Two centuries after the Marquis de Sade, a French exhibition traces his influence.
The Marquis de Sade died two hundred years ago today, on December 2, 1814. To mark the bicentennial, Annie Le Brun, a French academic and writer, has curated a sprawling show in the Marquis de Sade’s name at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The exhibition, “Attaquer le soleil” (“Attacking the Sun”), takes its name from a snippet in The 120 Days of Sodom, and it traces “the revolution of representation” occasioned by Sade’s unbridled lasciviousness: how his ideas about desire and violence seeped into the cultural zeitgeist and into some of the most seminal art created during and after his lifetime.
It seems tenuous, at first, to link Sade to a whole host of artistic traditions—traditions that didn’t necessarily need his help to see society as a holding cell, for teeming vices, impulses, and cruelties, all barely contained by etiquette. During a conference introducing the exhibition, Le Brun clarified her premise: “We didn’t try to illustrate Sade—on the contrary, the propos of Sade illuminates the violence that exists deep within at the moment of mythological, historical, religious painting … everything that Sade addresses was there before, and will of course continue after.” What Sade tapped into, and what’s elevated in the exhibition, is what Le Brun calls the “exaltation of passions” and the “vertigo of excess”—mixed, of course, with “flagrant atheism.” Read More