.
- Ambroise Vollard, Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Paris, 1919.

The World in a Crystal Palace

drawing
Thomas Abel PriorQueen Victoria opening the 1851 Universal Exhibition© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
"The greatest day in our history": these were the emphatic terms in which Queen Victoria described the opening of theGreat Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All nations. It was certainly a first in the history of humankind: more than 100,000 objects and 14,000 exhibitors from thirty countries and forty colonies gathered for five months in Hyde Park, West London, in 1851: they were to present the most remarkable achievements of human labor to an audience of over six-million viewers.

This first universal exhibition, which honored the world’s most powerful nation and its empire, was inaugurated by the young Queen Victoria, dressed in blue to the right of the painting, and Prince Albert, wearing a top hat.
The engraver Thomas Prior shows here the gigantic steel and glass architecture of the main building built for the occasion by Joseph Paxton, a specialist in tropical greenhouses.

The nave is large enough to encompass a few large pre-existing trees, the largest organ in the universe, and thousands of other wonders. In the eyes of English liberals, the Exhibition was to embody British imperial globalization - the first milestone in the unification of the world through trade, industry and science.

For further information:
- Blaise Wilfert, « 1851. Exposition internationale de Londres », in Pierre Singaravélou et Sylvain Venayre (dir.), Histoire du Monde au XIXe siècle, Paris, Fayard, 2017.

 

 

The underbelly of migrations

Alfred Stieglitz 
 (1864-1946)  
 The Steerage
 1915, taken in 1907
 Photomechanical print (photogravure) on Japan paper
 H. 33.2; W. 26.3 cm
 Paris, Musée d'Orsay, gift of the Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation, 2003
Alfred Stieglitz The Steerage© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Alfred Stieglitz was the leader of the Photo-Secession movement, which intended to give photography the status of a major art form. As such, he wanted to capture the real world. This son of a German Jewish immigrant photographed the symbols of modernity: skyscrapers, airplanes and steamers full of migrants.
In 1907, as he sailed first class across the Atlantic on the Kaiser Wilhelm II, he took his Graflex 4x5 Speed camera to the steerage, where poor travelers gathered.
The picture became famous four years later, when Stieglitz used it on the cover of his magazine, Camera Work. “I saw shapes related to each other. I saw a picture of shapes and underlying that the feeling I had about life”, as he wrote thirty-five years later.

The Steerage was considered one of the first "Modernist" images at the time, admired by Pablo Picasso who saw it as an expression of Cubism. This work also reveals the complexity of intercontinental migrations: contrary to popular belief, it does not depict workers going to the United States, but Europeans who had been rejected at Ellis Island or who were returning to the Old Continent after having worked for some time in North America.
And so this, photograph contains information that historians have only recently discovered: from the late 19th century onwards, most of these migrations were circular.

For further information:
- Alfred Stieglitz, Camera Work. The Complete Photographs 1903–1917, Taschen, 1997.
- Katherine Hoffman, Stieglitz: A Beginning Light, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2004.
- Richard Whelan, Alfred Stieglitz : A Biography, New York, Little, Brown, 1995.

Can Orientals Be Orientalists?

Osman Hamdy BeyVieil homme devant des tombeaux d'enfants© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
The son of a grand vizier, Osman Hamdi studied law in Paris. In the early 1860s, he discovered painting through the orientalist artists Gérôme and Boulanger. After training in museology in Vienna, he organized the restoration of Ottoman artistic heritage, which he promoted throughout the world. As director of the Museum of Antiquities, he oversaw the excavations of the royal necropolis of Sidon and regulated Anatolian archeology.

He founded the Istanbul Academy of Fine Arts in 1882 and became famous for his paintings. He was presented as the only "oriental" in the Orientalist painting of this period, and his work describes Islamic architecture, decoration, furniture and costume with the precision of a photograph and the force of a poem.
Certainly, this member of the Ottoman aristocracy exoticized the Arab populations of the peripheral provinces, deemed "Oriental" by the Istanbul elites.

However, unlike his Western counterparts, Osman Hamdi, by lending his own face to his character, recalls that he is on both sides, "both in the East and outside the East" (F. Georgeon).

For further information:
- Zeynep Çelik, About Antiquities: Politics of Archaelogy in the Ottoman Empire, Austin, University of Texas Press, 2016.
- Edhem Eldem, Un Ottoman en Orient. Osman Hamdi Bey en Irak, 1869-1870, Arles, Actes Sud, 2010.
- François Georgeon, « Le génie de l’ottomanisme. Essai sur la peinture orientaliste d’Osman Hamdi (1842-1910) », Turcica, 42, 2010.

