Musée Marmottan Monet celebrates the 150th anniversary of Monet's 'Impression, soleil levant'

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Musée Marmottan Monet celebrates the 150th anniversary of Monet's 'Impression, soleil levant'
Camille Pissarro Bazincourt, effet de neige. Coucher du soleil, 1892, Oil on canvas, 32 x 41 cm, Hasso Platner Collection.

PARIS.- On 13 November 1872, from the window of his hotel in Le Havre, Claude Monet painted a view of the port through the mist. Exhibited two years later under the title Impression, soleil levant [Impression, Sunrise] (1872, Paris, Musée Marmottan Monet), the work inspired critic Louis Leroy to coin the term “Impressionist”, thus giving a name to the group formed by Monet and his friends.

In 2022, the Musée Marmottan Monet celebrates the 150th anniversary of the centrepiece of its collections, Impression, soleil levant [Impression, Sunrise] and pays tribute to it through the exhibition Facing the Sun: The Celestial Body in the Arts from 21 September 2022 to 29 January 2023.

Albrecht Dürer, Luca Giordano, Pierre-Paul Rubens, Claude Gellée known as “Le Lorrain”, Joseph Vernet, Mallord William Turner, Gaspar David Friedrich, Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, Camille Pissarro, Paul Signac, André Derain, Maurice Denis, Félix Vallotton, Laurits Tuxen, Edvard Munch, Otto Dix, Otto Freundlich, Sonia Delaunay, Wladimir Baranov-Rossiné, Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Otto Piene, Gérard Fromanger, and Vicky Colombet are just some of the masters featured in this exhibition, in honour of the most illustrious sunrise ever known in art history.

With almost one hundred works, coming from fifty-three lenders, this exhibition retraces the history of the representation of the sun in the arts from antiquity to the present day. A unique ensemble of drawings, paintings, photographs, and measuring instruments from the Paris Observatory, illustrate the developments in astronomy over the centuries, in resonance with the Press Kit evolution of landscape and atmospheric painting.

Early depictions of the sun as a red orb by the Egyptians, as a male figure called Helios, Apollo, and Phoebus by the Greeks, and as a sun-god in Ancient Rome—the incarnation of an essential vital impetus—open the exhibition. An ivory plate, precious illuminations, and some remarkable tarot cards, are followed by paintings from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, where viewers are presented with an alternative type of sun. Once monotheism reigned in the Christian West, this celestial body lost its importance. The sun was no longer a creator, but the creation of a god in the likeness of man (cf. The Holy Bible, The Creation of the Sky and the Moon). The representation of the sun, reduced to a circle with a human face, became rare and, with its complement the moon, formed the backdrop to certain illustrations, such as that of the crucifixion (Anonymous, Master of Valencia, Crucifixion, 1450/1460, Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, Madrid).

The falls of Icarus and Phaeton portrayed in the 17th century by the Italian Saraceni (Capodimonte Museum, Naples) and Dutchman Goltzius (BNF, Paris), and in the 18th century by Frenchman Henri-Antoine de Favanne (Musée des beaux-arts, Tours) bear witness to the durability of the mythological themes that had become the prerogative of leading sovereigns, such as the Sun King, Louis XIV. The French monarch had a sunrise with the chariot of Apollo (Le lever du Soleil, Charles de La Fosse, Musée des beaux-arts, Rouen) painted as a decoration for his apartments at Versailles. This same monarch founded the Observatoire Astronomique de Paris in 1667, which would become an important centre of scientific research. In fact, the figure of the astronomer proliferated after Copernicus’s discoveries, and can be seen in this exhibition in a painting by Luca Giordano (Musée des beaux-arts, Chambéry). By demonstrating that the earth turned on its own axis and around the sun (and not the other way around), the astronomer was at the origin of a veritable revolution that had similar repercussions on the arts. The desire to represent the world as it really was found an echo in the emergence and development of landscape painting. The theme of nature bathed in the light of the sun, with sunrises and sunsets, also appeared. The works of Pierre-Paul Rubens (Musée du Louvre, Paris), Claude Gellée known as Le Lorrain (Musée du Louvre, Paris), Joseph Vernet (Dulwich Picture Gallery, London), William Turner, Caspar David Friedrich, Gustave Courbet, and Eugène Boudin all depict this evolution, of which Monet’s Impression, soleil levant is one of the leading examples.

The years 1880-1914 marked a new stage. In addition to the science of observation that was astronomy, came astrophysics, which now made it possible to study the physical nature of celestial bodies. These major scientific developments, widely reported in the press of the day, resulted in increasing knowledge of the sun, whose chemical composition was now known. Thus, the sun became a subject of study in its own right and a theme in itself for many artists, who no longer painted just a landscape dominated in the distance by the sun, but the actual sun itself, even in the smallest of compositions. Each artistic movement offered its own distinct vision of the celestial body: naturalist and harmonious for Nordic painters Valdemar Schønheyder Møller, Laurits Tuxen, Anna Ancher; symbolist for Félix Vallotton; and poetic for Fauvist artist André Derain, the Orphist Delaunay, and Futurist Wladimir Baranov-Rossiné. It was depicted in an expressionist, even tragic vein by Albert Trachsel, Otto Dix, and Edvard Munch...

Circa 1920, there was yet another revolution: Einstein’s theory of general relativity established that the universe was in perpetual expansion, and disrupted this artistic confrontation with the sun.

The poetic constellations of Miró and the mobiles by Calder reflect this expansion of space. In this immensity that is perpetually growing, the sun was now nothing more than a modest star, albeit still dazzling in Richard Warren Poussette-Dart’s work, or destined to disappear in Piene’s. Gérard Fromanger’s L’Impression soleil levant, 2019 reflects this change, by renewing from space, the point of view offered by Monet one hundred-and-fifty years previously. This piece by Fromanger closes the exhibition.

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