Lens, pronounced lawnce, is a beautiful, small town in the green French countryside. Situated about an hour-and-a-half’s drive away from Paris, this idyllic town is where the Louvre has opened its twin museum. At the moment, the Louvre-Lens Museum is attracting large numbers of art lovers who are visiting an unusual show dedicated to a single theme — landscapes.
However, you may be wondering: why has the museum held an exhibition devoted exclusively to this subject when landscapes have been painted by practically all artists since the beginning of art history? According to one of the organisers: “The idea is to bring to the visitors’ imaginations the artists’ personal visions of the myth of the creation of our universe by characterising very personal points of view of life and all the natural elements surrounding it. We are all aware that from the mid-15th century onwards, the Renaissance age historically speaking, to our present day civilisation, painters and sculptors all over the globe have tried to represent in their works, following their own historical or religious traditions, how the planet Earth and life on it came into existence.”
Naturally, the elements of the sky, land, sea, light and darkness in their various forms and angles play inevitable roles in these works. The exhibition, titled ‘Landscape, a Window on Nature’ displays more than 170 masterpieces of art, including those by painters already known to art enthusiasts, such as Claude Monet, Jean-Honore Fragonard, Nicolas Poussin and Wassily Kandinsky, as well as the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai.
The Louvre’s museum in Lens exhibits and analyses famous works of landscape art by a diverse group of artists
Interestingly, the works exhibited at the Louvre-Lens are not just confined those of well-known European artists only. One is pleasantly surprised to see paintings and also many drawings and woodwork prints by quite a number of Chinese and other Oriental artists and craftsmen, whose creations are displayed so as to show various stages of the artistic process, culminating in the final result. The museum says that the idea is to not only show the chefs d’oeuvres themselves, as all other museum exhibitions normally do, but also to bring to light such generally ignored details as the era of their creation, the techniques and the instruments used to bring these artworks to life.
However, the exhibition does not limit itself to only showing paintings, sculptures and sketches as, surrounded by an immense garden bursting with trees and flowers, the other part of the museum is being used for the projection of images that are meant to emphasise the human bond with nature. Being here is like attending a classroom where images related to the subject are projected onto large screens and documentaries employing modern techniques are used to show how Earth was formed and continued to evolve. We also learn the scientific details that caused oceans, mountains, deserts and forests to come into existence and change with the passage of time.
One pleasant surprise at the exhibition is the discovery, for many art lovers, including this writer, of the works by a female painter called Catherine Empis, who came to the attention of art experts following an exhibition of her work in Paris in 1831. She remained exclusively devoted to painting landscapes all her life and quickly became so famous that the then French King Louis-Philippe personally bought a number of her paintings.
‘Landscape, a Window on Nature’ is on display at the Louvre-Lens Museum from March 29-July 24 July, 2023.
The writer is an art critic based in Paris. He can be reached at ZafMasud@gmail.com
Published in Dawn, EOS, May 28th, 2023