 

Local church, global pilgrimage

Vincent van GoghThe Church in Auvers-sur-Oise© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
"Auvers is gravely beautiful": those were Van Gogh’s words in the summer of 1890.
The Dutch was following in the footsteps of Corot and Daubigny who went there in the 1840s: the indefinable charm of this small village, not far from Paris on the banks of the Oise, drew other foreign artists such as Charles Sprague Pearce (U.S.), Francisco Oller (Puerto Rico), or Aguiar and Martinez (Cuba)

It was Van Gogh who established the world fame of this small village by painting its church as well as 71 other canvases dedicated to this place and its inhabitants. Countless artists from all over the world have been going there on pilgrimage ever since. One of the young masters of Japanese Expressionism, Yuzo Saeki, even dedicated a painting to this small church in 1924, before killing himself in a Parisian asylum...

Each year, nearly 500,000 tourists visit the village, its notable sites, the famous Ravoux inn, and the cemetery where Vincent Van Gogh and his faithful brother Theo rest.
There are museums without pictures, and religions without creeds, that gather humans together.

For further information:
- Douglas Cooper, “The Painters of Auvers-sur-Oise”, The Burlington Magazine, Apr., 1955, Vol. 97, No. 625 (Apr., 1955).
- Christine Garnier, “Auvers-sur-Oise”, Revue des deux mondes, 1er Janvier 1959.

 

A colonial hero who came from elsewhere

Jean Désiré Ringel d'IllzachPierre Savorgnan de Brazza© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais /Patrice Schmidt
No one could have told Pietro Paolo di Brazzà – born in Rome to an Italian aristocratic family – that he would enter the pantheon of the French Third Republic in his lifetime
His foreign origin is one of the few pieces of information inscribed on the medal made in his honor by Jean-Désiré Ringel d´Illzach, who portrayed many personalities of the late 19th century.

This work took part in the making of one of France’s greatest national heroes. Brazzà began to explore the Ogooué River in 1875, when he was an unknown, newly naturalized officer.
At the beginning of the 1880s, he achieved spectacular fame by claiming an immense territory in Central Africa for France, in opposition to British colonial ambitions.

The popular press praised his extraordinary courage and supernatural endurance: Brazzà, who did not hesitate to use threats during the negotiations, was nevertheless portrayed as an example of a "peaceful conqueror".
France was then seized by a “Brazzà frenzy” which manifested itself in the massive distribution of multiple objects that popularized the image of his long taciturn face: Brazzà paper, swords, pencils, restaurant menus, vases, and commemorative medals!

For further information:
- Edward Berenson, Les Héros de l'Empire. Brazza, Marchand, Lyautey, Gordon et Stanley. À la conquête de l'Afrique, Paris, Perrin, 2012.
- Isabelle Dion, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza : au coeur du Congo, Paris, Anom-Images en manoeuvres Éditions, 2007.

 

Photography’s Revolution: the Journey to the East

Maxime Du CampMiddle Egypt. The Sphinx seen from the front© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Alexis Brandt
“Sphinx - we sit on the sand and light our pipes. Its eyes seem full of life, the left side is stained white by bird-droppings, it exactly faces the east, its head is grey, ears very large and protruding like a negro’s, its neck is eroded and thinner, from the front it rises even higher before you, thanks to a great hollow dug in the sand before its chest; its missing nose increases the flat, negroid effect. In any case it was certainly Ethiopian, judging by the thick lips.”
Guessing at a mysterious link between the Egypt of the Pharaohs and the civilizations of sub-Saharan Africa, the young Gustave Flaubert described in these racialist terms the scene immortalized by his traveling companion Maxime du Camp on December 9, 1849.

This is undoubtedly the first photograph of the world’s largest sculpture, made around 2500 BC. This calotype appears in a 125-page album published in 1853 titled Egypt, Nubia, Palestine and Syria. Photographic drawings collected during the years 1849, 1850 and 1851. This is the first major travelogue illustrated by photographs; Du Camp became the very incarnation of a traveler, to the point that Baudelaire dedicated Le Voyage to him in 1857.

