Friday, June 13, 2014

Museum Tour: "Paris Libéré" Exposition at the Musée Carnavalet

Paris Libéré, Paris Photographié, Paris Exposé
An exposition at the Musée Carnavalet

In honor of the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of city of Paris, the Musée Carnavelet has opened a temporary exhibit entitled "Paris Libéré, Paris Photographié, Paris Exposé" ("Paris Liberated, Paris Photographed, Paris Exhibited"). An excellent and very thorough article from, entitled "La nouvelle Libération de Paris" explains the context of the exhibit thus:
"En novembre 1944, le musée Carnavalet organisait, à chaud, une exposition sur l’insurrection parisienne. Soixante-dix ans plus tard, à travers une nouvelle sélection de photos, le récit gaullien cède la place à l’histoire.
In November 1944, the Carnavelet Museum organized an off-the-cuff exposition about the Parisian insurrection. Seventy years later, through a new selection of photos, the Gaullist myth cedes its place to history."
The following video, which provides an excellent introduction to the exhibit, is also in French ... but worth checking out nonetheless. It gives a sneak peek at some of the photos, which aren't available anywhere else!

The Exhibition of 1944

When the Nazis invaded France in 1940, the city of Paris was quickly captured. (Remember the famous photos of Hitler walking through the city? Click here to read a fascinating account of his one and only visit to the city, as told by Nazi officer and architect Albert Speer.) While the collaborationist government set themselves up in the town of Vichy, France's capital city remained under German occupation throughout the duration of the war. The long-awaited liberation finally occurred in August of 1944. Knowing that Normandy had been invaded by Allies and that the end of the war was near, the Forces françaises de l'intérieur (French Forces of the Interior) began to rise up against the Gestapo. Metro and postal workers as well as police officers went on strike. Posters appeared overnight, urging citizens to fight against the invaders. As the need for barricades arose, Parisians cut down trees and dug bricks out of the street. Photographers, both amateur and professional, captured the population résistante as they volunteered, fought, and died for their country. Not all the photos were 'legit' -- photographers often had people reenact dramatic moments, after the fact.

In September 1944, François Boucher, a member of the French Resistance and the curator of the Musée Carnavalet at the time, began gathering together these photos. His exhibit, which the museum now describes as "more concerned with immediate emotion than historical accuracy," opened at the museum in November 1944 ... before World War II had even ended!

The exhibit, which featured both professional and amateur photographs, opened with a large photo of Charles de Gaulle (no caption needed). It included little documentation of the Occupation itself, choosing rather to highlight the "glory" of the Liberation. Interestingly, the exhibit also did not focus much attention on the role played by both women and foreigners in the Liberation of Paris. Boucher was aware of the limitations; he remarked that, given "la proximité trop grande des événements," objectivity was difficult -- if not impossible.

The Exhibition of 2014

Visitors to the current exhibition are greeted by a brief video, explaining the history of François Boucher's initial 1944 exhibit. In comparison to its predecessor, the new exhibit, visitors are told, presents the story of the Liberation of Paris with a new "detached perspective." Photos have been subtracted, added, and edited and the story now feels more complete.

The exhibit itself is modern, with an undeniable visual appeal. Neon pink and orange accents distinguish the photos that were present in the original 1944 exhibition. The photos are ordered chronologically and divided thematically, so there is a clear and easy-to-follow flow. Further enhancing the accessibility of the exhibit is its multilingual nature: everything -- including every quotation and every photo caption -- is presented, painstakingly, in French, English, and German.


I consider myself extremely lucky to have stumbled across this exhibit in a summer museum catalog. It wasn't on my radar at all and initially seemed like it might be only tangentially relevant to my research. It seemed too good to be true when the narrator of the exhibit's introductory video began talking about "the echoes of memory" and the role of the museum in society. I watched it three times, all the way through, trying to jot down every last word. I actually got goosebumps as I walked through the exhibit, reading quotations on the wall that seemed to so perfectly match the direction of my thesis.

And then there were the photographs themselves ... startling, heartbreaking, frightening, and -- above all -- moving. Looking at the series of powerful photos makes you understand why the two expositions are so important. In postwar Paris, a photo exhibition about the Liberation didn't just reflect the récit gaullien; it encouraged and propagated it. The more honest and all-encompassing 2014 exhibit reflects a new outlook on the events of 1944, but also encourages further thought and discussion.

Plan Your Visit

ACCESSIBILITY. The exhibit opened at the Musée Carnavelet on June 11, 2014, and runs through February 8, 2015. Access to the exhibit is not included in normal museum admission, but can be purchased upon entrance to the museum along with your regular ticket. 

MORE INFORMATION. If you would like to learn more about the  you can check out the official museum website for the exhibit description, offered both in French and in English. If you would like to learn a LOT more, you can also click here to read the official dossier de presse, which explains the exhibit in depth (and solely in French, sorry). You can also visit "Libérez Paris 70" to learn more about the Liberation of Paris and the other commemorations surrounding its upcoming seventieth anniversary.

Want to learn more about the Musée Carnavalet and its permanent collection of art and artifacts? Check out this post about my day in Le Marais and trip to the museum.

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