Louis Janmot. The Poem of the Soul

From 3 October 2023
to 4 February 2024

Orsay Museum

Esplanade Valéry Giscard d’Estaing
75007 PARIS

Louis Janmot (1814 1892) Le Poème de l'âme. L’idéal , vers 1850

Started in Rome in 1835 and continued until 1881, “The Poem of the Soul” is the grand opus of the Lyonnais artist Louis Janmot (1814-1892), a work that is both pictorial and literary. It illustrates, through 34 compositions accompanied by a lengthy poem, the initiatory journey of a soul on Earth.

Comprising two cycles, one with 18 paintings and the other with 16 large drawings, it was described by Henri Focillon, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon from 1913 to 1924, as “the most remarkable, coherent, and strange ensemble of romantic spiritualism.”

Janmot, a painter of the soul, was a highly unique artist for his time. However, his work resonates with that of other artists such as William Blake, Philipp Otto Runge, and Francisco de Goya before him, as well as his contemporaries, the Pre-Raphaelites, and later, the Symbolists, particularly Odilon Redon, who had contact with him. This exhibition situates “The Poem of the Soul” and its creator at the intersection of literary, religious, philosophical, and artistic references, influences, and movements.


Louis Janmot (1814 1892) Le Poème de l’âme. Rayons de soleil, vers 1854.

Louis Janmot (1814 1892)
Le Poème de l’âme. Rayons de soleil
Circa 1854
Charcoal and white and pink gouache highlights on paper
111 x 142 cm.
Lyon, musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. Photo service de presse
© Lyon MBA – Photo Alain Basset


The first cycle, completed in 1854, narrates the initial years in Heaven and on Earth of a soul, symbolized by a young boy and a young girl. The stages and setbacks of their journey, from the boy’s birth to the premature death of the young woman, are depicted. These paintings drew the attention of Théophile Gautier and Baudelaire when exhibited at the Universal Exposition of 1855, thanks to the intervention of Delacroix. Completed in 1881, the second cycle tells how the boy, now alone, confronts the temptations and tragedies of the human soul. A poem of 2814 verses, written by Janmot and titled “The Soul,” accompanies the works. It enhances their significance and is inseparable from them. The whole constitutes a hybrid work, both literary and pictorial, inviting contemplation, listening, and wandering.

The exhibition will reveal “The Poem of the Soul” in its entirety. While the first cycle is on display in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon, the second, more delicate cycle is rarely shown. Like the protagonists of “The Poem of the Soul,” visitors will explore the mysteries contained in these images step by step, embarking on an initiatory journey through the works. The exhibition will coexist both visual and textual modes of expression so that visitors can hear the poem while contemplating the paintings.

This exhibition is organized by the Public Establishment of the Museums of Orsay and Orangerie in Paris, in scientific collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon, which is exceptionally lending some works.



Stéphane Paccoud, chief curator of 19th century paintings and sculptures at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon
Servane Dargnies-de Vitry, curator of paintings at the Musée d’Orsay


Louis Janmot (1814 1892) Le Poème de l'âme. L’idéal , vers 1850

Louis Janmot (1814 1892)
Le Poème de l’âme. L’idéal
Circa1850 – 1854
Lyon, musée des Beaux-Arts © Lyon, musée des Beaux-Arts / Alain Basset