For further information:
- Marie-Thérèse Jammes et André Jammes, En Égypte au temps de Flaubert : 1839-1860, les premiers photographes, Paris, Kodak Pathé, 1976.
- Sylvain Venayre, Écrire ou photographier : l'Orient de Gustave Flaubert et Maxime Du Camp, Paris, Créaphis éditions, 2018.

Pont-Aven, the beating heart of the Post-Impressionist Internationale

Paul Gauguin 
 (1848-1903)
 La belle Angèle [The Beautiful Angèle]
 1889
 Oil on canvas
 H. 92; W. 73 cm
 Paris, Musée d'Orsay, gift of Ambroise Vollard, 1927
Paul GauguinThe Beautiful Angèle© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Before posterity reduced them to a famous name, new forms were collectively invented. From the mid-1860s, foreign artists, fascinated by the spectacle of the native countryside, took up residence in the small Breton village of Pont-Aven. The famous Magazine of Art even devoted an article to it in 1889: “Nowhere in France perhaps in Europe, are there finer peasantry (…); nowhere such primitive dwellings and such dirt…”.

 

Hundreds of painters from all over the world - Cuno Amiet from Switzerland, Mogens Ballin from Denmark, Frederick Arthur Bridgman from the United States, Meijer De Haan from the Netherlands, Roderic O'Conor from Ireland, Paul Peel from Canada, Wladyslaw Slewinski from Poland, etc. - stayed there in hotels and pensions like the one run by Marie-Angélique Satre, whose portrait Paul Gauguin painted in 1889. Gauguin drew his inspiration from his exotic travels, Brittany’s folklore, the composition of Japanese prints, and his early childhood in Latin America. The style of the statuette to the left of Angèle recalls the pre-Columbian objects collected by his mother, who was of Peruvian Creole origin and took him to live with her in Lima for four years as they fled the coup d'état of Louis Napoleon.

Gauguin felt at home in Pont-Aven, in the world’s most cosmopolitan village.

For further information:
- André Cariou, Pont-Aven et ses peintres. De la colonie artistique à l’Ecole de Pont-Aven, coop Breizh, 2016
- Luke Herrmann, “Pont-Aven: A haven for painters”, The British Art Journal, Vol. 14, No. 2, Autumn 2013.
- Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel, « ‘Les bons vents viennent de l’étranger’ : la fabrication internationale de la gloire de Gauguin », Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, no52-2, 2005/2.

 

A Swedish painter, glorious and forgotten

August HagborgDalecarlian interior© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Adrien Didierjean
Who remembers August Hagborg and his Dalecarlian Interior? Barely mentioned in the documentation of the Musée d´Orsay, it was acquired by the State in 1900 to enrich its holdings of foreign art.
This painting was then loaned to the town hall of Decize where it adorned the mayor’s office.

The fresh-cotton curtains of this Interior lie open to a view of Dalarna (a province in central Sweden), its lake, its sky, and its golden autumn.
On the wooden table, right against the window, there is nothing to be seen but light. A Spartan bench awaits the peasant – he is warming up at this point, near the embers of the fireplace.
And so, in the heart of Burgundy one could find a Swedish interior, a refuge and an observatory, empty and spacious enough to accommodate the inhabitants of Decize "in the Loire assise" for nearly a hundred years!

How could we now believe that this obscure painter was one of the darlings of the Parisian art world at the end of the 19th century? Hagborg arrived in Paris in 1875 and exhibited at annual fairs, selling his paintings to numerous French and foreign collectors who had fallen in love with Norman seascapes.
His double artistic identity nourished his practice and consolidated his position with regard to his contemporaries; this might explain the lack of posthumous visibility of this unclassifiable painter – a painter who, so to speak, came from nowhere.

For further information:
- Röstorp Vibeke, Le Mythe du retour. Les Artistes scandinaves en France de 1889 à 1908, Stockholm, Stockholms universitet, 2013
- Bo Wingren (dir.), Peintres du Nord en voyage dans l’ouest. Modernité et Impressionnisme. 1860-1900, Caen, Presses universitaires, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 2001.

 

 

The artisans of artistic globalization

MichaudWorkers of the Monduit company posing on the occasion of the Paris Expostion universelle© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Alexis Brandt
Works of art are sometimes made by an anonymous multitude. Momentous occasions bring this multitude to light.
These faces are those of the workers of the Monduit company, which specialized in plumbing, artistic copperwork, and the restauration of historical monuments (the spire of Notre-Dame-de-Paris, the roof of the Hôtel de Ville de Paris, the crown of the Palace of Justice of Brussels and, later, the phoenix of the Federal Palace of Mexico). It also built lighting systems and sanitation devices, and produced monumental statues such as Aimé Millet’s statue of Vercingetorix (1865) and Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty (1876).

