The subtitle of the National Library of France’s exhibition commemorating the 400th birthday of the great comic playwright Molière – “Le Jeu du Vrai et du Faux,” meaning “play on truth and falsehood” – not only captures very well a central theme of many of his plays but also engages with the various myths and imagined portraits of a man who left precious few clues about his own life. With no surviving manuscripts of his plays or even letters written in his own hand, his signature can be found only on a handful of legal documents, all of which are dutifully displayed here.
Of the various likenesses of Molière shown in the exhibition, being held in the beautiful library’s newly reopened Richelieu site, the ones most worth noticing are those done during his lifetime. The painters Pierre and Nicolas Mignard were friends of Molière and painted him during the early years, when he was still touring the provinces and not only performing his own works but also those of others. Mignard’s magnificent portrait of Molière in the role of Julius Caesar in Pierre Corneille’s tragedy La Mort de Pompée (The Death of Pompey) is a highlight, as is the famous etching from around 1660 of Molière acting in his own creation, Sganarelle.
There are many other delights on display. While various myths, such as the story that Corneille was the author of the plays or that Molière died on stage while performing in his final comedy Le Malade Imaginaire (The Hypochondriac) – he actually died a few hours after the performance – are debunked, it is more exciting to see first or early editions of the plays and the handwritten Register by Charles de La Grange, who worked in Molière’s troupe and kept a valuable record of the daily life of the company after it settled in Paris in 1659. The touching entry in which Molière’s death is recorded is shown, and there is also a useful visual display of some other entries from the Register.
Other sections of the exhibition follow various stages of the dramatist’s career, including his kinship with the Italian commedia dell’arte and his connection with Louis XIV, who commissioned him to put on a number of productions. While at times there seems little logical connection between certain parts of the exhibition, it is still interesting to see posters for the plays from the very beginnings to more recent times. Similarly, various costumes, pictures, film clips from more recent productions and even a number of huge photo portraits of current members of the Comédie Française are on show.
The Opéra Garnier is also currently holding an exhibition on Molière, concentrating more fully on Molière’s musical collaborations with the composers Jean-Baptiste Lully and Marc-Antoine Charpentier but also offering a wealth of images and documents.
See our list of Current & Upcoming Exhibitions to find out what else is happening in the Paris art world.Favorite