Debussy, la musique et les arts


Painting, sound - music

Debussy, la musique et les arts

Past: February 22 → June 11, 2012

Of the early 20th century composers, Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was without doubt the one who found his greatest inspiration in the visual arts and the poetry of his time:

“I love pictures almost as much as I love music.”

Claude Debussy 1911.

Right from the beginning he took an interest in the most innovative artists, in those who had distanced themselves from rigidly traditional Academic styles: Degas, Whistler, Turner, Redon and Camille Claudel.

The exhibition aims to evoke the composer’s main encounters with the performers, painters and poets of his time. One section will be devoted to his stage works, recalling his collaborations with the playwright Maeterlinck, the poet D’Annunzio and set designer Léon Bakst, while the society and visual arts of the 1890s encountered by Debussy are brought to life through the collections of three family friends who supported him in the difficult years before Pelléas and Mélisande: those of the painter Henry Lerolle (1848-1929), the composer Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) and the Councillor of State, Arthur Fontaine (1860-1931).

It was in their homes, and at Mallarmé’s Tuesdays, that the composer met Odilon Redon and Edgar Degas, and became familiar with the works of the most talented painters of the time. The documents, along with several of Debussy’s scores and manuscripts, will not merely punctuate a monographic exhibition but will be placed in the broader context of the collective imagination and representations of the period that saw the creation of the composer’s masterpieces. Debussy’s intellectual and artistic world that was so receptive to new ideas, from the influence of Rossetti’s English Pre-Raphaelite movement with La Damoiselle élue (The Blessed Damozel) to the contemporary theatre, will be evoked in terms of “equivalence” of feeling, as conceived by the painter Maurice Denis who collaborated with Debussy.

The aim of the exhibition is therefore to show the fundamental correspondence between Debussy’s stylistic innovations and the musicality of the Symbolists’ plastic forms transformed by the same desire to bring closer the ineffable nature of the inner worlds of the spirit and of feelings. The resonances between Debussy’s music and ambitious paintings like Cross’s The Evening Air (L’Air du soir), Vuillard’s decorative panels or even the landscapes of Munch and Klimt, will offer the visitor a genuine experience of synaesthesia, essential to an understanding of the composer’s sensibilities and of the arts at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The connection with Claude Monet’s cycle of paintings Water Lilies (Nymphéas) at the muse de l’Orangerie, where musical extracts will be played regularly throughout the day, is a magnificent link between the exhibition and its setting.

Exhibition organised by the Musée d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie, Paris, in collaboration with the Bridgestone Museum of Art, Ishibashi Foundation, Tokyo, and NIKKEI Inc.

Publication : Debussy, Music and the Arts, exhibition catalogue, joint publication by Musée d’Orsay / Skira Flammarion, 208 pages, published February 2012, 35 €

01 Paris 1 Zoom in 01 Paris 1 Zoom out

Place de la Concorde, Jardin des Tuileries

75001 Paris

T. 01 44 77 80 07


Opening hours

Every day except Tuesday, 9 AM – 6 PM
Fermé le 1er mai, le matin du 14 juillet et le 25 décembre

Admission fee

Full rate €9.00 — Concessions €6,5

Entrée gratuite les premiers dimanches du mois

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