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Around Eugène Boudin's studies of the sky, tributes and digressions


The Musée Malraux looks up at the clouds with a special exhibition bringing together nearly 200 works by 83 artists.

PIERRE ET GILLES L’Ange blessé 1990 (The injured angel) Color photograph enhanced by paint,
78.5 x 56.5 cm Carquefou, Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain des Pays de la Loire
© Pierre et Gilles – © photo Bernard Renoux, Nantes



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The exhibition which is inspired by Baudelaire - the name given to the exhibit is actually a quotation from the poem entitled The Stranger from Spleen in Paris - reflects on the future of the photographic iconography of clouds, from the middle of the XIXth century to our day. Its genesis can be found in the museum’s permanent funds, with a magnificent collection of nearly 300 works by Eugène Boudin, of which some twenty studies of skies.
Exceptional loans from the MUSEE D'ORSAY not only enrich the exhibition, but also contribute to its objective.
Additionally, the museum offers another exhibition on the theme of clouds. Its itinerary allows the visitor to reread the works from the old schools in a new perspective while paintings from the last century close the exhibit.

In the pursuit of clouds

The first part of the exhibition examines the way photography in the XIXth century conquered this subject. Indeed, as of the middle of that century, while Boudin was meticulously writing down in his studies the slightest variations in the atmosphere, photographers, in face of these same clouds, invented all sorts of tricks to try to capture the elusive values. The skies, first evaded or overexposed and the object of photos taken separately, were then brought back into the landscapes at the moment of printing the photos. This naturalist approach of the subject is illustrated by a selection of works by Boudin, to which are associated a choice of early photographs by Charles Marville, Charles Nègre, Gustave Le Gray, as well as heirs of the realistic landscape painting tradition such as Félix Thiollier and the pictorial artists Hans Watzek, James Craig Annan, among others…

Illustration: Eugène BOUDIN, Study of the sky Around 1885-1895. Oil on wood. 38 x 46 cm. Le Havre, musée Malraux © Florian Kleinefenn

The airplane saved the artist

The second part underlines the contemporary extensions of the conquests made by the photographers of the XIXth century. It takes into consideration their repeated attempts to try to get as close as possible to clouds, whether by rising to the mountain summits such as Léon Gimpel or else when technologic progress lifted the men above them, either in an airship or in a plane (Alfred Stieglitz). But this objective eye would soon drift significantly towards a formalist approach on clouds considered as a totally unique «object-matter» and which is illustrated by the research done by Alfred Stieglitz, leading to his famous series of the «Equivalents».

Clouds were reinterpreted

The last part of the exhibition focuses more specifically on the indispensable «figures» of a new iconography of clouds: the solitary cloud, the black cloud, the low and heavy sky, to the point of defining a real typology. As the cloud has been de-mystified, it has allowed contemporary artists such as Gilbert Garcin to freely carry out fun-filled, poetical experiments around it. Vik Muniz and François Méchain dissect its anthropomorphic forms. Typically ironic Pierre et Gilles people clouds that are post-modernist rather than spiritual, with ambiguous, angelical figures.

Illustration: Véronique ELLENA, The Grande-Motte, the pier, 2006
Color photograph under mat diasec glued on aluminum 31,5 x 39,5 cm
Courtesy galerie Alain Gutharc, Paris © Véronique Ellena


Catalogue directed by Annette Haudiquet, Marc Donnadieu and Jean-Pierre Mélot. Editions Somogy, 176 p., 150 ill., 25 €.

This exhibition is presented in association with le Frac Haute-Normandie

To see more illustrations, click on VERSION FRANCAISE at the top of this page