Wind & Waves (1711), Ludolf Backhuysen
Wind & Waves (1711), Ludolf Backhuysen

Normandy’s surprises are far from over yet. The André Malraux Museum in Le Havre, another seaside city in this northern France region, is currently having an unusual exhibition, entirely dedicated to an invisible factor not only in the works of the world’s great painters but in those by photographers and filmmakers as well … the wind!

There are more than 150 oil canvases, watercolours as well as sketches created by well-known artists through more than a century, such as Goya, Turner, Corot, Renoir and even legends such as Claude Monet, not to forget the film shots taken by the Lumiere Brothers, the inventors of the moving pictures, that can be seen here projected on screens. They all concentrate on a singular element — the force of storms, wind blasts and gales over forests, cities and even on the ocean waves.

In the words of Madame Pascale Dubus, a much-respected art historian who unfortunately died a few months before the exhibition could be inaugurated and was one of main forces behind this exceptional show: “Even the elements that remain absent from the eye of a common beholder cannot escape the imagination of an artist who happens to be a genius. The wind could be an invisible factor to the rest of us, but not to them.”

Much earlier, Gustave Geffroy, a well-reputed art critic of the early 20th century, had thus described his encounter with painter Claude Monet: “When I went to see him according to our arrangement, he was busy painting at the beach, dressed in an overcoat and hat. The wind was freezing cold and so strong that it blew away his hat, his brush and even his canvas a number of times.

A museum in France showcases legendary artists’ attempts to capture the invisible wind in their works

“But he insisted on staying where he was, convinced that the only way to paint an unseen element like the wind is to capture it through your senses and imagination, simply by resisting and fighting back against its force.”

Highwind on the Beach (1941), Denis Etchevery
Highwind on the Beach (1941), Denis Etchevery

Le Havre’s museum itself has an interesting history. Unlike most other French museums that were originally created as palaces, chateaux or private residences for the rich families, this one was authentically built as an art museum following the Second World War, with a number of transparent glass walls and luminescent windows in order to present outside views of the sea and the forest as gigantic works of art created by Nature itself.

It was inaugurated in 1961 by André Malraux, a well-known writer and art critic who was appointed as the first-ever Minister of Culture in France by nobody other than President Charles de Gaulle himself.

It is a thrill to enter this museum and watch through transparent glass walls the natural art scenes, in addition to the chef d’oeuvres painted by legendary artists for more than a century, concentrating on an element invisible to the rest of us.

‘Painting the Invisible’ was exhibited at the André Malraux Museum, France, until October 2, 2022

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 23rd, 2022

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