Paintings from Afar
For this initial exhibition devoted to the painting collection at the quai Branly, Paintings from Distant Lands brings together nearly two hundred canvases and graphic works selected from among the five hundred works in the entire collection and dating from the late 18th century to the mid-20th century.
A composite and largely unknown collection, where Ange Tissier's odalisque sits alongside portraits of American Indians by George Catlin, and scenes of day-to-day life in Cairo by Émile Bernard stand shoulder to shoulder with prints and drawings of Tahiti by Matisse and Gauguin.
This collection also tells the story of an encounter with the Other and the Elsewhere, questioning the evolution of the artistic perspective of the unknown. In a rapidly expanding colonial Europe, Western art takes different paths when faced with the shock of a world that welcomes it in, first succumbing to the temptation of exoticism, where the exaltation of colour and light fuels dreams of a luxurious and exquisite Eastern world, before later coming to represent a more realistic, ethnographic perspective that is mindful of the Other.
From oneirism and naturalism, fantasy to documentary and romanticism to colonial propaganda, what we have here is a reflection of artistic and political history.
(François-Auguste Biard, Two Indians in a dugout, circa 1860 (Amazon, Brazil), © musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, Photo: Enguerran Ouvray)