A native of Marseilles, in 1927 Odette Camp (1909-79) became the wife and assistant of the excellent French composer and conductor Henri Tomasi (1901-1971). Thanks to a generous gift donated by Mr. Claude Tomasi, the artists’ son, the Musée Carnavalet has been in possession of the forty sketches featured in this exhibition since 1980.

In 1955, after a period during which Odette Camp painted oils of Mediterranean and Breton landscapes, she devoted her talents exclusively to drawing. In addition to the scenery she designed for Henri Tomasi’s opera ‘l’Atlantide’, her pictorial talent led her to delve into three essential themes: the landscapes of Corsica, Spain, and other Mediterranean lands; the leafless trees she portrayed with a great deal of originality; and finally, old Paris, which she developed with much feeling, and which is naturally the only one of the three themes to find its rightful place in this museum dedicated to the historical iconography of the capital.

The visitor can observe Odette Camp’s visions of Paris on two levels. The first is of specifically iconographic interest. During a quarter of a century, the artist concentrated on accurately rendering various aspects of the city, particularly of its historic center, with a decided preference for modest quarters and dwellings, especially those that she knew to be facing sweeping transformations. This explains the title that she herself gave to this series of sketches: Paris Disparu, or ‘Bygone Paris’. Camp has depicted with precision the streets, alleyways, canals and often dilapidated buildings of a Paris far removed from modern life or tourist attractions.

But the nostalgia that inexorably permeates this topographical investigation invites us to the second reading of her sketches. These streets and buildings marked by the years and deprived of human presence create a landscape of fascinating melancholy which holds a sometimes tragic resonance. Here, bygone Paris also leads to dreamscape Paris.

Odette Camp expressed her deeply personal vision via a technique which is equally unique, the use of wood sticks and Indian ink. Through the artist’s mastery of black and white and the subtlety of her chiaroscuro, she has set on paper the unforgettable significance of the essentially mineral landscape that Paris gave her to interpret.

BERNARD DE MONTGOLFIER Chief Curator of the Musée Carnavalet, 1983
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