Exposition au musée

Sade. Attacking the Sun

From October 14th, 2014 to January 25th, 2015
Franz von Stuck
Judith et Holopherne, 1927
Collection particulière
© Droits réservés / DR
Charles Amédée Philippe van Loo-Portrait en buste du jeune marquis de Sade
Charles Amédée Philippe van Loo
Portrait en buste du jeune marquis de Sade, 1760-1762
Collection particulière
©Photo Thomas Hennocque © Thomas Hennocque / Thomas Hennocque

“This man who seems to have counted for nothing throughout the 19th century could well dominate the 20th century”, wrote Guillaume Apollinaire in his Introduction to the Marquis de Sade’s book , in 1909. His prophesy was all the more accurate because this work greatly influenced certain 19th century sensibilities, even though Sade and his ideas were regarded as damned.
Although their impact on literature was indisputable, from Baudelaire to Huysmans, and Flaubert, Swinburne, etc., the power of these ideas, even before Apollinaire had recognised their crucial importance, was that they had also connected with, revealed, even exacerbated what was a profound dilemma in visual expression, namely the integration of desire and the power to transform.
The exhibition aims to present this revolution in sensibilities, to look at how the 19th century became the tormented conduit of an idea, which, in leading artists to explore fantasy when depicting the body, would gradually reveal desire itself to be the great inventor of form. A revolution in sensibilities whose distinctive feature was to take account of the wildly differing directions desire had taken throughout the ages and throughout all levels of society.
In considering this diversity, one can determine to what extent Sade, from the depths of his revolt and saying what people did not want to see, would have encouraged people to show what could not be said. Thus, he presents a new challenge, the issue of the unrepresentable, linking it both to the freedom to say everything and to the liberty of the individual.

Human, Too human, Inhuman

Human, Too human, Inhuman

Edgar Degas-Scène de guerre au Moyen Age
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
Homme nu portant un adolescent nu, vers 1879
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

In declaring: “Cruelty is simply the energy in a man that civilisation has not yet altogether corrupted”, Sade was stating what the history of art has always demonstrated: this violence has been a constant subject of fascination. Except that Sade was the first to show that any pretext could be used to represent it and, at the same time, to justify it.
Which comes down to saying a crime is a crime, and, consequently, to questioning the spiritual, moral and political basis of the social structure as well as its aesthetic order, which serves to restrain and disguise the naked violence at work in this most exalted activity.
Sade will never be forgiven for this. And yet, Goya, Géricault and Delacroix would prove him right in that his ideas connected with and reinforced a process of secularising evil that was changing the nature of painting as this non-belief increased. The boundaries between human and inhuman became blurred. This shook the foundations of the visual arts.
Furthermore, by throwing light on the links between murder and bravery, martyrology and cannibalism, animality and copulation, etc., Sade emphasised the intrinsic pleasure, and revealed its sexual origin: “Ferocity is always either the complement or the means to lust”, going as far as announcing, if not precipitating, the actualisation or radicalisation of the theme of kidnapping that the 19th century would liberate from its mythological context, in order to assert a sexual violence whose criminal dimension Fussli, Degas, Cézanne and Picasso, for example, would not hesitate to depict.

Seeing in the Darkness

Seeing in the Darkness

Eugène Delacroix-Médée furieuse
Eugène Delacroix
Médée furieuse, 1838
Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts
© Photo RMN - Stéphane Marechalle © RMN-Grand Palais / Stéphane Maréchalle

"Oh what an enigma that man is! said the Duke.
— Yes my friend [...] And that perhaps was what led a very witty individual say that better every time to fuck a man than to comprehend him”.
A joke by Sade, which echoes his continual questioning of what lies so deep within man as to make him confront the unspeakable in One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom. Although it is impossible to depict such a descent, one can still link it to the curious interest at that time in anatomical representations such as the early coloured engravings (1746) of Gautier d’Agoty and Fragonard’s preparations from 1770 onwards.
It was during his trip to Italy that Sade discovered the wax anatomical figures in La Specola in Florence, and particularly the oldest one produced by Zummo, a small theatrical vignette describing the ravages of the plague, that Sade would evoke again twenty years later in his novel, Juliette.
Clearly he was fascinated both by the power of illusion that wax afforded as a medium for metamorphosis, and the fact that the majority of these mannequins could be dismantled. As these showed both the inside and outside of the body at the same time, they revealed what could not otherwise be seen without descending into criminality. If he seemed to prefer these waxworks to all the Italian masterpieces, it was because they disturbed him. “I like the arts, they excite my head” said Juliette.
Aware, well before Romanticism, of belonging to a world that was continually evolving, Sade would have no other aesthetic criterion than this shock which adds to the instability of the world, by recreating it as desire dictates.

