Exhibition at the museum

Louis Janmot
The Poem of the Soul

From September 12th, 2023 to January 07th, 2024 -
Musée d'Orsay
Temporary Exhibition Area
Seine Gallery, level 0
Map & itinerary
Louis Janmot (1814 1892)
Le Poème de l'âme. L’idéal, vers 1850 - 1854
Lyon, musée des Beaux-Arts
© Lyon, musée des Beaux-Arts / Alain Basset
Begun in Rome in 1835 and completed in 1881, The Poem of the Soul is the crowning achievement of the Lyonese artist Louis Janmot (1814-1892), a pictorial and literary work all in one. In 34 compositions accompanied by a long poem, it illustrates a soul’s initiatory journey on Earth. Comprising two cycles respectively composed of 18 paintings and 16 large-format drawings, Henri Focillon, director of Lyon Museum of Fine Arts from 1913 to 1924, described it as “Romantic spiritualism’s most remarkable, most coherent and strangest ensemble”.

Janmot, painter of the soul, was unlike any other artist of his day, yet his work echoes that of a number of other artists, including William Blake, Philipp Otto Runge and Francisco de Goya before him, his contemporaries the Pre-Raphaelites, and, later, the symbolists, Odilon Redon in particular, who was in contact with him. The exhibition situates The Poem of the Soul and its creator at the crossroads of references, influences and movements that are as much literary, religious and philosophical as they are artistic.


The first cycle, completed in 1854, illustrates a soul’s first years in Heaven and on Earth, its protagonist depicted as a young boy and accompanied by a young girl. We follow each stage of their journey and the mishaps that befall them along the way, from the boy’s birth to the young woman’s untimely death. Théophile Gautier and Baudelaire were drawn to these canvases when they were exhibited at the 1855 Universal Exhibition on Delacroix’s recommendation. Completed in 1881, the second cycle tells how the boy, now alone, is confronted with the human soul’s temptations and misfortunes. A poem by Janmot, 2,814 verses long and titled L’Âme (The Soul), accompanies the works. It reinforces their meaning and is indissociable from them. Together, they form a hybrid creation, both literary and pictorial, inviting visitors to contemplate, listen, and make their own journeys.


The exhibition will enable them to discover The Poem of the Soul in its entirety. Although the first cycle is exhibited as part of the Lyon Museum of Fine Arts’ permanent itinerary, the second, more fragile cycle is very rarely shown. Like the Poem of the Soul’s protagonists, the public will be led to explore the mysteries these images harbor, as they make their way, step by step, on their own initiatory journey through these works. The exhibition will present the two modes of expression, visual and textual alongside each other. Visitors will be able to hear the poem while contemplating the pictures.


The exhibition is organized by the Public Establishment of the Orsay and Orangerie Museums in Paris, with the scientific collaboration of and exceptional loans from the Lyon Museum of Fine Arts.

The exhibition is now over.

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Exhibition artworks