This photograph gives us an off-screen view of a major world event: the 1899 Universal Exhibition, the fourth organized in France after those of 1855, 1867, and 1878. Welcoming 35 countries, 62,000 exhibitors and 32 million visitors, it contributed to making Monduit known throughout the world.

These workers worked on the domes of the Palais des Beaux-Arts et des Arts libéraux and participated in the cross-pollination of arts and industry, spectacularly illustrated by the flagship of this exhibition, which was soon to become the symbol of France abroad: the Eiffel Tower.

For further information:
- Robert Dulau, « Diffusion, réception de l’œuvre d’un artisan-entrepreneur du XIXesiècle : l’atelier Monduit », Livraisons de l'histoire de l'architecture, 29 | 2015, 9-31.
- Caroline Mathieu, « Monduit s’expose : la participation de la maison Monduit aux expositions universelles. », Livraisons de l'histoire de l'architecture, 29 | 2015, 73-88.

"We are all descendants of the Englishman"

Claude Monet 
 (1840-1926)
 Londres, le Parlement. Trouée de soleil dans le brouillard [London, Houses of Parliament. The Sun Shining through the Fog]
 1904
 Oil on canvas
 H. 81; W. 92 cm
 Paris, Musée d'Orsay, bequest of Count Isaac de Camondo, 1911
Claude MonetLondon, Houses of Parliament. The Sun Shining through the Fog© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Monet’s London, the Parliament, painted in 1904, is about variations of light. Impressionism, that movement which illustrated the French "genius" around the world, in fact also originated on the shore of the Thames amid its famous mist, whose vaporous effects left a lasting mark on the mind of the Master of Giverny.

“We are all descendants of the Englishman”: those are the words once used by the great Impressionist Camille Pissarro to characterize the influence that William Turner in particular, and British painters in general, exerted on French artists at the end of the 19th century.
Many painters, including Pissarro and Monet, fled the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and found refuge in the British capital, where the art market seemed more buoyant.

Thirty years later, at around the time Monet painted this painting, Pissarro said “Monet and I were very enthusiastic about the landscapes of London. (…) We visited the museums. Turner’s watercolors and paintings, the Constables, the old chromas, certainly had an influence on us. (…) We were struck by the landscape painters, who resonated with our search for the outdoors, light and fleeting effects ”.

For further information:
- Marianne Alphant, Monet, une vie dans le paysage, Paris, Hazan, 2010.
- Guy Cogeval, Sylvie Patin, Sylvie Patry, Anne Roquebert, Claude Monet 1840-1926, Paris, RMN, 2010.
- Sylvie Patry (dir.), Paul Durand-Ruel : Le pari de l’impressionnisme, Paris, RMN, 2014
- Les impressionnistes français à Londres. Artistes français en exil, 1870-1904, exposition Petit Palais, 2018.

"And if there's only one left, I'll be the one"

Charles Hugo
 (182-1871)
 Victor Hugo standing in front of Outcasts Rock
 Circa 1853
 Salted paper print
 H. 10.3; W. 6.3 cm
 Paris, Musée d'Orsay, gift of Marie-Thérèse and André Jammes, 1984
Charles HugoVictor Hugo standing in front of Outcasts Rock© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR
To shape his own image as the main opponent of Napoleon III, Victor Hugo became a pioneer of political photography, long before it transformed communication and the media.
"And so, it is a photographic revolution that we want to create (while we are waiting)" to put an end to the Second Empire: those were Hugo’s words in 1853, while his son Charles was making this salt print.
The writer measured the power of this new medium - which allows a person to make absence present: he staged himself on the Rock of the Exiles, looking at France from the Anglo-Norman island of Jersey where he was exiled.

This photograph was to be published in a book that the editors did not release for fear of displeasing the Emperor; it eventually found its way into an album reserved for family and friends.
Jersey, "a piece of France fallen into the sea and picked up by England" to use Hugo's expression, is a small paradise for people in exile: life is cheaper there than in London, an and its proximity to the Cotentin – only 22 kilometers away – allows for easy communication with the motherland.

