Ocean imaginings

from May 05 to September 09, 2018

MuMa – the André Malraux Museum of Modern Art – was the first museum to be rebuilt in France after the Second World War, and was opened by André Malraux in 1961. It has a stunning location in Auguste Perret’s rebuilt town of Le Havre.
This exhibition, Ocean imaginings, fits naturally into this sumptuous setting and will be the highlight of the events of summer 2018 in Le Havre!
Ocean imaginings
Located at the entrance to the port, right opposite the sea, its very modern glass and steel architecture gives quite extraordinary views of the sea and the Seine estuary, which have attracted so many artists.

This proximity to the sea – along with the nature of the museum’s collections, which are essentially based on French painting from the second half of the 19th century and the first
decades of the 20th century – heavily influences the museum’s exhibition programme.

Continuing a series of exhibitions dedicated to the themes of waves (‘Waves. Around the seascapes of Gustave Courbet’ in 2004), the port (‘On the quayside. Ports, docks and dockers from Boudin to Marquet’ in 2008, ‘Signac and the ports of France’ in 2010, and ‘Pissarro and the ports. Rouen, Dieppe, Le Havre’ in 2013) MuMa is planning an exhibition for summer 2018 entitled ‘Né(e)s de l’écume et des rêves’.
Paul-Alex DESCHMACKER (1889-1973), La grande sirène bleue, vers 1937, oil on canvas, 1.21 m x 2.11 m. . © Musée La Piscine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Arnaud Loubry
Paul-Alex DESCHMACKER (1889-1973), La grande sirène bleue, vers 1937, oil on canvas, 1.21 m x 2.11 m. . © Musée La Piscine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Arnaud Loubry
‘Born of foam and dreams’ explores the connections between the imagination and the sea, found in the work of artists from the second half of the 19th century and the 20th century. This was a decisive time, when the view of the marine world was changing thanks to the new discipline of oceanography.

Advances in science and the first explorations of the ocean depths fundamentally changed our understanding of the sea. In 1859 Darwin published his theory of evolution. In the same year the first submarine telephone cable was laid between Europe and America, and France's first laboratory of marine zoology and physiology was established in Concarneau, quickly followed by a dozen marine research stations on the French coasts. Before fine art, literature gave the ocean centre-stage with the publication of a number of great works during the 1860s: La Mer by Jules Michelet in 1861, Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo in 1866, and The Songs of Maldoror by Lautréamont in 1868-1869, and of course Jules Verne’s Twenty thousand leagues under the sea – the great adventure novel updating the legend of Atlantis and popularising the figure of Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus.
Henri GERVEX (1852-1929), Naissance de Vénus, 1907, oil on canvas, 160.5 x 200 cm. . © Petit Palais / Roger-Viollet
Henri GERVEX (1852-1929), Naissance de Vénus, 1907, oil on canvas, 160.5 x 200 cm. . © Petit Palais / Roger-Viollet
At the 1863 Salon de Paris, however, it was classical ‘Birth of Venus’ that were much talked about. Soon, in the wake of scientific discovery, artists broke free and turned away
from great literature, such as the Odyssey and the great myths of Antiquity, that had provided so many stories and characters. From then on, exhibitions saw a proliferation of sea monsters – ambiguous beings that were half man, half animal. Sirens lost their wings to become mermaids. Rodin, Böcklin, the English painters of the Victorian era, and many others were swept away by their imaginations. Nonetheless, the decorative arts borrowed a whole repertoire of forms and subjects – such as seaweed, sea horses, shells and fish – from the sea. Between 1899 and 1904, the publication of 100 illustrations of plankton and jellyfish by Ernst Haeckel revealed the impressive beauty of the world of marine biology
to the whole world. His representations were to have a significant impact on the Art Nouveau movement at the beginning of the 20th century.

Later, between the wars, the surrealists were to find a new source of inspiration in scientific images, especially in the troubling strangeness of Jean Painlevé's popular-science films.
PIERRE ET GILLES - Pierre Commoy (1950) et Gilles Blanchard (1953), Capitaine Nemo, 2004, , 164 x 224.3 x 9.3 cm avec cadre. . © Pierre et Gilles
PIERRE ET GILLES - Pierre Commoy (1950) et Gilles Blanchard (1953), Capitaine Nemo, 2004, , 164 x 224.3 x 9.3 cm avec cadre. . © Pierre et Gilles
The exhibition continues with some very contemporary works. Of particular interest is this unexpected, and quite fascinating, transposition of fears: for centuries the ocean
inspired fear, whereas now we fear for the sea itself. The concerns raised by global warming, the over-exploitation of biological resources, and pollution are reflected in new artworks.

This major exhibition is curated by :
Denis-Michel Boëll – General curator of heritage and former deputy director of the Musée Nationale de la Marine in Paris
Marc Donnadieu – Chief curatorof the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne
Annette Haudiquet - Director of MuMa.