Exhibition at the museum

Cinema at last! Arts, images and entertainment in France (1833-1907)

From September 28th, 2021 to January 16th, 2022 -
Musée d'Orsay
Esplanade Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
75007 Paris
Map & itinerary
Henri Rivière
Un couple rentrant dans un bâtiment public, entre 1885 et 1895
Musée d'Orsay
Achat, 1987
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
See the notice of the artwork
At the dawn of the twentieth century, cinema was just as much, if not more, a way of appropriating the world, bodies and representations, as it was a machine or a medium. A new eminently social and popular perspective, cinema was the product of an urban culture fascinated by the movement of people and things and eager to find a way to make “modernity” something to be seen and experienced.

Yet it did not represent a new and sudden rupture or violent revolution – minds and bodies had been largely prepared for this medium’s arrival. The first projections of “animated photographs” by the Lumière brothers in Paris in 1895 were indeed the latest in a long succession of visual devices and attractions (from panoramas to wax museums, mortuaries, aquariums and fairs) that culminated in the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris. The fruit of a tradition of the circulation of images, these first films, still imperfect, were also the heirs of multiple practices, be they artistic or scientific, intellectual or popular. Many were the proposals or questions formulated by the artists of the 19th century that preceded their advent, first and foremost the fantasy of the idea of “integral realism” - which cinema extends, recycles, questions, and soon surpasses. In these, the evidence of the mobility of the world or the passage of time is questioned and analyzed through the prism of certain cultural topoi, such as the agitation of the city or the perpetual ebb and flow of the waves. In this sense, Jean-Luc Godard was right to remind us that cinema was invented by the nineteenth century.

Rather than seeking to present a chronology of inventions, the exhibition Bring on the cinema! is deliberately synchronic and thematic. It brings French film production from the years 1895-1907 into dialogue with the history of the arts, from the invention of photography to the early years of the 20th century, through a few major themes such as the fascination for the spectacle of the city, the wish to record the rhythms of nature, the desire to test and exhibit bodies, the dream of a reality “augmented” by the return of color, sound, and depth, or by immersion, and finally the taste for history. This ended around 1906-1907, when the duration of films became longer, screenings became more sedentary in theaters, and the discourses around these practices became institutionalized. That was when cinematography became the cinema, both a place and a mass leisure activity.

The exhibition brings together nearly 300 works, objects and films, both anonymous and by names well known to the general public, from Pierre Bonnard to Auguste Rodin, including Gustave Caillebotte, Loïe Fuller, Léon Gaumont, Jean Léon Gérôme, Alice Guy, Auguste and Louis Lumière, Jules Etienne Marey, Georges Méliès, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Charles Pathé and Henri Rivière.

The exhibition is now over.

See the whole program