Before Hugo and his Republican "brothers", the island successively welcomed Huguenots during the Wars of Religion, Chateaubriand and royalists during the French Revolution, and Spanish, Italian and Polish nationalists in the years 1820-1830.
They were joined in 1852 by around 200 French people banished by Louis Napoléon. Hugo is just the most photogenic of them!

For further information:
-Sylvie Aprile, Le Siècle des Exilés. Bannis et proscrits de 1789 à la Commune, Paris, CNRS Éditions, 2010.
-Françoise Heilbrun et Danielle Molinari (dir.), En collaboration avec le soleil, Victor Hugo . Photographies de l’exil, Paris, Réunion des musées nationaux, 1998
-Jann Matlock, « Hugo ailleurs : la photographie de l’exil », dans Sarga Moussa et Sylvain Venayre (dir.), Le voyage et la mémoire au XIXe siècle, Paris, Creaphis Éditions, 2011.

 

In praise of the colonial Empire

Bourgonnier Claude (1858-1921). Paris, musée d'Orsay. INV20707.
Claude BourgonnierSketch of the Colonial School's ceiling© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Stéphane Maréchalle
The quintessentially French Ecole Nationale d’Administration harbors the mysterious vestige of an abandoned ambition: that of governing the world, or of "civilizing" it. One of the most eloquent pictorial exaltations of the French colonial Empire is to be seen on the ceiling of the school’s library.
Indeed, the ENA was created in 1945 on the model of the Colonial School, whose location it inherited. The “Colo” was founded in 1889 to welcome future colonial administrators, providing them with a traditional education combined with the human sciences.

The Musée d'Orsay holds the sketch of the work commissioned in 1913 from Claude-Charles Bourgonnier: in the center, we can see the figure of a woman with the torch of virtue – France – standing out against the vast tricolor flag. The representatives of the African and Asian peoples of the Empire bow before her.
To the right, the founders of the Colonial School are depicted according to the Venetian tradition. In the middle, we can see History writing at the dictation of Truth. Thus, painting, like the cameral sciences, was placed at the service of imperial propaganda, at a time when colonial domination seemed to have become the consensus – in Paris.

Pour aller plus loin :
-William B. Cohen, Empereurs sans sceptre, Paris, Berger-Levrault, 1974.
-Pierre Singaravélou, Professer l’Empire. Les “sciences coloniales” en France sous la IIIe République, Paris, Editions de la Sorbonne, 2011.

 

Is the Statue of Liberty of Egyptian origin?

Frédéric-Auguste BartholdiLiberté© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais
Nothing is more international than the construction of national identities. They are the result of multiple cultural and artistic movements, as evidenced by the history of the Statue of LibertyStatue de la Liberté: this symbol of the United States was inaugurated in 1886 in New York harbor.
This statue, of which the Musée d'Orsay has a reduced model, comes from the studio of French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. Bartholdi intended to celebrate the centenary of US Independence and the close links between the two venerable universalist republics amid a world dominated by monarchical regimes.

Bartholdi neo-classical inspiration - radiant crown, torch, drape, table of the law - appears evidently rooted in the Western history of sculpture. In fact, it finds its source in a project that Bartholdi developed in 1869 for Ismail Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt: a huge lighthouse - Egypt bringing light to Asia - which was to take the form of an Egyptian woman peasant, wearing a dress and holding up a torch.
Bartholdi's pharaonic proposal was deemed far too costly and refused by the Egyptian sovereign. However, it allowed him to outline the fundamental features of the future global icon, whose crown points represent the seven continents: North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica.

For further information:
- Yasmin Sabina Khan, Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty, Cornell University Press, 2010 pp. 53-54.
- De la Vallée des Rois à l’Arabie heureuse. Bartholdi en Égypte et au Yémen, Belfort, éditions Snoeck, 2012.

 

 

 

Imperial Blackness

painting
Pierre Puvis de ChavannesYoung Black Boy with a Sword© Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
This work made an ironic journey through the former French colonial empire: unearthed in 2009 in South India in Pondicherry, it represents the end of slavery in the French West Indies in the mid-19th century.
With the Young Black Boy with a Sword, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, barely 26 years old, challenged aesthetic codes: he dared to apply the conventions of the academic nude to a black man (classic studio pose), to arm him with a sword, and have him sit on a sumptuous cloth – one worthy of a Renaissance aristocrat.

