Why do we prefer peace to war?
This exhibition invites us to understand why we prefer peace to war. It shows how artists contributed to a growing disenchantment with war, a movement that began with the nineteenth century and the Napoleonic campaigns. Traditionally considered an essential value of society, the concept of war as an inevitable occurrence was increasingly discredited. Following Napoleon’s campaigns, in 1819 Benjamin Constant was able to write that «For the moderns, even a successful war costs infallibly more than it is worth.»
Whereas formally, the portrayal of war had been dominated by scenes of heroic battle, artists began to show war’s other faces, including its most horrific consequences on people, animals, nature, cities and things.
In 12 sequences, the exhibition highlights pivotal episodes in this littleknown history, in the light of some twenty conflicts and in particular those whose death toll and mental scarring left them seared in history: the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), the First World War (1914-1918), the Second World War (1939-1945), and the Vietnam War (1954-1975).
Each conflict produced an unprecedented world of images as massification grew more intense and the machines of war more widespread (provoking an extreme tension between the survival of the individual and the eradication of the individual into anonymity) and as civilian populations became ever more exposed.
Chronologically structured, the exhibition establishes visual turning-points as well as correspondences that go beyond the events themselves. We see artists, those who experienced war first-hand and others, haunted by the traces they had to provide of this human maelstrom. We see them as they turn to new tools, new techniques, a new philosophy even, in order to make visible the chaos of war, as it happens or retrospectively. Because war remains even after hostilities have ceased, with its trail of devastating effects on mind and body.
Beyond the unspoken facts and the propaganda which finds always more sophisticated ways to glorify war, artists explore the hideous and fascinating worst. They help shape new sentiments, in many cases preceding them. They reveal horrors that are portrayed nowhere else with such force.
The exhibition, over 1,800 square metres, presents 450 works using all types of media: painting, sculpture, drawing, engraving, photography, film, video, images d’Epinal, press, posters, objects, etc. Over 200 artists are represented, including Géricault, Goya, Daumier, Dix, Vallotton, Léger, Capa, Picasso, Richter, Villeglé, Erro, Combas and Yan Pei-Ming.