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Our Ancestors the Gauls: Henri Paul Motte and the Gallic/Druidic Revival of Nineteenth-Century France, curated by Catherine Carlisle

    From his body of work, one can see that Henri Paul Motte was interested in depicting compelling moments of warfare; moments of cunning and conquest for one side, of course, means moments of blunder and defeat for the other.  Among his works, Motte created captivating images that depict Hannibal’s Army Crossing the Rhône (1878), Juno’s Geese Saving the Capitol (1881), The Siege of Alesia (n.d.), and Vercingetorix Surrendering to Caesar (1886).  Aside from being moments of victory or moments of military guile that precipitate victory, these works also share the common thread of being moments that directly involve the history of Gauls.  In 1901, in the latter half of his career, Motte submitted a painting titled Druids Cutting the Mistletoe on the Sixth Day of the Moon, in which the spiritual leaders of a Gallic tribe conduct an ancient ceremony.  This image of solemnity and mystique is distinctive from the rest of his body of work.
    The Gauls, the original inhabiters of France, were considered barbarians and were ultimately defeated by and assimilated into the Roman civilization.  Why, then, would Henri Paul Motte be interested in making the conquest of the Gauls, a perhaps less triumphant period of French history, a theme among his works?  Why would he choose a Druidic ceremony as the subject of a Salon entry?  The Druids quite famously never committed the details of their lives to writing, so where would Motte's understanding of Druidic rituals have come from?  Is his depiction of Druids Cutting the Mistletoe on the Sixth Day of the Moon an accurate representation of a Druidic ceremony and, in the end, does it matter?  This exhibition will attempt to answer these questions and provide a better understanding of the cultural attitudes toward the Gauls, particularly the Druids, in nineteenth-century France.