From 12 September 2023 to 7 January 2024, the Musée d'Orsay is organising a major exhibition devoted to the painter Louis Janmot and Le Poème de l'âme (Poem of the Soul), his major work.
Begun in Rome in 1835 by Lyon artist Louis Janmot (1814-1892) and continued until 1881, Le Poème de l'âme is the project of a lifetime, both pictorial and literary. Preserved in its entirety at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, it illustrates in 34 compositions the initiatory journey of a soul on Earth. Comprising two cycles of 18 oil-on-canvas paintings and 16 charcoal drawings, it was described by Henri Focillon as "the most remarkable, coherent and strange work of Romantic spiritualism". A long poem of 2,814 lines, entitled L'Âme, accompanies these works.
Louis Janmot, Chute fatale (Fatal Fall) © Lyon MBA - Photo Alain Basset
This exhibition presents Le Poème de l'âme in its entirety. While the first cycle is exhibited in the permanent collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, the second, more fragile cycle is rarely shown. Following in the footsteps of the protagonists of Poème de l'âme, the public will be invited to explore the mysteries concealed in these images, as they take a step-by-step stroll, an 'initiatory journey' through the themes of the soul, the feminine ideal, landscape, nightmare and the unconscious. The exhibition will seek to bring together visual and textual modes of expression. Visitors will be able to hear the poem while contemplating the paintings.
The exhibition is the fruit of a partnership between two major French museums, curated by Stéphane Paccoud, Curator at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, and Servane Dargnies de Vitry, Curator of Paintings at the Musée d'Orsay.
Louis Janmot, Rayons de soleil (Sunbeams) © Lyon MBA - Photo Alain Basset
The Fondation Etrillard attaches great importance to rediscovering works, artistic movements and musical repertoires that are little known to the public. The exhibition Louis Janmot, le Poème de l'âme is perfectly in keeping with this mission, bringing to light the work of a little-known painter, a body of work that deserved a major retrospective. In an interdisciplinary approach so dear to the Foundation, it builds bridges in a sensitive and unprecedented way between the different arts, in this case poetry, music, drawing, sculpture and painting.
The theme of the exhibition is reminiscent of the work of Clara Lespessailles, the winner of our "Arts of the Past/Arts of the Present" doctoral research grant: this student at the École du Louvre is devoting her thesis to primitivism among Ingres' students between 1830 and 1860. She was invited to take part in the November study day organised in Lyon as part of the Musée d'Orsay exhibition.
View of the exhibition © Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Crepy