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Louis Janmot

The Poem of the Soul

Begun in Rome in 1835 and continued until 1881, The Poem of the Soul is the great work of the Lyon artist Louis Janmot (1814-1892), both pictorial and literary. It illustrates in 34 compositions accompanied by a long poem the initiatory journey of a soul on Earth. Made up of two cycles respectively composed of 18 paintings and 16 large drawings, it was described by Henri Focillon, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon from 1913 to 1924, as “the most remarkable, the most coherent and the most strangeness of romantic spiritualism.”

Janmot, painter of the soul, is a very unique artist in his time, but his work echoes that of several other artists such as William Blake, Philipp Otto Runge or Francisco de Goya before him, his contemporaries the Pre-Raphaelites, or even , later, the symbolists, in particular Odilon Redon who was in contact with him. The exhibition places The Poem of the Soul and its author at the crossroads of literary, religious and philosophical as well as artistic references, influences and currents.

The first cycle, completed in 1854, recounts the first years in Heaven and on Earth of a soul, represented in the guise of a young boy and accompanied by a young girl. We follow the stages and vicissitudes of their journey, from the birth of the boy to the premature death of the young woman. Théophile Gautier and Baudelaire were attracted by these paintings exhibited at the Universal Exhibition of 1855, thanks to the intervention of Delacroix. Completed in 1881, the second cycle tells how the boy, now alone, is confronted with the temptations and misfortunes of the human soul. A poem of 2814 lines, written by Janmot and entitled The Soul, accompanies the works. It reinforces their meaning and is inseparable from them. The whole composes a hybrid work, literary and pictorial, which invites contemplation, listening, wandering.

The exhibition will reveal The Poem of the Soul in its entirety. If the first cycle is exhibited in the permanent exhibition of the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon, the second, more fragile, is very rarely shown. Like the protagonists of the Poem of the Soul, the public will explore the mysteries hidden in these images, during a step-by-step stroll, an initiatory journey through the works. The exhibition will allow the two modes of expression, visual and textual, to coexist. Thus, the visitor will be able to hear the poem while contemplating the paintings.

September 12, 2023 – January 7, 2024


Esplanade Valéry Giscard d’Estaing 75007 Paris

01 40 49 48 14

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