The character's serenity contrasts sharply with the drama that plays out in the twilight-colored background. This was 1850 and the artist intended to celebrate the abolition of slavery (1848), which had provoked violent resistance from planters in the West Indian colonies.
At this time, people of color were rendered invisible or depicted in a pejorative manner. On the contrary, Puvis de Chavannes – without escaping the orientalist clichés of romanticism – reproduces the innumerable shades of this young man’s black skin and portrays him as a decider, a master of his destiny.
In this way, his work echoes the Portrait de Madeleine by Marie-Guillemine Benoist, which in 1800 paid a tribute to the first abolition of slavery by the French revolutionaries.

For further information:
- Francois Blanchetière, “Puvis de Chavannes. Une voie singulière au siècle de l’impressionnisme”, Amiens de Picardie, 2005-2006.
- René Jullian, “L’oeuvre de jeunesse de Puvis de Chavannes”, Gazette des Beaux-arts, n 140, novembre 1938, p. 237-250.
- Le modèle noir, de Géricault à Matisse, musée d’Orsay – Flammarion, 2019.

 

World Wide Show

.
Albert LondeCowgirl and Indian girl on horseback. Paris, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
At what point does the Conquest of the West become a world myth, a fascinating spectacle that participates in the worldwide diffusion of American culture? In 1889 Colonel Cody, nicknamed Buffalo Bill, landed in Paris with his cowboys, his 97 “Indians” and his animals (18 bison, 10 moose, 10 mules, 2 deer and no less than 108 horses).
His< em>Wild West Show circus included a dozen women - Lillian Smith, Annie Oakley, "Ma" Whitaker, Georgie Duffy, Emma Lake Hickok ... - all gun experts and excellent riders. In this picture, we see the young “Indian” woman Lakota, who was recruited from a reservation, like her male counterparts.

The actors, often veterans of the "Indian wars", replayed the great battles, magnifying the "Conquest of the West". They were immortalized here by an expert in ... medical photography, Albert Londe, director of the photographic laboratory at the Salpêtrière hospital, who was fond of anthropological curiosities.
This show strongly influenced Rosa Bonheur who was passionate about the Amerindians and drew the animals and troop members. She painted a portrait of Cody, for which she received as a thank you gift an “Indian” stage costume. She kept it preciously, as generations of fascinated children would do in the future.

For further information:
-Louis S. Warren, “Cody’s Last Stand: Masculine Anxiety, the Custer Myth, and the Frontier of Domesticity in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West”, Western Historical Quaterly, Spring, 2003, vol. 34, number 1, pp. 49-69
- Albert Londe. La Photographie moderne, catalogue d'exposition, Paris, Cripto, 1986.
- A. Gunthert, Albert Londe, coll. « Photo poche » no 82, Paris, Nathan, 1999.
- America's Best Female Sharpshooter: The Rise and Fall of Lillian Frances Smith by Julia Bricklin, University of Oklahoma Press, 2017.

 

 

The Japanese man behind Japonism

Albert BartholoméTadamasa Hayashi© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
In the second half of the 19th century, Japanese aesthetics transformed Western art. The extraordinary curiosity of European artists towards Japan is a well-known story. We have forgotten, however, the decisive role of a Japanese man who, between 1890 and 1901, imported from Yokohama to Paris 156,487 prints, 9,708 books, 846 paintings, screens and kakemonos, and 97 drawings…
Hayashi Tadamasa (1853-1906) opened his famous Japanese store in 1883. From then on, he supplied all the collectors of the capital, including the Van Gogh brothers, Camille Pissarro, Edmond de Goncourt, Claude Monet, whose paintings he collected, and Edgar Degas who traded his paintings for prints.

Hayashi exerted a decisive influence on his contemporaries by conveying a very idealized vision of Japan, depicted as the country of the samurai and the Geishas. Hayashi also introduced Japanese painters into French artistic circles, allowing artists such as Kuroda Seiki to develop a new "Westernized" Japanese style.
At the same time, he helped popularize the Impressionists in Japan. The sculptor Albert Bartholomé immortalized his face by casting this red patina bronze in 1892, on the model of the masks of traditional Noh theater. This object reminds us that Orientalism is not an invention ex-nihilo but very often a co-production of Europeans and Asians.

For further information:
- Geneviève Aitken et Marianne Delafond, La collection d’estampes japonaises de Claude Monet a Giverny, éditions de la bibliothèque des arts, 2002.
- Hélène Bayou, “Du Japon à l'Europe, changement de statut de l'estampe ukiyo-e”, Arts Asiatiques , 2011, vol. 66, 2011, pp. 155-176
-Brigitte Koyama-Richard, Japon rêvé. Edmond de Goncourt et Hayashi Tadamasa, Hermann, 2001.

