Exhibitions

Rendez-vous with the Sea image

Rendez-vous with the Sea: The Glory of the French Maritime Tradition

On view July 12, 2002 to October 14, 2002

Located in the: Special Exhibition Galleries

This summer the Peabody Essex Museum showcases one of Europe’s finest collections of maritime art and history with Rendez-vous with the Sea: The Glory of the French Maritime Tradition. This spectacular exhibition from the Musée national de la Marine in Paris represents a rare chance for visitors to experience France’s thrilling maritime heritage through its most superb examples of art and innovation from the seventeenth century to the present. The exhibition opens to the public July 12 and is on view through October 14.

Rendez-vous with the Sea invites visitors to navigate through some two hundred masterworks from the esteemed French institution, including thirty-three immense, exceptional ship models that bear witness to the meticulous work of their artisans. There are also paintings, engravings, sculptures, navigational instruments, maps, everyday objects, and many items linked to life at sea. Renowned French painters such as Claude-Joseph Vernet and Eugene Isabey are well represented. So too are larger-than-life figures from French history, such as Marie Antoinette, whose pleasure craft was adorned with a sensuous, neo-classical figurehead that is featured in the exhibition. Rendezvous with the Sea even includes Jacques Cousteau’s early diving equipment.

“This exhibition represents the full spectrum of the maritime experience in France over three centuries,” says Daniel Finamore, the Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History at the Peabody Essex Museum. “There are great works of art here, and there are many other objects that are fascinating for the people and time they represent.”

Rendez-vous with the Sea illustrates France’s long engagement with the sea, which has inspired great art, yielded many successful inventions, and changed the course of history. From Pacific exploration to the slave trade, from marine arts made for the court to the operation of oar-powered galleys by prisoners of war, the exhibition presents an array of objects that tell fascinating stories.

“French culture is inextricably intertwined with the ocean on many levels, from the common seaman enlisted in the navy to the haute cultural signifiers of royalty and leadership,” says Finamore.

Rendez-vous with the Sea is organized into five sections: Life at Sea, Sailing for Country, Exploration, Trade, Dockyard Construction, and an overview of the extraordinary collection of the Musée national de la Marine in Paris.

“Although many of the objects in the show are similar to examples from American and other European nations, the French flair for embellishment and design makes this array unique and distinctly French,” says Finamore. “Also, the ship models are simply the best to be seen anywhere—among the best built by anyone for any purpose.”

Particularly striking is the model of The Ocean, made in 1790. This tour de force of craftsmanship was a favorite of the Emperor Napoleon I, who had it installed in a model warships gallery he created in the Grand Trianon at Versailles.

About the Musée national de la Marine

Heir to many great national collections, the Musée national de la Marine in Paris is one of the oldest maritime museums in the world. Its collection brings together a wide array of pieces. In 1748, the collection of model ships and shipping gear—offered to Louis XV by the Inspecteur général de la Marine, Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau—was installed in the Louvre in a room called “Salle de Marine.” The Musée national de la Marine is a museum of art and history, of science and techniques, and of human adventures and popular traditions all rolled into one. In 2000 it began renovations and is undergoing a major renewal. The French institution organized the exhibition jointly with the Musée de la civilisation in Québec City. This is the first time the collection has been shown in North America.

Maritime Art and History at the Peabody Essex

The maritime art and history collection at the Peabody Essex Museum is the finest in America. Begun in 1803, it is internationally renowned for holdings of approximately 30,000 paintings, drawings, and prints. The collection also encompasses 20,000 maritime objects dating from the seventeenth through the early twentieth centuries, including ship models, marine decorative arts, tools, weapons, navigational instruments, and ship and yacht plans. After the completion of the 0 million new museum in May 2003, outstanding works from the Maritime Collection will be exhibited in new, state-of-the-art galleries.