Between Pleasure and Pain, Integrating Desire

Between Pleasure and Pain, Integrating Desire

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingre-Angélique
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingre
Angélique, vers 1819
Paris, musée du Louvre, département des peintures
Legs Paul Cosson, 1926
© Photo RMN - Stéphane Maréchalle © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) / Stéphane Maré challe

After Sade, with Sade and against Sade, the 19th century would define the darkness from which desire emerged, only to plunge back into it once again. Probably, just as Sade did not invent sadism, so the 19th century did not discover violent love, but would make it one of its major themes in dramatising the erotic, where desire began to appear as the subject in both paintings and written works.
Although, with the story ofRoger and Angélique, the character of the young captive woman is established, thanks to Ingres, as a distraught figure, her nudity becomes the symbolic blank page of flesh, on which desire will be transcribed ever more deeply.
Around fifty years after Sade’s ideas were secretly circulated, works like the The Flowers of Evil (1857), The She-Devils (1874), andThe Torture Garden (1899) appeared. Their titles alone highlight an awareness of the links between pleasure and pain, continuing what Ingres and Delacroix had been seeking in their reinterpretation of Ariosto, Dante and Shakespeare, etc.
As Sade’s ideas pervaded the century, ferocity was increasingly shared equally between the two sexes. The fantasy of the headless woman, ruthlessly explored by Kubin, prompted a return in force to images of Judith. While Rodin’s image of The Torture Gardenmade blood the colour of love, works by Ingres, Masson and Gustave Moreau reveal Sade’s certainty that “There is not a living man who does not wish to play the despot when he is stiff”.

An Unprecedented Inversion of Perspective

An Unprecedented Inversion of Perspective

Hans Bellmer-La Poupée
Hans Bellmer
La Poupée, 1935
New York, Ubu Gallery & Berlin, Galerie Berinson
© ADAGP, Paris © Ubu Gallery, New York & Galerie Berinson, Berlin. Photo Joelle Jensen

When Sade asserted his “way of thinking”, beginning with what distinguished him from other men, the boundaries shifted dramatically. Unlike the philosophers of the Enlightenment, whose ideas focused above all on what could unite men, Sade invented an “upside down world” determined by the single law of a desire endlessly deconstructing and reconstructing bodies, so that they are carried away in the turbulence of their erotic evolution.
This, paradoxically, had been illustrated for a long time, and would continue to be illustrated, in the secrecy of the studio, by a long line of painters, from Dürer to Marcel Duchamp, including Ingres and Degas, who were particularly keen to capture a constantly reinvented image of the body in attitudes of love. This continued to the extent that what had started as a study of the nude would often evolve into this depiction of desire, which would occasionally become the monstrous expression of sexual crimes in visual dramatisations.
From its earliest days, photographic snapshots would help capture the intoxicating nature of this inverted perspective.
At the same time, like a distant reflection of Sade’s radical idea, the resurgence of the figure of Salomé indicates the ever more prevalent dream in the late 19th century that the world and its representations would become more erotic.
Picasso was to establish himself is the great initiator of this when he became a close friend of Apollinaire, “the inventor” of Sade.

Every Man has his Obsession

Every Man has his Obsession

Marguerite Burnat-Provins-La Luxure
Marguerite Burnat-Provins
La Luxure, 1930
Lausanne, collection de l'Art brut
© Droits réservés © Sarah Baehler, Atelier de numérisation ?R Ville de Lausanne. Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne"

In reality, this total eroticisation of the world had always been the preserve of the passionate, the obsessed, the perverted, etc., of almost everyone in fact, depending on the circumstances. In rejecting all other possibilities, eroticisation verged on a sort of profanation. A profanation which would always be that of the Unique against the great majority, and which, in Sade’s hands, could lead to the intolerable darkness ofOne Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom (1785) or could be confused with the insolent playfulness of Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795). During the ten years that separated these two works, Sade, moving from the absolute solitude of eleven years in prison to the tumult of the revolutionary period, pursued the full spectrum of indiscriminate amorous experiences. He revealed, early on, the other side of sex that, against all expectations, would be shared by the two divergent concepts of singularity invented in the 19th century: Fourier’s Utopia and Dandyism, later to be joined by Max Stirner’s idea, however irreducible, of the The Ego and its Own.