 

Everybody hides The Origin

Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)
 L'origine du monde [The Origin of the World]
 1866
 Oil on canvas
 H. 46; W. 55 cm
 Paris, Musée d'Orsay
Gustave CourbetThe Origin of the World© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
In 1866, right after having been painted, The Origin of the World was hidden from the public. Its commissioner, the Ottoman diplomat Khalil Cherif Pasha, separated it from the rest of the world and from his collection – which itself included many other works considered erotic - by hiding it behind a green curtain in his bathroom.
Gustave Courbet’s work was seen less as a work of art than as a pornographic object, and it was later secretly resold to a dealer in erotic chinoiseries and Japanese works – very fashionable items at the time.

Its last owner, the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, hid this painting in a corner of his country house behind a sliding panel designed by André Masson.
The first public exhibition of the painting, in New York in 1988, made it world famous. It sparked worldwide outrage in 2011 when Facebook, the quintessential transnational firm, censored it under its user policy. What if The Origin of the World was the starting point for a global history of moral censorship in modern times?

For further information:
- Laurence des Cars et Dominique de Font-Réaulx (sous la direction de), Gustave Courbet, RMN, 2007.
- Claude Schopp, L'Origine du monde, Vie du modèle, Phébus, 2018.

India and No Indians

Samuel BourneTemples du Sud des Indes© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Alexis Brandt
There are quite a few people behind the lens. On average, around 40 porters were needed to transport the massive equipment (darkroom, glass plates, chemicals, tripod, etc.) of British photographer Samuel Bourne.
In search of exotic landscapes, he landed in Calcutta in 1863 at the age of 29 with a new process invented ten years earlier: dry collodion. He captured landscapes that have disappeared today, including in the Himalayas, where in 1866 he broke the record for high-altitude shooting by photographing the Manirung pass (5,670 meters).

Strikingly, autochthones are almost absent. This photograph of the temples of Madurai, usually bustling with people, represents a completely deserted city. This is not just due to the technical constraints of the time.
The photographer explained that this was because the Indians had not managed to adopt a "natural attitude", without "the arms stiff like pokers, the chin tucked up as if they were standing to have their throat slit"... In the British India of the Victorian era, this photograph shows a quiet country, the dream of a colony without "natives".

For further information:
-Ray Desmond, « Photography in Victorian India », Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, december 1985, vol. 134, pp. 48-61.
-Akshaya Tankha and Rahaab Allana, “Photographs of the Aftermath, 1857”, India International Centre Quarterly, summer 2007, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 8-24.

Paris, center of the World?

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux The Four Parts of the World© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Every great power tends to position itself at the center of the world. In 1667, members of the French Academy of Sciences traced an imaginary line connecting the North Pole to the South Pole, which allowed for the development of "scientific" cartography and the measurement of the shape of the Earth. The Paris meridian, as a world reference, would be increasingly challenged by the British Greenwich meridian.
To celebrate the bicentenary of the Paris meridian and its universal vocation, a monumental fountain was commissioned to be set in the same place - in front of the Observatory. Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Napoleon III’s official sculptor, imagined a design visible from any viewer's perspective: “Galileo set me on the path by saying 'the earth moves!' That is how I represented the four cardinal points rotating as if to follow the rotation of the globe.”

The artist depicted The Four Parts of the World - Europe, Asia, America, Africa but not Oceania, which was still largely unexplored - as women dancing a round that turns the celestial sphere.
At the 1872 Salon at the Louvre, the work was the subject of fierce criticism: "four undressed, lanky women scramble around with a bewildered and furious air under a large globe which they do not uphold."

In fact, the problem lay elsewhere. The same year, Queen Victoria inaugurated the gigantic Albert Memorial which celebrated the United Kingdom as the leading world power enthroned in the middle of the four continents. "Perfidious Albion" imposed its London meridian almost everywhere: it was dubbed the "universal meridian" in 1884, showing its mastery over global time-space.

For further information:
- Collectif, Carpeaux (1827-1875), un sculpteur pour l'Empire, Gallimard, Les Éditions du Musée d’Orsay, Paris, 2014.
- Christian Grataloup, L’invention des continents, Paris, Larousse, 2009.

 

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