The dream archives

April 4, 2014 § 6 Comments

Georges Seurat, Le noeud noir (c. 1882)

Georges Seurat, Le noeud noir (c. 1882)

I went to Paris last weekend for the Salon du Dessin, as I’ve done every year for the last four years, but I must confess I was much more excited about seeing an exhibition at the Orangerie called Les archives du rêve (The dream archives – come to think of it, that would have made an excellent alternative name for this blog). An exhibition of more than 150 drawings from the collection of the Musée d’Orsay, it was selected by eminent art historian Werner Spies, who was given carte blanche as to a theme. Perhaps not surprisingly (given that he’s a specialist in Surrealism) he chose Dream.

Saying that it was an exhibition with my name written all over it is the understatement of the year. There were drawings and pastels and watercolours by Odilon Redon:

Odilon Redon, Joan of Arc (?) (1890s)

Odilon Redon, Joan of Arc (?) (1890s)

 

and Léon Spilliaert:

Léon Spilliaert, The Dike at night: reflected lights (1890s?)

Léon Spilliaert, The Dike at night: reflected lights (1890s?)

 

and by Seurat, whose drawings have always seemed to me the visual form of a pregnant silence, and by my beloved Degouve de Nuncques and a veritable roll-call of Symbolists and other artists who placed dreams at the heart of their work.

Yet peppered among them were drawings by artists I would never have thought to put in this oneiric company – Degas, Renoir, Jean-François Millet. At first this pulled me up short, but the longer I spent in their company, the less odd the juxtaposition became.

Edgar Degas, The Tub (1886)

Edgar Degas, The Tub (1886)

 

Jean-François Millet, The Fishermen (c. 1858)

Jean-François Millet, The Fishermen (c. 1858)

I hadn’t ever truly realised how dreamlike and strange these ostensibly ‘realist’ drawings are. Proof, perhaps, of Walter Benjamin’s conception of the entire nineteenth century as one vast collective dream?

Les archives du rêve runs to 30 June 2014.

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