Absolutely Atheist

Absolutely Atheist

Paul Cézanne-La Tentation de Saint Antoine
Paul Cézanne
La tentation de saint Antoine, vers 1877
Musée d'Orsay
Collection Eugène Murer
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
See the notice of the artwork

"The idea of God is the sole wrong for which I cannot forgive mankind”. Sade not only insisted on proclaiming this, but unlike other atheists of his time, accepted all the consequences this brought. “He does not care whether these consequences subvert prejudice, accepted ideas, social conventions or the principles of morality.
He not only states, whenever he can, that God does not exist; he constantly thinks and acts accordingly, and is prepared to put it to the test and die as a result”. (Maurice Heine). But even though, in 1782, he completed, while in prison, the Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man, the increasing absence of religion, just like the liberalisation of society, led to a multitude of licentious engravings along with pre-revolutionary imagery, where the boundaries between licentiousness and freedom became increasingly blurred.
This provoked an anticlericalism as savage as Sade’s, asserting itself with pan-sexual exuberance throughout the 19th century.
However, at a deeper level, as artists such as Goya often demonstrated, Sade sought to uncover the origin of the idea of God, of religious belief that requires infinite servitude, which he saw as the source of every form of submission, and above all submission to laws that, in his view, only served to repress passion. The whole social order was then called into question, heralding Daumier in its ferocity. And even, before Victor Hugo, the death penalty would have no fiercer adversary than Sade: “Of all the laws, the most terrible is clearly that which condemns a man to death".

Desire as a Principle of Excess

Desire as a Principle of Excess

Eugène Delacroix-Mort de Sardanapale (esquisse)
Eugène Delacroix
Mort de Sardanapale (esquisse), 1826
Paris, musée du Louvre, département des peintures
Legs comtesse Paul de Salvandy, née Eugénie Rivet, 1925
© Photo RMN Jean-Gilles Berizzi © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

"Everything is good when it is excessive”, said Sade over and over again. We would be mistaken, however, in seeing this as just an enthusiasm for quantity, which in the 19th century was to characterise some of the licentious imagery, influenced by the industrial revolution and the advances in mechanical reproduction. Sade was never satisfied with this single quantitative aspect of excess. In his opinion, quantity is nothing more than euphoria or illusion if it does not allow us to distinguish the singularity of desire: “If we have not said and analysed everything, how can you expect us to guess what suits you?” he states at the beginning of One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom. It is only by focusing this singularity that we may attain that supreme power which has constantly to be recaptured against a background of nothingness: “My passions, concentrated on a single point, resemble the rays of a sun assembled by a magnifying glass: they immediately set fire to whatever object they find in their way”, explains one of Juliette’s friends.
It is worth noting that in The Death of Sardanapalus (1827) with his enormous bed adrift on the storm of his passions, Delacroix seems to evoke that which both gives structure to Sade’s universe and destroys it. The 19th century skirted around this hotbed of passion in a thousand and one ways. Not only corroborating, after Sade, what links desire and imagination in a reciprocal dynamic of excess, but also heralding the struggle between the lyrical and the mechanical, when the machine, supposedly mastering the intoxication of passion, generates its own emotional intoxication, from the wheel ofIxion to the celibate machines filled with passion for the next Eve. The modern era was born from this confrontation with itself, which became the catalyst for Surrealism, and drove desire to reinvent beings and things.

The First Physical Awareness of the Infinite

The First Physical Awareness of the Infinite

Pierre-Jacques Volaire-Eruption du Vésuve
Pierre-Jacques Volaire
Eruption du Vésuve, 1785
Toulon, musée d'Art
© Photo RMN - Jean-Pierre Lagiewski © RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Pierre Lagiewski

"One day, while observing Etna spewing flames from its core, I wanted to be that famous volcano ". It is of course one of Sade’s characters speaking, but the fact that, on several occasions, from the depths of the Bastille, Sade invoked this image of the volcano, expresses the symbolic power it gave him.
He recognised this as a force comparable with that of his imagination, which, with One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom, made the prison implode, transforming it into a fortress of desire. In other words Sade could transform it into a new space in his mind, where the infinite was no longer sought in heaven but in the hidden depths of one’s being, through which he could occupy imaginary spaces, like those of Monsu Desiderio and Piranesi, where desire has long since reinvented the world, shaking up the history of painting, even if only marginally.
Thus, the whole of reality is put at risk. It is by taking the world’s excesses as his only measure that Sade gives a stable physical basis to his conviction that “man’s entire happiness lies in his imagination", when this prolongs and intensifies a desire that continually explores the boundaries between what we are and what we are not.
In 1923, Robert Desnos commented that Sade was the first to "consider love and its acts from the point of view of the infinite". This is the source of torment for his great libertines who are worried they will never achieve the sublime point of this unreality of desire, appropriating reality to the point of transforming what they see into what could be. What Sade is prefiguring here would haunt modernity, especially as few would have the rigour of his determinedly atheist view, where the desire for the infinite blends into the infinity of desire.

