Rouen exhibition: CATHEDRALS 1789-1914

Caspar David Friedrich, La tonnelle de jardin, 1818 Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Allemagne © BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais, image BStGS
Caspar David Friedrich, La tonnelle de jardin, 1818
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Allemagne © BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais, image BStGS

Exhibition CATHEDRALS 1789-1914: A MODERN MYTH
This exhibition sets out to explore a theme which has never before been addressed: the place of Cathedrals in the artistic imagination and in the national debate, from Goethe and Victor Hugo to World War 1, against the historical background of Franco-German relations. It unites two cities, each boasting a world-famous cathedral, and two museums, considered to be amongst the most remarkable in Europe, both for their collections and exhibition programmes. The exhibition presents around 250 works, paintings, objets d’art, photographs and scale-models, covering a century of Franco-German artistic adventures. Displayed at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen (just over an hour from Paris by car or train) until August 31st, then a second leg is planned for the Wallraf-Richartz museum in Cologne, where the exhibition will open from 26 September 2014 to 18 January 2015.

After several centuries of oblivion, the Gothic cathedral, the quintessential example of mediaeval monumental architecture, enjoyed an unexpected revival in the 19th century, becoming a symbol of national identity for the Monarchy as well as for the Empire or for the Republic. An unchanging reference to the past, it served as a screen onto which not only the religious and the faithful, but also their adversaries, could project their ideas. To this day, the restoration of countless French cathedrals and the completion of Cologne cathedral in the 19th century stand as visible signs of the spirit of the age.

Much less widely known is the role of Gothic cathedrals as a theme for poetry, music, painting, theatre and indeed opera during the 19th century, providing an inexhaustible source of inspiration for large numbers of writers, composers, visual artists and decorators. The sheer number and diversity of painters who immortalised Gothic architectural forms on canvas offer incontrovertible evidence of a fundamental aspect of Franco-German culture, which has never before been the subject of an exhibition.

Henri Le Secq, Façade de la cathédrale de Laon, 1851 Charenton-le-Pont, Médiathèque de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, France © RMN-Grand Palais, René-Gabriel Ojéda
Henri Le Secq, Façade de la cathédrale de Laon, 1851
Charenton-le-Pont, Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, France © RMN-Grand Palais, René-Gabriel Ojéda

The most famous example is the series of paintings that Monet devoted to Rouen cathedral, which should be understood not only as a visual experience, but also the product of a long journey towards the appropriation of the monument by the nation. From this original insight, we will follow the movements that preceded the debate around national heritage in the 19th century, then the reappropriation of the image of cathedrals after Monet and the crystallisation of this motif as a national symbol on both sides of the Rhine, up to the trauma of the bombing of Reims cathedral. The journey concludes with a vision of the modern cathedral through the works of the great names of modern and contemporary art.

Auguste Rodin, La Cathédrale, 1908 Musée Rodin , Paris, France © Adam Rezpka, Musée Rodin, Paris
Auguste Rodin, La Cathédrale, 1908
Musée Rodin , Paris, France © Adam Rezpka, Musée Rodin, Paris

The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen
The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen is home to one of France’s most prestigious public collections, with paintings, sculptures, drawings and objets d’art from all schools, from the 15th century to the present. Pérugin, Gérard David, Clouet and Véronèse are among the first major milestones of a journey which includes an extensive and exceptional collection of 17th century paintings, including masterpieces by Rubens, Caravaggio, Velázquez, Vouet, La Hyre, Poussin, Le Sueur and others. The rooms dedicated to 18th century art feature the paintings of Fragonard, Boucher and Hubert Robert, along with sculptures and objets d’art. The richness of the collections and wealth of artistic movements represented, coupled with the presence of the greatest masters from Ingres to Monet, have turned the museum into a temple of 19th century painting, featuring masterpieces by Géricault, Delacroix, Corot, Gustave Moreau, Degas and Monet, while the bequest of François Depeaux (1909) to the city of Rouen helped create the first Impressionist collection in France outside Paris. The 20th century collections include Modigliani, Dufy, the Duchamp brothers, Dubuffet and Nemours. More information

Antoine Bourdelle, Le martyre de Reims, 1914-1929 © Musée Bourdelle, Roger-Viollet
Antoine Bourdelle, Le martyre de Reims, 1914-1929
© Musée Bourdelle, Roger-Viollet

Rouen: a day trip or a weekend jaunt
A veritable Museum-City, Rouen, the historic captial of Normandy, leaves no visitor indifferent, with its fine half-timbered houses, its paved streets and its gothic churches. It is a very pleasant provincial city with medeival streest, a lovely modern waterfront on the Seine, the famous cathedral, the square where Jeanne d’Arc was martyred and the museum dedicated to her and many other sites. Visiting is easy on foot, public transport or bicycle.

Legend for cover image: Domenico Quaglio, La cathédrale de Reims, 1833
Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig, Allemagne © bpk | Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig | Ursula Gerstenberger