Museum Day: Musée d’Orsay’s Sade Exhibit

A couple of weeks ago (read over a month ago) I decided to pay a visit to Paris’ iconic Musée d’Orsay. I had originally planned to wander around and discover all of my favorites from art history classes past, but was quickly sucked into their temporary exhibit: SADE. Let me tell you, this exhibit was HUGE. So big with so many different works. I spent at least two hours in there. It also is an exhibit you will either absolutely love or absolutely hate, for reasons I will explain shortly. So bear that in mind. Luckily, it’s free, however, so if you hate it you can just zip through and continue to peruse the museum’s permanent collection.


The exhibit portrays the ways in which the infamous Marquis de Sade’s writings and philosophies influenced 19th century artists, thinkers, and writers. Let me tell you, the concept and construction of this exhibit was not only fascinating, but extremely well designed. NB: I was not overly familiar with Sade’s works, and felt like the exhibit gave me a thorough education and provided me with enough background that I didn’t feel lost. And the design was absolutely flawless.


You start by entering a dark room where hanging screens show clips from films that fit with the themes of Sades works, such as “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde,” ‘The Girl Without a Face,” and Bunuel’s “L’Age d’Or.” After this you are introduced to a timeline of Sade’s life, before entering the main portion of the exhibit: a series of rooms thematically based on different philosophies Sade promoted, such as violence, promiscuity, and voluptuousness. The rooms all feature large wall texts with quotes from Sade, as well as explanations of how these different philosophies were featured in the art of his time, and around the room smaller quotes are inserted between the works.

One of the most impressive aspects of this exhibit was the scale of it—it was truly enormous and filled with a shocking number of pieces. It also contained highly diverse works—paintings, photographs, books, models, sculpture, the whole artistic gamut—meaning there was truly something for everyone involved. Moreover, these weren’t obscure works from smaller artists, but highly renowned popular works from artists like Delacroix, Picasso, and Courbet. And the wall texts? Truly wonderful—fascinating, informative and well translated. What I loved about this exhibit was that it took you on a real tour of Sade’s thoughts, and provided an unusual glimpse at the 19th century art, which I feel is often regarded as conservative in comparison with the radical modernists who followed. (I would argue that every century contains lots of radical art—that’s why we study art history—but I also feel that’s easy to forget since we are exposed to so many contemporary and modern works.)

Perhaps even more impressively, the exhibit managed to focus on the dark underbelly of the art world—the endless preoccupation with sex, violence, and contortion—without condemnation or condonation, showing solely how one artist’s voice and preoccupations created a dialogue between many different artists in different mediums. The only thing it did seem to condone was the absolute right for this art to exist, the possible need for it to exist, and the fact that it likely will always exist whether society approves of it or not. (Interestingly enough, I saw this exhibit on the same day that the Charlie Hebdo offices were attacked…food for thought.)

I suppose that my only gripe with the exhibit was that, as a viewer, there was really only so much violence and sex and contortion that I could handle. It was fascinating, and I was quite religious about reading the wall texts, but by the end of the exhibit I started moving quickly through the rooms, stopping only for pieces that really grabbed me. In a way, the impressive scale almost killed it—leaving me so tired that I couldn’t completely process the later parts.

I should also add that, while I found the entire concept fascinating, many of the works were not to my taste and I hit a point about halfway through where I didn’t want to see much more. But that’s my personal preference. Others may well feel differently.

That said, it was an immensely impressive exhibit and (if you think you can stomach it) definitely worth checking out. I would recommend giving yourself time for it, however. I meant to pop in for a half hour and spent WAY longer in there, even with my speeding along at the end. If you have a few hours to kill, however, pop on in! You won’t see anything else like it—that I can guarantee.

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All that glitters is actually gold – Versailles

Perhaps you remember how I once wrote about my aversion towards Mont St. Michel based on tourism? Versailles has always been a similar case. Although I have visited Paris twice I have never gone. It was always too far away, and lower on my list of priorities. Why go to an enormous, frivolous chateau when there were so many museums and monuments right in front of me? Well, thanks to a free trip with Sweet Briar, I have finally visited this dazzling monument to Baroque France…and I loved it. Continue reading

Happy Halloween!

I’m breaking precedent and putting up a post on recent events before I’ve finished catching up. More Nice posts are headed your way, but I thought I’d give you all something festive to celebrate the holiday.

It is Halloween, well…not anymore here. We just moved into November in France. But if you’re reading this in the States then it’s probably still Halloween. The French don’t typically do much for Halloween – it’s not nearly as big here as back home. Continue reading

Discovery at the Abbey

A few weeks ago, if you had asked me about Mont St. Michel, I would have pretty much yawned at it. I mean, c’mon, the place is a big castle on the ocean. So what? And yeah, supposedly it’s beautiful, and also one of the most touristy spots in France. I have a real aversion to touristy spots. Maybe someday I’ll realize that tourists visit places for reasons? Or that I am a tourist too? Continue reading

Night at the Museum – Louvre Edition

I have a course with Sweet Briar that covers French Medieval and Renaissance art. I signed up for it because A) I’m an art history major who feels obligated/inclined to take art history classes in Paris, and B) I knew from the moment I met him (in my art history methodology session) that I wanted to take my professor’s course. He has all the makings of a great educator – the desire to connect with his students, a good sense of humor, an
incredible knowledge of his subject matter, and a fierce passion for what he teaches. In Continue reading

Modern Art

The days have absolutely flown by, and while I would love to give you all the dets on my doings I think we’re going to have to skip a lot. That said, I do want to tell you about a great afternoon I spent on my second day back in Paris.

Due to the crazy number of kids participating in this program, we are pretty effectively scattered across all parts of the city. Thus, no matter where you go, it is likely that there is a Continue reading

Chez Leonardo

After we quitted Chenonceau we headed over to Amboise for some more sightseeing goodness. Although we were allowed to go check out the Amboise Chateau, the interior was apparently pretty boring, so our guides steered us past it to Le Clos Lucé – Leonardo da Vinci’s historic home in the Loire Valley. A lot of us were getting tired, but luckily I was in the first group that got to enter the house and therefore was able to soak up all the historical goodness that awaited me!

Continue reading