Chronology

Chronology

1740
2 June: born in Paris.
Spends childhood, from 4 to 10, in the Comtat-Venaissin region.
1750
Educated at the Collège Louis-le-Grand and by a private tutor.
1757
Joins the Carabiniers of the Comte de Provence.
Seven Years’ War.
1763
Demobilisation.
Marries Renée-Pélagie de Montreuil.
Spends 15 days in prison for "excessive debauchery” in a petite maison (house of assignation), aggravated by "dreadful impiousness".
1765-1766
Public affairs with actresses and dancers
1768
Imprisoned for 7 months in Pierre-Encise for flagellation and blasphemy, which became known as the Rose Keller scandal.
Placed under house arrest in his castle, the Château de La Coste. Parties and balls.
1772
Scandal of the four prostitutes from Marseille.
Sade and his valet, accused of poisoning and sodomy, are condemned to death in absentia.
Flees to Italy with his young sister-in-law.
Arrested in Chambéry on his return and imprisoned in the Fortress of Miolans in Savoie.
1773
Escapes from Miolans.
1774
Lies low in the Château de La Coste.
1775
Scandal of the five girls from Vienne and Lyon, whom Sade is accused of “abducting”.
Flees to Italy once again.
1777
Returns to Paris. Death of his mother.
Arrested and detained in the Château de Vincennes prison.
1778
The verdict delivered in Aix is quashed.
Escapes to Valence.
Recaptured at La Coste and imprisoned again in Vincennes.
1782
Finishes Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man.
1784
Transferred to the Bastille
1785
22 October-28 November, final revision of One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom.
1788
WritesEugénie de Franval and The Misfortunes of Virtue.
1789
Probable final revision of Aline and Valcour.
Transferred to Charenton on the night of the 3 - 4 July, for inciting, from his window, the population of the Faubourg Saint Antoine in Paris to free the prisoners in the Bastille.
Storming of the Bastille, his personal belongings and papers are plundered. He is convinced that the manuscript of One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom is lost for good.
1790
Constituent Assembly decree abolishes lettres de cachet: Sade is freed on 2 April.
Madame de Sade no longer wants to see him.
Their separation is announced 9 June.
1 July: Becomes an "active citizen" in the newly formed Piques Section.
Begins an affair with Marie-Constance Quesnet, who will stay with him for the rest of his life.
1791
Clandestine publication of Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue .
22 October: first performance of his play Oxtiern.
1792
Member of the Piques Section.
Writes several political pamphlets.
1793
Grand juror, then President of the Piques Section.
8 December: arbitrary arrest and imprisonment in Madelonettes.
1794
Imprisoned in the Carmes and Saint-Lazare prisons, and in the Picpus asylum. Condemned to death, then freed after Thermidor on 15 October.
1795
Clandestine publication of Philosophy in the Boudoir, official publication ofAline and Valcour, or The Philosophical Novel.,
1797
Clandestine publication of The New Justine, and Juliette.,
1799
Revival ofOxtiern in Versailles where Sade lives in straitened circumstances, and acts in his own play.
1800
Official publication ofOxtiern and The Crimes of Love.
1801
6 March: arrested at the office of his publisher Massé.
Seizure of an edition of Justine and Juliette. Interned in Sainte-Pélagie as the author of the "odious novel of Justine and Juliette, “an even more dreadful novel", then transferred to Bicêtre.
1803
His family succeed in having him detained at the Charenton asylum. From June 1803 to March 1804, he writes his Literary Notes .
1805
Organises shows with the inmates of the asylum.
These are a great success and attract audiences from Paris.
1807
Writes The Days of Florbelle.
5 June, his manuscripts are seized from his room.
1810
7 July: death of Madame de Sade.
1811
After interventions by Royer-Collard, the Chief Physician at Charenton, Sade’s drama activities stop.
1812
Begins a relationship with a young laundress, Magdeleine Leclerc.
1813
Official publication of La Marquise de Ganges.
1814
2 December: dies at Charenton.