Musée d'Orsay: Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment

Théodore GéricaultEtude de pieds et de mains© Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération – cliché Frédéric Jaulmes
The exhibition Crime and Punishment looks at a period of some two hundred years: from 1791, when Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau called for the abolition of the death penalty, to 30 September 1981, the date the bill was passed to abolish it in France. Throughout these years, literature created many criminal characters. The title of the exhibition is itself taken from a work by Dostoyevsky. In the press, particularly the illustrated daily newspapers, the powerful fantasy of violent crime was greatly increased through novels.

At the same time, the criminal theme came into the visual arts. In the work of the greatest painters, Goya, Géricault, Picasso and Magritte, images of crime or capital punishment resulted in the most striking works. The cinema too was not slow to assimilate the equivocal charms of extreme violence, transformed by its representation into something pleasurable, perhaps even into sensual pleasure.

It was at the end of the 19th century that a new theory appeared purporting to establish a scientific approach to the criminal mind. This tried to demonstrate that the character traits claimed to be found in all criminals, could also be found in their physiological features. Theories like these had a great influence on painting, sculpture and photography. Finally, the violence of the crime was answered by the violence of the punishment: how can we forget the ever-present themes of the gibbet, the garrotte, the guillotine and the electric chair?

Beyond crime, there is still the perpetual problem of Evil, and beyond social circumstances, metaphysical anxiety. Art brings a spectacular answer to these questions. The aesthetic of violence and the violence of the aesthetic - this exhibition aims to bring them together through music, literature and a wide range of images.
Please note that some of the pieces presented in the exhibition may be shocking to some visitors (particularly children).

A project of

Robert Badinter

General curator

Jean Clair, Member of the Académie Française, general heritage curator


Philippe Comar, professor at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts
Laurence Madeline, curator at the Musée d'Orsay

Exhibition organized by the Musee d'Orsay public establishment

It is sponsored by:

16 March - 27 June 2010
Musée d'Orsay

Exhibition hall

Special evening function
Exhibition only
on Wednesday 23 June
Friday 25 June
and Saturday 26 June
Online booking

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