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27.12.03

More on the Family Photograph

Dominique de Font Réaulx, the curator of a new exhibit at the Musée d'Orsay called Figures de l'intime (or for an English translation, Figures of Intimacy, through February 15), has been interviewed by Frédérique Fanchette (Bijoux de Famille, December 23) in Libération:

How did family photos come to be shown on the walls of a museum?

The Musée d'Orsay's photographic collection, which we are trying to display bit by bit, contains some 50,000 prints. Among these images, we have a rather large group of family photos, gained through donations (often by heirs) or purchase. It's a somewhat skewed group, since most are photos of artists' families, but which covers a broad scope of 19th-century society, from the aristocracy down to the middle classes. With this exhibit, we intended to show the birth of the very narrow genre of the family photo. Its purpose is to validate the family model, but it does not reveal its true intimicacy, since death and sexuality are both blurred. Of course, they took photos of loved ones on their death beds, but they kept those images hidden. They did not show them in albums.
The exhibit features about a hundred family photos from the 19th and early 20th centuries, some of famous people and others of total unknowns. (See my post on November 25, Nicéphore Niépce, for information about a similar exhibit now at the Bibliothèque nationale de France called Portraits/Visages.) Eleven photographs can be viewed on the museum's Web site, by Pierre Bonnard, Gabriel Loppé, Skomoroscky, Lewis Carroll, Achille Bonnuit, Émile Zola, and Charles Hugo.

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