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18th-Century Transparency Featured in Exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum

The Work is Precursor to the Modern Day Motion Picture
March 14 -- May 28, 2000

December 21, 1999

LOS ANGELES-Carmontelle’s Transparency: An 18th-Century Motion Picture, an exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum from March 14 through May 28, will feature a recently acquired 18th-century drawing, nearly 12 feet long that was designed to be lit from behind and cranked through a viewing box to suggest animation. Figures Walking in a Parkland (around 1780-1800), a work of watercolor and gouache on translucent paper by Louis Carrogis de Carmontelle (French, 1717-1806), will be on view along with a replica that can be hand-cranked by visitors through a viewing box much like those used in Carmontelle’s day. Described as "papiers transparents" (or transparent papers) by the artist, this type of drawing is an antecedent to present-day motion pictures.

Figures Walking in a Parkland reveals Carmontelle’s skill as a landscape designer, draftsman, and inventor. He devised the transparency in a sequence of scenes that show members of the bourgeois and aristocratic classes strolling at leisure through an imaginary park. The composition begins with a couple arriving in an elegant carriage, and moves across the park where other figures listen to music, ride horses, chat in small groups and stroll through monuments, temples, and follies (picturesque structures suggesting ancient ruins).

The exhibition will bring to light the spirit of the period by focusing on the popularity of parks, gardens, and the natural world. In addition to Figures Walking in a Parkland, 20 sumptuous watercolors and drawings will be displayed, including works by Carmontelle’s contemporaries such as Jean-Antoine Watteau (French, 1684-1721), François Boucher (French, 1703-70), and Thomas Gainsborough (English, 1727-88). An engraving from Carmontelle’s book Jardin de Monceau (1779) will also be on view, illustrating his celebrated landscape design project for what is known today as the Parc Monceau, a garden that survives to this day in Paris.

It is fitting that Carmontelle, a multi-talented master of entertainment, pioneered a charming early animation technique. The inventive draftsman, designer, and writer was employed by the duc d’Orléans for whom he produced theatrical performances for courtiers and drew hundreds of portraits of the Duke’s guests.

"Carmontelle’s transparencies were incredibly lifelike to his contemporaries," explains Lee Hendrix, curator of drawings. "Not only were they were able to see images in motion for the first time, but the images also came to life with real light, not just the depiction of light as in the conventional paintings people were used to. Since the birth of the transparency, there has been an ever increasing demanded for more accurate representations of reality, leading to the modern motion pictures of today."

Related Event
Lecture

Sites of Seduction: 18th-Century French Gardens, Carmontelle, and the Folie Monceau
Eric T. Haskell, professor of French and humanities and director of Clark Humanities Museum, Scripps College
Thursday, March 23 at 7 p.m.
Harold M. Williams Auditorium

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