Accrochage

Family Albums : Figures of Intimacy

From November 11th, 2003 to February 15th, 2004
Achille Bonnuit
Groupe de cinq femmes dans le jardin, vers 1865
Musée d'Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
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Charles Hugo, Auguste Vacquerie-Groupe de personnages avec la famille Hugo dans le jardin de Hauteville House
Alexandre (fils) Leballeur-Villiers Charles, Auzou, Charles Hugo, Auguste Vacquerie
Groupe de personnages avec la famille Hugo dans le jardin de Hauteville House, vers 1860
Musée d'Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
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"How pretty these groups of babies, children, of foolish and beautiful youth forgetting for a time the constraints of cities! And the chatting under multicoloured tents, flirting by discreet cabins; donkey races, feats of bathing, excursions at sea..." E. Giard, Le Livre d'or de la photographie, 1902, Paris, C. Mendel.
A new genre
In counterpoint to the Edouard Vuillard exhibition at the Galeries Nationales du Grand-Palais that presents for the first time photographs by the painter - who qualified himself as an "explorer of everyday life" -, the Musée d'Orsay organises a presentation of its collection of photographs focusing on family albums. A new genre of representation, testifying to family links of affection, appears in the mid-nineteenth century: the family album. The photographer, often a close relative, reproduces the image of the family as one likes to see it, recording happy occasions, celebrations, births, trips and holidays that the album retains in its pages to make them eternal.

Pierre Bonnard-Jean et Charles tenant un polichinelle
Pierre Bonnard
Jean et Charles tenant un polichinelle, entre 1899 et 1900
Musée d'Orsay
Donation sous réserve d'usufruit de l'indivision Terrasse, 1992
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / image RMN-GP
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The joyful moments form the figures of a preserved, but also emphasised, intimacy. The family album, composed at the end of the century by numerous bourgeois and aristocrats, protects this intimacy and stages it for future generations to look at. This exhibition displays all current photographic techniques, from the daguerreotypes of the early albums to Bonnard's and Vuillard's Kodak, down to Clémentel's autochromes, providing an opportunity to discover the collection of the Musée d'Orsay from all these different aspects.

Emile Zola-Denise de face portant une poupée
Emile Zola
Denise de face portant une poupée, entre 1900 et 1902
Musée d'Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Alexis Brandt
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An exceptional collection
The Musée d'Orsay collection is quite remarkable: family albums and photographs acquired for the museum are of an exceptional quality. Including shots taken or collected in the circles of famous artists, sometimes by the artists themselves, they show in a touching way the intimate side of famous people, from Victor Hugo to Emile Zola, from Jean-François Millet to Pierre Bonnard.
Skilfully composed, often staged, these pictures also permit an exploration of the aesthetic qualities of the genre.

Achille Bonnuit-La tapisserie
Achille Bonnuit
La tapisserie, vers 1860
Musée d'Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
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This is particularly so in the case of several series made in France and in England in the 1860's, such as the album of the Elisa Le Gray collection, which used to belong to a family of artists of the Manufacture de Sèvres, in which the influence of contemporary artists mingled with the representation of loved ones. These women in their gardens with their elaborate dresses, smiling and joyous in front of Achille Bonnuit's lens, evoke those of Monet.

Lewis Carroll-La famille Terry : le père et la mère assis, encadrant Ellen Terry, quatre de ses soeurs et son petit frère
Lewis Carroll
La famille Terry : le père et la mère assis, encadrant Ellen Terry, quatre de ses soeurs et son petit frère, en 1865
Musée d'Orsay
1988
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
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At the same time, Lewis Carroll took several photographs of the Terry family. Mixing literary and historical references with the sweetness and charm of fraternal affections, Carroll's pictures staged the intimate links of a family of Victorian England. Likewise, Lady Hawarden composed portraits of her daughters and close relatives, in which languid young girls wearing ample dresses display faces more revealing perhaps of their secret traits than would a more conventional pose.

Anonyme-Goûter dans le jardin, Album de photographies de famille russe, Fol.11, recto
Anonyme
Goûter dans le jardin, Album de photographies de famille russe, Fol.11, recto, en 1888
Musée d'Orsay
Don de Monsieur Pierre Ennès à la mémoire de son père, 1985
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
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An enduring family model
The end of the century is marked by the multiplication of family albums with the simplification of photographic processes. Those of the history painters Popelin, of the fabulously rich family Menier, of the Vaudoyers and of the painter Delaherche show how these families of the upper and petty bourgeoisie lived their lives, writing its story shut between the pages of an album destined to preserve their memory. Happy moments are repeated and renewed; summer after summer, in the same garden, that of the family property, children smile and mess around in front of the camera.

Anonyme-Petite fille et deux chiens sous la neige, Russie, Album de photographies de famille russe, Fol.15, recto
Anonyme
Petite fille et deux chiens sous la neige, Russie, Album de photographies de famille russe, Fol.15, recto, en 1887
Musée d'Orsay
Don de Monsieur Pierre Ennès à la mémoire de son père, 1985
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Alexis Brandt
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These are reminiscent of Les Vacances by the Comtesse de Ségur, a favourite book for these generations, and they are repeated with a happiness already tainted with nostalgia. Had she been born a little later, Sophie Rostopschine might have seen her childhood in Moscow photographed.
The album of a Russian family, attributed to Smoroscky, evokes the happy, but already tainted with regrets, life of Russian landowners in the 1880's, similar to that described by Tchékov in his short stories and plays, from scalding summers in the shadow of the trees surrounding the family dacha to the tough winters, during which snow invades everything. Emotion is aroused by these joyful moments, often similar, testifying to family models that still endure today.

Pierre Bonnard-Pierre Bonnard au bord d'un bassin jouant avec Renée
Pierre Bonnard
Pierre Bonnard au bord d'un bassin jouant avec Renée, en 1899
Musée d'Orsay
Donation sous réserve d'usufruit de l'indivision Terrasse, 1992
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Alexis Brandt
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Gabriel Loppé, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, photographers of intimacy
These figures of intimacy find their apex with three painters and photographers whose work is nourished by their very family life, with its joys and its chores. Those of the painter Gabriel Loppé and those, better known, of Pierre Bonnard are presented in the Musée d'Orsay.

Gabriel Loppé-Les amusements sur la terrasse, Embrun, avril 1891
Gabriel Loppé
Les amusements sur la terrasse, Embrun, avril 1891, en 1891
Musée d'Orsay
Don de la Société des amis du Musée d'Orsay, 1989
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
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In front of the two artists' cameras, the noisy and joyful games of their close relatives resound, seized in their very vitality. With his talent for capturing the fleeting moment and composing the picture, Bonnard immortalised the summer hubbub of the Terrasse family. The intimacy of these instants revealed thanks to the painter acquired a new dimension. Bonnard's lens gave these moments a timeless element, beyond any contingence.