Painters of the Beyond at Musée Maillol

A photo of a painting by Simon at the Musée Maillol.

Paris is home to some of the most famous museums in the world. Of course, when people think of Paris museums, they often think of the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay. These two certainly are the most well known, but Paris has over 130 museums to explore. The Louvre may have the Mona Lisa, but it’s the smaller, more lesser known museums that can often yield the best surprises. One such surprise is the Musée Maillol. It is one of the more modern museums in the city, having been established in 1995. It is also currently home to a fascinating exhibition, featuring artwork that was quite literally inspired from the beyond.

Spirit, are you there? explores the spiritualism movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I wasn’t familiar with this art movement prior to my visit, but the exhibit explores its origins in 19th century America, before introducing the three featured artists: Augustin Lesage, Victor Simon, and Fleury-Joseph Crépin. All three of these men originally came from humble origins. They were miners, plumbers, and café owners, and not one of them had aspirations to become artists. That is, not until the voices of spirits compelled them into action.

A photo of Lesage at the Musée Maillol.

Once those voices made their presence known, however, all three subsequently abandoned their previous jobs and dedicated themselves to painting. The results are nothing short of astonishing. My favourite of the three was Simon. His paintings were practically optical illusions, and the detail of both his and Lesage’s works was extraordinary. I spent a long time in front of their paintings just trying to absorb the sheer magnitude of the scope of their work.

However, the most interesting story by far is that of Crépin. Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, he was told by the voices that peace would not be achieved until he painted 300 paintings. He set about this task with vigour, carefully numbering each work. I’ll let you take in the date of painting #300 below.

A photo of Crepin's painting #300 at the Musée Maillol, bearing the date May 7th, 1945.

Spirit, are you there? runs until November 1st, so if you find yourself in Paris between now and then, I highly recommend a visit. And if you aren’t able to visit the Musée Maillol in the coming months, take some time to look up the works of each of these artists. Their work is extraordinary, regardless of whether or not you believe they were guided by the spirits.

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Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.