Conference article

Historical Narratives of the Nation and the Internationalization of Museums: Exhibiting National Art Histories in the Jeu de Paume Museum between the Wars

Michela Passini
Institut national d’histoire de l’art, Paris, France

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Published in: Great Narratives of the Past Traditions and Revisions in National Museums

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 78:28, p. 457-466

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Published: 2012-10-30


ISSN: 1650-3686 (print), 1650-3740 (online)


In 1983 Benedict Anderson insisted on the foundational role that museums have played in the construction of imagined communities. To better grasp the mechanisms at work in the shaping of historical narratives of the nation as it takes place in the museum it is vital to cross-reference the history of nationalism with recent studies on cultural and artistic circulation. The latter have proved that national identities are inherently constructed at a transnational level. The question is; therefore: what happens to the historical narratives manufactured by national museums at a time when museums as such undergo a process of internationalization mediated by traveling exhibitions?

My contribution will focus on a batch of exhibitions conceived by the national museums of several European countries and hosted by the Paris Jeu de Paume between 1921 and 1939 (exhibitions of Belgian; Swiss; Romanian; Dutch; Canadian; Austrian; Danish; Swedish; Polish; Portuguese; Italian; Spanish; Catalan and Latvian art). I will analyze this group of exhibitions in terms of the construction of national stereotypes; both at the level of the material production at the hand of foreign museums planning exhibitions abroad and from the point of view of their reception by more or less specialized publics; beginning with the Parisian curators. The texts of catalogues and documents clarifying the makeup of individual events will be compared with the specifically visual devices: catalogue illustrations and the choice of works to be reproduced in journals; newspapers; on postcards; posters and advertisements. Our aim will be to clarify the political stakes at play in these choices.


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